The implications of increased use of voice search is one of the bigger marketing tech trends poised to become a permanent feature for brands and agencies to figure out in 2017.

That influence, thanks to the rise of mobile in general and the mainstreaming of digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Home, 40 percent of searches by US adults today are spoken, noted Steve Beatty, head of owned media at digital marketing agency iProspect, during his presentation on a panel at Yext Location World conference earlier this month. (Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here; You can see our roundup of Location World coverage here.)

GeoMarketing: Why is voice search so important right now and how do you see the connection local businesses?

Scott Beatty:  It’s a huge initiative. Brands like Amazon and Google recognize the importance of capitalizing on this as a human behavior where we ask our device a question, and these algorithms can comprehend the mannerisms and the different intonations in someone’s voice to deliver specific information to user.

Typically in the beginning, is a question related to solving a problem. As digital has advanced, the human aspect has lagged. That’s where voice search can play this part in the beginning of that journey, and I think that’s so important, because as you make that connection with people down the road, as we’re looking at all these personal digital assistants that have emerged. The people that make that connection in the beginning are going to be the most important.

How does that impact location?

Well, once you’ve established that relationship with somebody through content and helping them solve a problem with voice content or content that you’re giving them to solve that problem across Alexa, across Google Home, across your mobile device. Typically what we’re still seeing is there’s a propensity for people to do this at home, and that is a first touch point in that it’s a comfortable environment where they’re using voice.

Source: BIA Kelsey: http://blog.biakelsey.com/index.php/2015/05/14/the-new-era-of-search-has-tipped/
Source: BIA Kelsey: http://blog.biakelsey.com/index.php/2015/05/14/the-new-era-of-search-has-tipped/

The ideas associated with voice search and the new digital assistants, machine learning, and the blurring of online/offline marketing is becoming more important to agencies and their clients. While consumers are certainly fascinated by the implications of these devices, how actionable is the use of voice search for brands?

People are getting more comfortable doing it. I think I saw one recent statistic where they asked people how comfortable were they using voice search in general. It was like 66 percent. People are becoming very comfortable with using Alexa as well, so it shows you they want to do it. They like doing it, and so there’s going to be this expectation of content that needs delivered to that.

Now back to the main point, how does that impact local? It impacts local because once you’ve made that touch point, then you’re going to be able to connect with that person on the next level, which is, “Okay you’ve answered my question. Now maybe there’s more a transactional purpose I have with you because you helped me on the informational side.” That leads into, “Okay, well where are local stores near me?” This is where, one of the biggest things that I think you’re going to see in a shift in the marketplace is away from key words and the new key word is going to be proximity.

Proximity will be what’s near me. You helped me, now guide me and I’ll go to this store. This is going to be a huge shift in the digital landscape, and it’s already taking place. These Internet of Things devices and related voice search are really creating the disruption for the current state of marketing.

What are the questions and conversations like with brands about all this change? Do they feel bewildered by it?

They’re very bewildered. Everything up to now has been built on a standard progression that begins with delivering transactional ads and seeing what sort of content that’s needed to make someone convert.

But the question now goes beyond, “How do we influence this person?” Now, you’re not going to have to just influence this person anymore — you’re going to have to influence their personal digital assistant.

That digital assistant’s going to say, “Okay Brand X, if you’re Target, or if you’re Neiman Marcus, I need to send this location to a consumer, and I’m going to do that right now, because you’re engaged with this brand, and you typically go around with all this content they’re offering to you.”

There’s a convergence point where we’re going to have to look at data as a truly holistic thing across other experiences.

Take a situation where you know somebody that’s potentially going to a hotel. They’re probably looking for an Uber, and will probably be looking for a restaurant to eat at. Maybe they’ll even need a store like a Target where they need to buy some toiletries.

Once you have that wide view of a consumer, the question becomes, “How are those brands working together in an experience that helps the user?” It can’t just be advertising to the user. It has to reflect the information that a consumer is likely to want in a way that doesn’t interrupt what they’re doing or experiencing at those moments.

When you have all of those together as one experience, that’s where this gets to be very interesting. When brands can be part of the process of helping someone get their Uber, find a place to get dinner, and satisfy last-minute travel needs is the point when brands can achieve a level of engagement that they’ve never been able to have before.