Voice AI is the Latest Brand Battleground


Google Home voice recognition AI smart home

Voice AI is emerging as a winner among the many new outlets for brands to express themselves.

In the twenty years since Google and Amazon were founded, the physical world has begun to be transformed into a huge voice-activated web fueled by smart speakers, Google Home, and Amazon Echo.

Forty-five million voice-assisted devices are currently in use in the U.S., and eMarketer projects that number will rise to 67 million by 2019.

Amazon Echo, and its brain, Alexa, own nearly 70 percent of the smart speaker market and Steve Rabuchin, VP Amazon Alexa said, “Our vision is that customers will be able to access Alexa whenever and wherever they want.”

“That means customers may be able to talk to their cars, refrigerators, thermostats, lamps and all kinds of devices in and outside their homes.”


As Adweek notes, “With voice replacing fingertips, search is ground zero right now when it comes to brands.”

How that will effect paid search is a big question for brands and their agencies.

360i president Jared Belsky said in Adweek, “In the near term, [organic search] is going to be the way to get your brands represented for Google Home. Then ultimately, the ads auction will follow. You’ll be bidding to get your brand at the top of searches. I believe that’s the way it will go. Think about it—it has to.”

ComScore predicts that 50 percent of all search will be via voice tech by 2020.


The new search paradigm will upset the status quo. Belsky adds, “There’s going to be a battle for shelf space, and each slot should theoretically be more expensive. It’s the same amount of interest funneling into a smaller landscape.”

Belsky reports that “every CMO, every VP of Marketing and, especially, every ecommerce client is asking about this subject first and foremost. And they have three questions. ‘What should I do to prepare for when voice is the driver of ecommerce?’ The second one is, ‘What content do I have to think about to increase my chances to be the preferred answer with these devices?’ And, ‘Will all my search budget one day migrate onto these devices?’ There’s not obvious answers to any of these questions. Being early to all of this means you get the spoils.”


One early adopter already garnering the spoils is call intelligence company Invoca, whose just released Signal AI technology analyzes the context of phone conversations in real time to identify customer behaviors and patterns. It recognizes language patterns with specific intents and outcomes—requesting a quote in insurance, booking an appointment in home services or placing an order in telecommunications.

Gregg Johnson, CEO of Invoca said, “People are using voice to interact with the world around them more than ever, and they’re using mobile phones, home devices and even landlines to call businesses at staggering rates.”

“Customer conversations have been an underused, yet valuable, data source for marketers as they seek to meet and even predict the subtlest of consumer needs and intents. Brands will differentiate themselves from the competition by leveraging rich insights from conversations to optimize digital marketing investments and improve the customer experience.”

Microsoft Windows 10 Cortana

IBM’s Watson Ads let viewers “talk” with a brand’s ad and request additional info and Toyota, Campbell Soup and Unilever have trialed the units, averaging between one and two minutes of engagement.

“Voice is a productivity tool,” said Linda Boff, CMO of GE in Adweek. GE has built a prototype to let an insentient locomotive send a voice message to a repair technician telling what needs fixing.

While the potential for greater efficiency and responsiveness is high, so are the implications for security and ethics. Last spring’s Burger King TV spot that hacked Google Home devices nationwide raised the ire of privacy advocates—and garnered a Cannes Grand Prix.


Advertising lawyer Ronald Camhi told Adweek, “As in-home, voice-controlled AI technology becomes even more prevalent and evolves in terms of substance—more capable of offering real answers to real questions—marketers will need to be increasingly careful to properly follow FTC disclosure and advertising guidelines.”

Security technologist and lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Bruce Schneier sums it up thus:

“Just as people have learned photographs cannot be fully trusted in the age of Photoshop, they may need to get used to the idea that speech can be faked.”


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