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Marketers, prepare: Voice search is growing

The shift to increased reliance on voice over the past year is perhaps the biggest change for marketers since the advent of the smartphone.

3 min read

Digital Technology

Connected technology


The following is an excerpt from an report out today by GeoMarketing:

The shift to increased reliance on voice over the past year is perhaps the biggest change for marketers since the advent of the smartphone. In 2017, there will be an estimated 33 million voice-first devices in circulation, per VoiceLabs 2017 Voice Report — and over 50 percent of millennials (consumers between the ages of 18 and 34) are already using voice commands once a month or more, according to research from Mindshare and J. Walter Thompson.

“Just recently — in fact, just less than two years ago — voice recognition passed the threshold that makes it a viable user interface,” explained Dan Quigley, ‎principal technical product manager, Alexa Whole Home at Amazon. “Now, consumers are reporting that that’s their preferred interface for communicating [with intelligent assistants and smart home devices.] The idea is that it’s something that gets smarter over time — the AI gets smarter over time — but the other thing that improves is our understanding of what people mean when they say things. A great little example is that in some parts of the country they’ll say, ‘Close the light,’ and that means ‘Turn off the light.’ We have to learn how to recognize that. [That’s a big part] of the progress that we’ve made.”

As voice recognition technology has improved — and as the AI behind intelligent assistants continues to “learn” over time — adoption of voice commands is skyrocketing. Noted. But why?

“In our research, users [continually] talk about how more efficiently they can manage their daily lives by voice,” said Elizabeth Cherian, UK director of innovation at J. Walter Thompson. “And this makes sense: We’re humans; we’re built to exchange information orally. Swipe and text, on the other hand, are not intuitive.”

In fact, JWT teamed up a company called Neuro Insight to measure brain activity in 100 participants while processing information via text and via voice. The findings? When respondents took in information by text, their brains worked harder than when they processed information in by a voice. There is a clear implication here for marketers: Human beings tend follow the path of least resistance, so as the sophistication of voice continues to improve, they are more likely to opt for voice over text because it is cognitively simpler.

Essentially, the increasing popularity of voice search and voice commands appears to be at least partially tied to ingrained aspects of human cognition. And, at present, this mode of operating is significantly linked to controlling key interfaces (namely intelligent agents) in the world of connected intelligence.

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Lauryn Chamberlain is the associate editor at GeoMarketing. A New York City-based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, marketing, and technology.