Speak Easy, a report by J Walter Thompson Innovation Group and Mindshare on macro trends around voice technology, found that 88% of UK smartphone users have used voice tech and would consider doing so in future. More than a third (37%) are already using it at least monthly.
"We are on the cusp of a new era in technology where voice is set to become mainstream," Elizabeth Cherian, UK director of the JWT Innovation Group, said. "To successfully integrate voice into their offerings, brands need to understand how the technology can simplify everyday tasks by adding value and removing friction from their experience"
The comprehensive report was based on a neuroscience experiment conducted in partnership with Neuroinsight that used brain imaging technology to measure the brain responses of 102 users. The report also used qualitative research from 31 UK respondents based on a two-week self-ethnography project, expert interviews and a quantitative survey of 1,002 UK smartphone owners.
The report identified trends that will shape how consumers embrace voice technology. These include:
Virtual assistants or digital butlers
Almost a third of respondents are excited by a future where their voice assistants anticipate what they need, and take action or make suggestions. When the tech works properly, 88% of users find it "magical".
Already, consumers are developing new behaviours in areas where voice makes their life easier.
"One lady told us she now lies in bed and listens to her news briefs, other dictate shopping lists to Alexa while browsing the fridge," Marie Stafford, EMEA director for JWT Innovation Group said during a presentation of the report on 5 April.
Brands need to be sure they can be discovered by voice assistants, recommended the report. Much like SEO, algorithm optimisation will enable brands to affect the likelihood of the voice assistant recommending their brand.
The privacy issue is one that brands must take into account when developing these personal assistants. However, consumers seem willing to part with data in the interest of convenience, Jeremy Pounder, futures director at Mindshare said during the presentation.
The report found that nearly half (46%) of potential users would use voice if there were guarantees around personal data and privacy.
Consumers seek an intimate relationship with their voice assistant
The urge to anthropomorphise is a strong one in humans. "I once brought back a really rather crude robot toy from the US and almost immediately everyone referred to it as a ‘he’," Duncan Anderson, chief technology officer at Watson Europe, IBM shared during a panel discussion at the event.
He was joined by Heather Andrews, chief executive of Neuroinsight; Adam Martin, chief content officer of Acast, and Joseph Evans, Enders Analysis. The session was moderated by TV and radio presenter, LJ Rich.
In fact, more than a third of regular voice tech users say they love their virtual assistants so much that they wish it was a real person. What’s more, over a quarter of regular of users have had a sexual fantasy about their voice assistant.
While this warm connection could be a great avenue for brands to build loyalty, it’s also one they should tread with caution. "Right now, people are more forgiving of virtual assistants, because it has the charm of a new relationship," Andrews said. "As time goes on people will get more demanding, as we are in human relationships.
In that regard, it’s worthwhile for brands to start investigating what sort of voice and tone they would like to have Andrews added. "Brands are going to have to start thinking about themselves differently. Much of marketing is very visual but sound is becoming important."
Andrews cautioned that the right tone is everything. "The front of the brain has a shutter and it comes down if you’re being sold to overtly. A human person talking about a brand is very different from a commercial selling a brand."
Martin has noticed, from his work with podcasts such as My Dad Wrote a Porno that when the host of a podcast show talks about a brand, the uplift is much higher than a pre-recorded ad. "Listeners have an in-built relationship with the voice, so we compute it and take in much more."
An even bigger opportunity for brands is to craft their own (literal) voice. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of regular users think brands should have unique voices and personalities for their apps and skills.