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New research shows that marketers aren’t listening to voice

New Voice Research UK 2019

Voice search is not a fad or a gimmick; it is here to stay. Put simply, voice complements the future of search.

Attitudes to voice

Voice is already a significant part of our day to day existence. From smart home devices to voice assistants such as Cortana, voice search is increasingly becoming integrated in the everyday lives of consumers. With this switch in behaviour, comes an increased acceptance of voice powered technology, and an appetite to develop its potential application.

We wanted to examine how pervasive voice search actually is, and the potential opportunity for marketers and advertisers. So today, we’re releasing research which surveyed the opinions of 1,000 consumers and 150 marketers. The results were both surprising and encouraging. Firstly, Brits currently use voice search 2.4 times a day, rising to 3.8 times amongst the 18-24-year-old demographic. Unsurprisingly, the IT, computing and telecommunications sector is currently making the most use of voice search, but the legal services, manufacturing and engineering, and real estate industries are making moves to embrace voice – all are currently using voice search 60 per cent more than the national average.

Tellingly, a quarter of consumers want to be able to use voice search more often, which we think is a real opportunity for marketers. With almost half of consumers considering voice search as the ‘technology of the future’, this keenness stands to reason. However, as with any technology on the rise, the infancy of its relationship with consumers will set the tone for its usage, purpose and value moving forward, meaning that the coming months, even years, are vital for the future of voice search.

With the research revealing that a quarter of consumers think existing voice search technology does not go far enough, and a further 25 per cent seeking to use voice for more types of search, it is clear we have reached a tipping point for voice search. This is the moment for marketers to make their impact and harness the opportunities presented by voice search – blazing a trail for the industry’s own relationship with both the current and future iterations of voice search.

Opportunities for marketers

However, despite rapidly-increasing consumer uptake of digital assistants and voice search, according to our research, marketers are yet to fully embrace the opportunity that is coming. The study revealed that despite being used more than twice a day, voice search is not a current priority for marketers. Despite the medium’s growing popularity, when asked to rank marketing channels in order of importance, marketers placed voice search seventh out of eight. Only radio was deemed to be a less important channel than voice search.

The research also showed marketers aren’t yet considering voice search when it comes to planning their strategies – but this could be set to change in the future. On average, just two per cent of the marketing budget is currently allocated to voice search, but one in six respondents say they expect this to increase in the next 12 months, as marketers look to seize the opportunities it presents. This is a strong indicator of marketers becoming more awake to the untapped potential voice search possesses, and a sign that there could be great strides made by those who are ‘early adopters’ when it comes to voice.
Whilst more than a third of marketers stated voice search is a “fad” (34 per cent), there are also signs that the industry is beginning to recognise the important role it will play in the future. Sixty per cent agreed the advent of voice search will help strengthen the marketing mix, while a third (34 per cent) think voice could even replace desktop search in the future. This harmonises with the attitudes of a third of consumers who both prefer and find voice search easier to use than desktop search.
With voice search still in its infancy, the guidelines, best practice and digital optimisation strategies are still being defined by the marketing community. The very nature of voice means that pre-existing keyword led strategies need to be revised, broadened and entirely re-considered. The process may seem daunting, but with voice search expected to play just as significant role in our lives as mobile now does, the early investment is set to yield significant dividends. 

The future of voice search

From our perspective, we believe the shift we are seeing to digital assistants is as fundamental as the adoption of mobile phones; marketers should ignore this transformation at their peril. In effect, search is becoming more fragmented.  We’re seeing the rise of short, snappy searches, but also a return to longer, more conversational queries – and digital assistants or voice search are providing the answers to both.
Whereas a desktop search may see a user simply search ‘Taylor Swift’ to find out how old the singer is, a voice search requires more specific queries – thereby delivering notable insights for marketers on the nature of each search.
Search is currently most used by consumers for weather reports (44 per cent), news (37 per cent) and finding or selecting music (35 per cent) but as the technology takes off there is unlimited potential for this to broaden. As voice grows as a medium, we will likely reach a point where the technology can be used for transactional purposes – just as desktop search is now.
Consumers also expressed a preference for voice search at times when they were away from their computer. The benefits were stated as speed (44 per cent), its modern feel (34 per cent) and feeling like less effort than text search (31 per cent). With a quarter of Brits wanting to use voice search more often it is clear consumer appetite is showing no sign of abating, presenting a wealth of opportunities for savvy marketers.
As the concept of voice search becomes more ingrained into people’s lives and its uses expand, the depth of information shared will develop accordingly – increasing its value for marketers. With that, comes a question of trust. For consumers, there is a need to foster trust in the technology, the tools that drive voice search and, naturally, the quality and accuracy of the responses. Platforms need to prove to consumers that all of the perceived benefits of voice search, from user friendliness to speed of response, are there to enhance the search experience for consumers.
Whilst we believe there’s more work to be done in educating the industry on the shift to voice, the survey shows that momentum is starting to build. Although, the medium is often used when time is of the essence, a quarter of consumers surveyed (24 per cent) said they wouldn’t be surprised to receive a targeted ad via voice search.
For marketers, there also needs to be trust in the technology and the platforms, but more pressingly, there needs to be trust in the ROI of voice search compared to better established or more traditional channels. As it stands, with investment in voice search still at the experimental stage, ROI for voice is still being quantified. However, when consumer appetite for the technology is considered alongside the potential applications for marketers, it doesn’t seem likely to remain unquantifiable for long.
For us, once voice search has garnered the trust of both consumers and marketers – and once marketers have developed an approach to voice search that maintains the integrity of the search function – that will be the real turning point.  
This isn’t a short-term trend. This is the future of search and has the potential to significantly enhance search, in its current guise. Voice search is changing the way consumers think about search – and as the interface changes, so too does consumer behaviour. We would encourage brands to recognise this shift and integrate it into their marketing processes. 56 million digital home assistants are estimated to have shipped in 2018, almost twice that shipped in 2017 and ten times the total for 2016. Add to that the potential for voice on the planet’s 2.5 billion smartphones and it’s easy to see why there is potential for voice to shift the established conventions of search. This new research highlights the need for the industry to adapt to the change.
As with any turning point, there is no defined path guiding the way ahead for marketers approaching voice search; what there is, is a golden opportunity, the likes of which are rarely seen. Those marketers who forge ahead have the opportunity to shape not only consumer perceptions of voice search, but also the channel’s best practice.
With just one in four marketers describing themselves as ‘knowing a lot’ about voice search, those who take the time to learn and understand the nuances of voice will get ahead of their peers – and ahead of the industry curve. And, at Bing, we want to work with the industry to help them achieve this!

If there was ever a time for businesses to re-evaluate the split of their marketing focus and spend, the advent of voice search is it. Voice may currently be seen as a ‘nice to have’ but it will not be long before it becomes a ‘must have’ consideration.

For more information, get in touch with us.