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Voice Search Could Be The Biggest Marketing Trend In 2020


For the past few years, the technology world has slowly been evangelizing the role voice will play in our everyday lives.

It began in 2014, when Amazon launched one of its most controversial products to date, the Amazon Alexa. For context, in 2014, Instagram had only recently been bought by Facebook, the term “influencer marketing” was just started to become popularized, and the concept of having devices in our homes “listening” to us seemed like something out of a science fiction movie. Five years later, and influencer marketing feels like a trend of the past, and talking to our devices not only seems entirely reasonable, but desirable and convenient. Alexa and other voice devices are quickly becoming a part of everyday life.

Fast-forward to 2019 and recently if you asked Alexa, “What are the best Cyber Monday deals?” you would have heard a list of products owned by Amazon—including a Blink security camera, a Ring video doorbell, and more.

If you look at the data, it is undeniable that voice capabilities and search will be the next big technology and marketing trend.

Statistics on voice search abound, but let me pull out a few of my favorites:

  • As of January 2018, there were an estimated one billion voice searches per month
  • About 30% of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020
  • One-in-six Americans (16%) own a voice-activated smart speaker; 52% of people keep their voice-activated speakers in their living rooms, 25% keep them in their bedrooms, and 22% keep them in their kitchens

The most interesting statistic from the batch above is the last one. 

Five years ago, we couldn’t imagine a future where we talked and our devices listened (or, better yet, our devices answered back). Today, we are so comfortable with the idea we are willing to put them in our living rooms, our kitchens, even our bedrooms. Privacy concerns aside, we have seen the tremendous amount of convenience voice devices have brought our everyday lives, and clearly believe the benefits of voice capabilities outweigh the dangers. Science fiction or not, we can imagine a world where we speak, and technology gives us the answer.

In the world of voice search, you’re either the #1 answer or you don’t exist.

Again, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. 

If you remember, things were not so different in the mid-2000s, when “mobile search” was projected to surpass desktop search. At the time, the mainstream consensus was, “No way,” as people had a hard time believing their phones would one day replace their expensive at-home computers. And yet, here we are.

The same shift is happening today. Ten-plus years ago, companies optimized their websites for Google search on a desktop, where their big screen showed the top 10 results. Then, five years ago, more and more companies started optimizing for mobile search, where on a much smaller screen, only the top five results mattered. 

Now, we are entering the world of voice search, where only the first answer really matters.

When you ask Amazon Alexa, or even Siri, a question, they don’t spit back pages and pages of search results. They listen to your question, and then they go out and find the best possible answer to your individual question—and only present you with that one answer. It may come from Wikipedia. It may come from your company’s blog. It may come from a dictionary. But the technology’s job isn’t to present you with the top 10, or top 5 most-relevant results. A voice assistant’s job is to present you with the #1 most-relevant answer, period.

Which means, as a company, you have to think about how your content is going to perform in a world where voice search is highly relevant.

If content wasn’t king before, it certainly is about to be.

For example, let’s say someone was in their office and asked their nearby Alexa device, “Hey Alexa, what is an ERP?” They don’t know that ERP stands for enterprise resource planning, and want to learn more about it—and whether or not it’s something they should be thinking about for their business. 

Alexa is only going to present one answer. 

Now, I am an SVP and Head of Global Partner Ecosystem and SMB Marketing at SAP. Enterprise resource planning is a monumental part of our business, so it would be in our best interest to be seen as the “thought leader” in ERP and actually be the source for the answer. However, in voice search, it’s not enough to be “close” to the answer, or in the same ballpark as the answer. You actually have to provide the most specific, most relevant answer in order to be “the answer.”

What Alexa, Google and other technologies are doing is to look for a web page that answers the user’s question without necessarily trying to sell a product or make the answer more complicated than it needs to be. So when someone asks, “What is an ERP product,” the most relevant answer would be something along the lines of, “Enterprise resource planning is a business application used for companies to optimize their accounting, supply chain, inventory management, materials management, et cetera.” That answer is probably more informative for the user than, say, “Enterprise resource planning is a business software. SAP has the best and most widely used enterprise resource planning software in the world. It has been in the business for 47 years, and it’s used by over 90% of Fortune 500 companies.”

This subtle difference is going to cause a monumental shift in the way companies think about marketing in the future.

More and more, marketing is becoming a competition over who can educate customers more, and be seen as a more credible source of information—rather than simply who can “get in front of” the most eyeballs. Which means, especially in a voice search environment, the way companies will produce and present content in 2020 and beyond will move further away from product-pushing, and much closer to educating and informing potential, future customers. As a marketer or marketing leader, you would be well advised to pay attention to this massive shift.

Siddharth Taparia is the Senior Vice President and Global Head of Brand and Experience Marketing at SAP where he has the global end to end responsibility for SAP's Corporate Marketing functions including Brand, Media, Advertising, Sponsorships, Digital Content, Events and Experience Centers. He is responsible for growing the SAP Brand, the 17th most valuable in the world and the most valuable brand in Germany as well as driving awareness and demand generation.

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