2019: The year of the voice

Voice may not be a media product yet, but it has varied applications and offers brands a unique way to engage with consumers, say experts

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Published: Dec 19, 2018 8:28 AM  | 4 min read

If you have attended even a few industry conferences and heard some keynote addresses over the year, you possibly remember one factoid clearly: 28 per cent of all searches online are voice searches and is growing at 270 per cent. And you have possibly gone back wondering, “Ok, Google. How do I optimise my brand for voice search?” 

If you are asking yourself that question, you are already on the right path. Because voice today is like the internet in the 1990s. Voice is already becoming a very important business tool that can play a critical role in marketing and the consumer journey.

Anand Chakravarthy - Managing Director - Essence India, says, “Clients with digital assets that play a critical role in their marketing or consumer journey will need to have a voice presence. This is especially true for companies in the financial service sector.”

Some banks in India are already building voice-led chatbots that can help users transfer funds, check balance, and more. Agrahyah Technologies, a voice agency that was launched in 2018, is working on such solutions for its clients in the financial sector. Sreeraman Thiagarajan, Co-founder of Agrahyah Technologies, believes that unlike fads like AR and VR, voice is a “need to have” capability.

“As consumers are increasingly using voice to interact with computer, home appliances, and even automobiles, it is time for brands to be there to welcome their customers,” he says.  

Since the launch of Apple’s voice assistant Siri in 2011, voice-enabled technology has become a standard feature on smartphones and all devices that can connect to the internet. These devices are not just smart speakers like Google Home or Amazon’s Echo, but also low-end feature phones like the Rs 1500 Jio phone. 

There was a widespread belief that only owners of smartphones and smart speakers are using voice to interact with their devices. But the Jio revolution made Google Assistant available to all owners of the effectively-free Jio phone when it was launched in 2017. As per a study by Reliance Retail, “the number of voice commands on the (Jio) phone surpasses those on smartphones by five times.”

The prospect of reaching media-dark areas where the Jio phone has earned high penetration excites Shamsuddin Jasani, Group MD, South Asia, Isobar. As of mid-2018, 25 million Jio phones had been sold. The wide market that does not use English as its first language through voice is the holy grail of every brand, publisher, and platform. “It’s part of the Next Billion plan. Voice will break a lot of barriers in these media-dark regions,” says Jasani. He truly believes that every brand must take voice seriously because “it will change the way humans interact with the things around them.” And as consumers spend less time looking into their screens, brands should be present off-screen and in the consumer’s ears. 

Thiagarajan says that brands have a lot of scope in how they use smart speakers and voice assistants. “Imagine using Amitabh Bachchan’s voice to create the Alexa skill for your company or brand if he was the brand ambassador for that product or service.” He, however, is quick to caution that interruptive advertising like we have seen with digital video should not be replicated in voice. “Using voice to do what the radio jingle does would be a heinous crime,” he says. 

Chakravarthy also says that voice is not a media product just yet. “The implications from a media perspective is limited to search.” He says that while voice search volumes are growing, we are yet to arrive at a solution for making media choices for voice searches. “We need to find ways to bid for voice search keywords as voice search will be very different from how we type.”

The journey towards voice is going to be like the one from websites to app. “Just like brands have mobile apps, they need to build a voice presence for voice,” explains Jasani. This is why digital agencies that want to prepare for future where they help in business transformation of clients are already training their teams in voice. “In 2019, we are focussing a good chunk of our employee training on voice,” says Rajesh Ghatge, CEO, Indigo Consulting. 

Once Indian consumers hit critical mass with how they use voice, more brands and media agencies will start using voice. And experts believe that 2019 will be an inflection point for voice. 

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