Hello, Voice – Smart Audio Is The Now/Next Frontier

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This I know: Smart Audio is the now… and the next of where things are going.

From a purely data-driven place, here’s what we know:

But, here’s the biggest deal about Smart Audio: your voice is the ultimate user experience. 

Whether it’s Alexa (Amazon), Google Assistant, Siri (Apple) Cortana (Microsoft) or Bixby (Samsung’s nascent technology), voice assistant technology powered by smartphones and/or smart speakers (this is why I call it, “Smart Audio”) removes the pains of typing, navigation and much more. It’s hard to argue (just watch Star Trek) that voice is an incredible, natural and intuitive way to interact, connect and work with technology. In the near-future, the idea of typing will be relegated to “writing” and removed from the current user experience as more voice commands, content and assistance takes hold. Review the numbers and data points above: Smart Audio is the technology that all brands must focus on right now.

Your true brand voice.

Back in September 2017, I published an article in Strategy Magazine titled, Start thinking about your screen-less presence

“It’s not just the ‘voice’ part but the ‘assistant’ part as well. These voice services are quickly being developed and integrated to solve consumer problems. From the little stuff (like ordering pizza) to the more complex (like diagnosing an illness). And, while this is all in its infancy, the speed of innovation, development and deployment is staggering. Voice technology will change the way that consumers engage with brands and technology. There is no doubt. Right now, brands need to be thinking very seriously about what their voice will be? What kind of advertising will work – right now – so that a brand can be the only result when a consumer is asking about them (or their services)? What kind of audio content should brands be developing right now to augment the advertising with relevant content (think about how blogging and content marketing is used to balance paid search results to date)? How big is the current market for voice and how long should a brand wait for this market to mature? Is there an ‘innovation lab’ play for brands today with voice? How will voice play out beyond these home assistant devices to smartphones, automobiles and public spaces? Let’s face it: voice as navigation is where consumers want technology to be. Brands need to think about their role in this today.”

What a difference a year makes.

Innovation and “nice to have” is no longer the path forward. Amazon’s most recent product launch should have rung a ton of alarms at every business in every sector. Alexa is now available in everything from a $60 microwave ovens to a $20 Alexa unit for the car. Were you paying attention this past Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Did you notice the reduced prices on all of those Amazon and Google Smart Speakers? They are flooding the market. 

There are issues too…

Let’s not just assume that everybody and anybody is going to love this. We’re now inviting big brands with too much data on us already, to basically follow and listen in on our lives. This issue of privacy, security and more is an area that I will write (a lot) more about in the coming months (and beyond), but Smart Audio is not unlike any other technological adoption: People love it when technology makes life a lot easier for them, and Smart Audio may be the ultimate engine of convenience. A few months back, I presented at Uberflip’s user conference, Conex, where co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer, Randy Frisch, showed a video of his kids. In the video he asked them to play a Drake tune on their Amazon Echo device, then asked them to do the same via their Sonos sound system. In two seconds, the results became clear. The kids said, “Alexa, play Drake,” and the song played. Next they fumbled for the smartphone, had to be reminded of the password to unlock it, swiped through to their music app, searched for the song, etc… You get the idea. Voice makes everything immediate, accessible and simple. It’s like the air.

“Technology has removed technology from technology.”

That’s a line I have been using for many years. Successful technologies main role is to make technology as usable and easy for everyone. Your smartphone (which is one of the most powerful pieces of technology ever created) doesn’t need an instruction manual (compared to laptops and computers). Tinder lets you swipe right (or left) and you’ll know if there’s a match/mate for you. That’s what great technologies do. Smart Audio and Smart Speakers takes this to an entirely next level.

And, it’s still early days.

When you think about Smart Audio, you have to frame it. Right now, we’re at the nascent stages of Smart Audio. In Internet years, Smart Audio today is like the web browser before hyperlinks. There’s a lack of findability (you have to know what you’re asking for). There’s a lack of discoverability (Smart Audio isn’t able to make recommendations – yet – based on your profile or history). There’s a lack of content (think about SEO in the early days… the more content, the more SEO juice there will be). There’s a lack of marketing (lots of campaigns, stunts, etc… but not a solid strategy for brands, voice and Smart Audio). It’s easy to think that Smart Audio is the next frontier, but it’s not Smart Audio is the now frontier. 

That sounds like a ripe opportunity. I’m diving in. Who’s with me?