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Over 50 Percent Of Millennials Are Using Voice Commands At Least Once A Month

At Cannes Lions, J. Walter Thompson's Elizabeth Cherian broke down the company's 'Speak Easy' voice report with Mindshare — and what brands need to know now.

Over 50 percent of Millennial (18-34) use voice commands once a month or more, according to research from Mindshare and J. Walter Thompson, and Google has stated that a full 20 percent of searches on Android in the United States are now conducted by voice — meaning that brands need to think about voice search and commerce not as a distant eventuality, but as tidal wave sweeping the industry today.

At this week’s Cannes Lions event, J. Walter Thompson’s Elizabeth Cherian,  UK director of The Innovation Group, talked to GeoMarketing about why voice is more intuitive than text or swipe — and how brands can stay discoverable in the world of intelligent assistants.

Voice has just recently reached to point of viability. Per the findings in JWT and Mindshare’s recent ‘Speak Easy’ voice report, what is the state of voice and AI today? What do brands need to know?

Ultimately, there have been so many changes in artificial intelligence, and voice technology essentially fits under artificial intelligence. In particular, there is voice recognition; that’s when the computer takes in what you’re saying and turns it into text to one degree or another of accuracy. Right? Then there is natural language processing. Which is much more complicated, because that’s understanding intent — and there is more work to be done there, [but] we’re getting there.

Nonetheless, what’s incredible about voice recognition it is currently on par with human voice recognition. So, if you were writing down what I’m saying, you, on average, should have about 95 percent accuracy. That is exactly where [voice] AI is today. We’ve gotten there, and we’re quickly going to surpass that, and we’re going to be looking at something like 99 percent accuracy – which is all the difference in the world; that’s the difference between hardly ever using it and using it all the time.

So, what’s [important to know] is that this is happening now — and it’s going to be picking up even more quickly. In our report, we are already seeing, amongst our global respondents, that 37 percent of smartphone users are using [voice search or voice commands] at least once a month.

That’s a really healthy number, especially considering that in the UK, Alexa didn’t even hit our shores until the fall — so as a category, it is brand spanking new, and yet already we’re seeing [more than a third using it]. And [intelligent] voice assistants in particular are coming fast and furiously: It’s projected that there are going to be more on the planet than humans by 2021.

In your keynote at Cannes, you identify three of the major trends in consumers’ desires related to voice-activated connected devices. What are they? What are people looking for?

In [the report] we identify nine, but there are three of the nine that we’re really focusing on [talking about] today. People want voice assistants to: ease their cognitive load, help them as a ‘digital butler,’ and to create intimacy.

For the ‘digital butler,’ that just means that they want a useful service. Not just voice for voice sake — they want it to solve problems and they want it to be proactive. The more that technology gets smarter and is more effective, the more that productivity is going to be an expectation.

With easing the cognitive load, what we found is that a major reason for taking on voice technologies is how efficient it makes [users] feel; they talk about how more efficiently they can manage their daily lives. And this makes sense: We’re humans; we’re built to exchange information orally.

Swipe and text, on the other hand, are not intuitive. Actually, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool to test what’s happening in the brain when we’re using voice as apposed to text or swipe. Is it indeed easier, and could we prove this from a physiological point of view? We teamed up a company called Neuro Insight to hook 100 people up to devices called SST — they’re very much like EEG but more accurate and better measure of brain activity.

To sum up, when our respondents took in information by text [their brains] worked far harder than when they took information in by a voice. What the implications of that are is that humans follow the path of least resistance — it’s just in your nature. If you’re sitting there as a consumer and you have two ways of accessing information, ultimately, once you get used to it… you’re going to opt for voice over text because it’s easier.

So, are people actually transacting over their voice-activated devices? E.g. saying ‘Alexa, find me a sun dress’ and then purchasing it that way? Will we start to see more of that?

It’s slower, certainly. Especially through a device like Echo, right now, users are primarily listening to music, they’re asking questions. They might say, ‘send me an Uber to pick me up.’ Set an alarm.

But [the commerce element] is surely coming in terms of trying to get at what brands need to think about for the future. Really, right now, they need to think in terms of being discoverable.

53 percent of global smart phone users are excited by the prospect by their voice assistance anticipating their needs — making suggestions and even going so far as to take action, even buying something on their behalf. Like, if my [digital assistant] knows that Charmin is my favorite toilet paper brand and just orders it for me.

What works really well over voice is just one good answer. That’s scary for brands for the reason I just said: If someone loves Charmin, and the assistant knows that, how, as another brand do you get into that very loyal relationship just that keeps repeat purchasing your favorite toilet paper?

Right. How can brands approach this challenge?

What we are seeing is that there is a couple of options there. Firstly, could there be paid recommendation? Could you, as a brand, pay to have the voice assistant recommend your brand? Especially when there isn’t that bond already formed. It;s not the best option, it’s not maybe the cheapest option, but it is an option that theoretically a brand could pay to get to the top of the list.

But here’s what’s happening right now: Look at this idea of algorithm optimization. It’s like the new SEO; brands [need to get their] underlying data layer ready for consumption by these devices. The question is, how do you build into your product and services such as the voice assistance sees you as the best option? That’s something we think brands should be thinking about right now.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of GeoMarketing.com. A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.