Every year, a few members of our team make the trek down to the SXSW conference to ensure we’re on the bleeding edge of innovative media strategies. As a part of the road crew this year, let me tell you my first experience with the festival did not disappoint. Although it’s a lot to take in at first blush, I felt right at home amidst the flurry of sessions, keynotes and brand activations. Highlighting just a nugget of the experience is tough, but what sticks in my mind weeks after returning is a forward-thinking approach to digital marketing that encompasses artificial intelligence and the screenless internet.
You have undoubtedly come across some of these screenless devices as they continue to become mainstream. Pew estimates nearly half of Americans use voice assistants today. The Amazon Echo, Google Home and, more recently, Apple’s HomePod are three hardware products that combine screenless, voice interaction and artificial intelligence technology. As these products become more sophisticated and integrated into consumer’s everyday lives, the demand for digital strategies on the platforms will surely increase. According to Gartner, 30 percent of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen by 2020. This is a subsection so large our industry can’t afford to ignore these trends. Despite this, only 2 percent of marketers rank voice as a priority in 2018. As digital marketers, we need to shift our thinking from just mobile-first to include voice-first. It’s time to start implementing strategies that address voice-activated tasks.
Now, you might be thinking about your own experiences with AI assistants like Siri or Alexa. It’s easy to dismiss them as just a fad because of the existing inaccuracies that still need to be worked out on the backend. For example, you might tell Siri to “add eggs to the shopping list,” and it adds “eds” instead. These mistakes can be frustrating, but considering how far the technology has come in a relatively short period of time, these tiny errors will soon become a thing of the past. Digital voice assistants today are like the Nokia phones of the 2000s. Thanks to machine learning, with each passing second, these technologies improve simply from people using them. The results are evident, as the word accuracy rate necessary for the speech to be considered on par with human conversation has finally reached the threshold of 95 percent. From here, as the tech increasingly gets better and goes from a 95 percent accuracy rate to 99 percent, digital voice assistants are poised to become as ubiquitous in daily life as smartphones are today.
So what does all this mean for the future of digital marketing? We must adapt to the changing landscape as the screens of today turn into speakers. The popularity of text search ads today will be complemented by voice search ads in the future. In the same way we think about how brands look visually, we will have to incorporate how they should sound. What we used to call radio ads will be revitalized as audio ads on these digital voice assistance products. These are no longer concerns of the future, they’re what marketers should be thinking about now or risk being left behind. The key marketing partners of tomorrow won’t use voice as an afterthought, they will fully embrace the technology and incorporate voice strategies into their entire marketing plans.