Is voice search the future of marketing?

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6 min read

When it comes to technologies that can potentially turn customer behavior and marketing upside down, voice search and voice assistants are at the top of the list. What exactly do we know about user behavior and handling of language assistants?


  1. Voice Search & Voice Assistant usage today
  2. What are language assistants used for?
  3. User Concerns when dealing with speech assistants
  4. Advertising must be innovated
  5. The future of Voice Search & Assistants

Voice Search & Voice Assistant usage today

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In the third quarter of 2018, sales of smart speakers (Amazon Echo, Google Alexa, etc.) increased 200%, and 22.7 million products were sold. In the second quarter of 2019, 30.4 million smart speakers were shipped worldwide, with sales of more than two trillion US-Dollars (Source: Strategie Analytics). Demand is increasing parallel to the adaption. Additionally, interest is rising as well.

According to a survey by Global Web Index, only 15% of respondents said, they already owned a smart speaker, but one in three showed interest in buying one. However, voice search does not only concern smart speakers, but is already part of everyday life for many smartphone users. Intelligent voice assistants like Siri are being used by many.

A report by PWC (PDF) also shows that voice search is already possible with many different technological devices:

Especially younger users have become accustomed to voice assistants/voice search and use them regularly. Among 25-49-year-olds, 65% of respondents use voice search options frequently, 18-24-year-olds and those over 50 are somewhat more reticent, with 59% and 57%. The figures show that language assistants are popular. Once they are used, the experience seems positive enough to continue using them. Incidentally, language assistants seem to be very different from chatbots, which have a negative experience curve in many cases.

What are language assistants used for?

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Even if voice commerce is a topic of the future (and is already available), voice search - the search for information via voice commands - makes up the majority of voice usage. According to PWC, the search for information such as weather reports, search terms or answers to short questions, dominates. However, commands are already being executed with language assistants. Almost daily, users play music, activate reminders or send messages via voice command.


Meanwhile, voice commerce is less popular. Every second user does not use language assistants. However, this does not indicate that there is no need. It's much more likely, that the shopping experience via voice assistance is not very sophisticated yet. It seems clumsy/complicated and not very trustworthy. When asked what users prefer, voice commerce or shopping in a store, more than two-thirds preferred the personal store experience.

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Complex purchases are not made via Voice

Language assistants are hardly or not at all used, especially for complex products that either offer numerous variations in the selection (clothing) or require personalised advice (holiday bookings). According to PWC, only 3% of the respondents have bought clothes/clothing through/via an assistant. 0% have booked a trip using this service. This clearly shows the (current) limitations of this technology.

While online booking and even online clothing shopping offer opportunities to see the product, check product details and clarify open questions, the handling of complex processes merely by voice commands with a bot is not trustworthy enough for many users.

User concerns when dealing with speech assistants

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Concerns about being misunderstood and a lack of data protection, particularly with regard to payment data, suggest that a combination of voice and writing/text would be the best solution for more complex purchasing processes, at least for now. Many customers inform themselves about products online, but then buy them in the store. Similarly, it could become normal in the future to obtain information via a voice assistant and then confirm this information on a (smartphone) screen to complete the purchase.

Surprisingly, users are also convinced that human service is less biased than a speech assistant. Users seem to be aware that language assistants filter their results. It will be exciting to see whether the manufacturers find a way to make these filters more transparent in order to generate trust when dealing with Voice Search options.

Incidentally, data protection in particular should be considered by "design" for the development of voice technology. Cases such as Apple and Amazon, where employees listened in on private conversations even though the devices were not turned on, cannot be repeated and could have a major impact on the acceptance rate of voice technologies.

Advertising must be innovated

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Especially in the area of voice ads, it will be exciting to see how companies integrate advertising content. Since a spoken advertisement can be much more of an interruption than a visual advertisement (after all, you have to listen to the end and can't do anything in the meantime), one has to consider a customer-centric experience from the beginning.

88% of respondents want options to skip audio advertising.

82% want to be asked in advance if they are interested in advertising. Further user requirements are:

  • The option to choose which advertisements users want to listen to
  • Individually definable blocking periods for advertising
  • Personalized advertising, also based on brands and companies that users have shown interest in (following a social media account)
  • Interactive advertising that creates a dialog with the customer

Given that online advertising is still perceived as annoying by users in many cases (hence the existence of the adblocker) it will be extremely interesting to see whether the mistakes of "classic" online advertising can be avoided in voice commerce. To do this, however, advertisers must consciously develop innovative and customer-centric ideas/strategies/methods.

The future of Voice Search & Assistants

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Currently, language assistants are popular. However, they are predominantly used for very simple queries and processes or for clearly defined tasks (e.g. navigation). In the future, speech assistants may play a central/decisive role in everyday life, especially in combination with the Internet of Things. The influence that voice can have in business settings, should not be underestimated either.

With this in mind, it's safe to assume that the technology will grow exponentially in the next five to ten years. In the same way that smartphones fundamentally changed customer and communication behavior, voice could bring a change in the way/manner we move/navigate/experience (around) the web, but also interact with physical objects (Internet of Things).

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by Juliane Waack

Juliane Waack is Editor in Chief at DIGITALL and writes about the digital transformation, megatrends and why a healthy culture is essential for a successful business.

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