Voice technology is transforming the way we interact with the world as AI-powered assistants such as Alexa become part of everyday life, and the way we search, shop and share information moves from visual to vocal. For brands, this means a whole new playing field when it comes to attracting and engaging customers, and devising cut-through creative campaigns that drive both revenue and recognition. It’s still early days but voice is on the rise and it’s the perfect opportunity for brands to join the conversation.

A new word of mouth

Copywriters are renowned for evangelizing the importance of voice to ensure the messages they craft “speak” to the target audience in a way that resonates. One of the simple tests for evaluating marketing copy is to simply read it out loud. If you can literally say a line of copy effortlessly, using spoken language, then chances are readers will also absorb the message with ease. Why? Because when people read, they effectively hear the words in their head. In effect, it’s the way words sound – not just the way they read – that determines how messages are received and brand personalities are expressed.

Although integral to a brand’s identity and the way it’s perceived in the marketplace, the subtle nature of voice means that it can go somewhat unnoticed in contrast, say, to the more visual elements of branding such as a logo. Enter the smart speaker, virtual assistant and myriad of AI-powered devices and technologies transforming our landscape, and it seems the role of voice – literal, audible voice – is soon to be catapulted to new heights.

Through the noise

Once a metaphor in the advertising world, the term “marketing noise” will soon take on new significance as voice becomes the medium to be mastered. It will still be about standing out amidst the clutter of marketing messages competing for consumers’ attention; but now the challenge will be to literally hear and be heard by prospective buyers in a saturated marketplace. How can marketers achieve this? The exciting thing is, they’re still in the process of figuring it out.

Know your customer (and their voice)

In order to convey a message, whether it’s a brand’s values or standout product features, it will now be more essential than ever to be able to hear prospective buyers searching, discovering and networking by voice. This means knowing not just who customers are in terms of demographics and buying the right advertising space; but also in terms of how they might speak. As voice becomes a tool for carrying out everyday activities, the concept of knowing your customer will need to encompass the way the express themselves verbally. Buyer personas won’t just be about how they look, feel and think, but how they sound.

A little more conversation, a little less action

Although we essentially use the same language in speech or writing, the way we use it to complete a search – from the words we choose to the structure of our sentences – can differ significantly. The act of writing is by nature more conscious and scripted, so we tend to be more selective with the words we use. By contract, speech requires little effort or concentration and is far more natural, chatty and less composed. Put all this in the context of today’s busy, multi-tasking world and in the inconvenience of physically typing or touching a screen versus speaking out loud, and it’s not surprising that virtual assistants such as Alexa and Siri have become so popular.

As consumers become increasingly comfortable simply saying what they want, need or are searching for out loud, having a fluent “customer conversation” couldn’t be more essential for today’s marketers. Text-based chat bots are already prolific across ecommerce sites and a leading use case for the value of natural language processing (NLP); but those that enable communication through a voice interface will have competitive edge when it comes to enticing and converting voice shoppers.

In search of voice

Gartner predicts that 30% of searches will be performed without a screen by 2020. So it goes without saying that SEO specialists will have their work cut out for them as optimizing content for voice becomes the much-coveted skill of the trade. Understanding slang, different accents, sentence structures and emphasis to name just a few variations will be key to ensuring vocal content matches searches conducted through speech. In order to achieve this, speech data collection will be absolutely key in enabling brands to understand all the nuances, idiosyncrasies and turns of phrase particular to their target audiences.

Right place, right time

While voice technology is certainly on the rise, it will pay for businesses to understand how and when people are likely to use it in order to reap the rewards. For example, if people use Google Assistant in the kitchen to look for recipes or tips while cooking, this is an opportunity for brands supplying white goods, blenders or even condiments to target their products in way that’s real-time and contextual. On the other hand, some products will require more complex or aesthetic decision-making, so what could begin with a search conducted through speech might need to be followed up later with a more visual user experience. It will be important to test and learn where optimizing for voice makes the most sense.

It’s important to note that embracing and embedding voice as a marketing strategy doesn’t just mean adapting radio ads. As voice has begun to permeate our lives, there will be a higher expectation for authenticity rather than pure “ad speak”, as well as a need to be even more contextually relevant to what customers are doing in a given moment.

Voice marketing is still in its infancy, which poses huge opportunities for creativity, experimentation and  innovative, multi-sensory customer experiences. Already 32% of marketers are using AI-driven voice assistants to enhance their experience and there’s infinite room for growth as technologies develop. For brands looking to build awareness and loyalty, investing in a voice strategy will help them start talking and – most importantly – listening to customers in new and unprecedented ways.