Five years on from the initial launch of the Amazon Echo in November 2014, many would claim that we're in the midst of a ‘voice revolution’.
Certainty about this fact has only grown with every new announcement and product launch, from new voice assistants, to new integrations with smart products, to the much-talked about demonstration at Google I/O 2018 in which Google’s new smart assistant, Duplex, made a booking over the phone. Surely, these are all signs that we are now living in a much more voice and AI-dominated world?
Accordingly, companies have scrambled to respond by securing their presence on voice-first devices, optimising for voice search and developing voice-powered experiences. In late September it was announced that 100,000 Alexa skills had been launched worldwide, up from 50,000 in September 2018; as of January 2019, Google had more than 4,200 Assistant Actions. Major brands including Domino’s Pizza, HBO, Diageo, Sephora, 1-800 Flowers, BBC and Nike have developed voice experiences for the Echo and Home, and in several cases won awards for them.
Yet despite all of this, there is a surprising dearth of case studies available that talk about the results that these voice apps have yielded for brands. How much usage are they seeing? Have they yielded any revenue or brand lift, or brought in any new customers?
The benefits of being present on voice devices are assumed to be self-evident: developing a voice app, or optimising for voice search, is “future-proofing” for brands; it “gives them a presence” on what we are repeatedly told is a huge, up-and-coming channel. But if this is the case, then why aren’t more brands talking about the results they’ve seen from their voice experiences?
This conspicuous silence around the outcomes of creating branded voice experiences mirrors the lack of concrete figures provided by either Google or Amazon on how much Actions and Skills are actually used – as well as the lack of any evidence to suggest that consumers are using voice to search the web. So where did the notion of voice as a thriving, up-and-coming channel actually come from – and what is the reality?