Cortana, Alexa, Siri, Google Now: Marketer’s New Best Friends?

How do voice activation services affect location data’s relationship with advertising and marketing?

Voice activations services and AI-driven virtual assistants are having a moment. While Siri has been around the longest, Alexa and OK Google have made strides to surpass her in popularity. And what Cortana lacks in popularity, it apparently makes up for in accuracy, so we mustn’t forget to include Microsoft’s entry to the field.

While these services may be associated with Echo and Google Home-type connected devices, they have their roots in mobile, and are used with increasing regularity on smartphones. They’re also used largely for search: a recent survey of 1000 users of AI assistants found that 63 percent of them use it for search. Last year, Google reported that a full 20 percent of its mobile queries were voice searches, and comScore predicts that half of all searches will be led by voice within the next three years.

It seems then, that this is a trend a marketer should pay attention to. Most marketers consider search engine optimisation part of their basic toolkit anyway; certainly marketers should continue that work and keep an eye out for strategies to improve their results in voice search as well as traditional SEO. It’s helpful that Google is re-confirmed as the search engine for Apple, so optimising for Google will kill two birds with a single stone.

Consider that each device and virtual assistant seems to be evolving towards a different use case. OK Google on the mobile is more closely associated with information and utility. Users call on it to find the nearest barber shop or the best route home on a busy day. While only in the UK for a year now, Alexa seems locked to the housebound Echo devices currently, and used more entertainment. Friends rely on Alexa to tell them who won the Oscar in 1972, or what the weather’s like in Budapest today. (It’s also worth noting the growing trend of tots who love to yell “Alexa, stop!” as soon as Alexa beings delivering responses to Mummy and Daddy. Fun!) That said, Alexa users will recognize that Amazon has been promoting the Alexa app more heavily of late, which will help raise its profile – and usefulness – out of the home.

Amongst my friends and colleagues, Siri is most used for finding songs (particularly in its nascent iOS 11 incarnation) and other Apple-related tasks, for example, “Siri, FaceTime Mom.” And Cortana – well, I don’t actually know many people who use Cortana. But now that we know how accurate it is, perhaps its popularity will grow! (It has 133 million users currently, compared to more than a billion boasted by OK Google.)

To make the most of voice activation, marketers really need to think about how search behaviour has changed in recent years. Google reports that searches including the term “near me” grew 130 percent between 2014 and 2015. More importantly, searches for local businesses without the “near me” qualifier have increased over 150 percent in the last two years, on the understanding that proximity is implied, and therefore expected in the results returned.

While this is great news – and low hanging fruit – for local businesses like restaurants and nail salons, what does it mean for global brands? Does voice search give consumers an even easier path of least resistance to start their product searches? It’s quite simple to say, “Alexa, what are the best running shoes?” Or, “OK Google, what’s the best 4K television?” But how will artificial intelligence quantify “best?”

It’s a question that is probably costing brand marketers lots of sleep. They need to ensure that their products make those initial short lists. I suspect Alexa will prioritize products by Amazon user reviews, but how will Siri, Cortana, and Google define “best” in those searches? There may be a whole new market for SEO specialists and sponsored search – particularly for devices that have no screen. No one will want Alexa or Siri rambling off a ten-item list of products.

I can’t predict what will happen next in this space, but I can guarantee that it will be exciting – particularly as Google Home and Apple’s HomePod enter the market, and as Alexa gets her first screen. We shall see!

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