Vox Populi*: More from The Next New Normal

“The virtual personal assistant is romanticized in utopian portrayals of the future from The Jetsons to Star Trek. It’s the cultured, disembodied voice at humanity’s beck and call, eager and willing to do any number of menial tasks.”  –Engadget

Welcome to the future.

Audio assistants and their Video cousins are the most important tech since the creation of broadcasting.

A recent Accenture study found that penetration of smart speakers “will hit 37% of the US population by the end of 2018. And will be in a third or more of homes in four other large markets. It’s been suggested that by 2022 there will be more voice-activated devices than people.” And Comcast predicts that by 2020, nearly half of all search will be via Voice.

Amazon, Google and Apple control the space now, and Facebook is soon to enter the fray with their product called “MARVIN.” Microsoft and Amazon may be competing in the cloud-computing market, but now, Cortana and Alexa are getting together. Recently the two companies showed how Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana talk to each other.

How do voice assistants work?

Simply put, they are internet-connected AI voice activated hardware and software that can accomplish any number of tasks or “skills” from simply playing music, to operating your home electronics (Internet of Things, or IOT). In fact, reports surfaced on Amazon’s efforts to expand Alexa’s presence in the car and work to make it the leader in the connected home. It’s part of what they’re calling the “Alexa Everywhere” strategy.

Integration is already happening with cars, fridges, doorbells and even the bathroom (with voice-activated toilets).

 Google announced that its artificial-intelligence-fused Google Assistant is now connected to more than 5,000 devices in the home, up from 1500 in January of 2018. And now there are even voice apps for wearables (smart watches so far).

But it’s not just entertainment and IOT. According to The Rain Agency, V-Commerce is here. Studies suggest “at least 25% of consumers who own and engage with voice assistants have used it for purchases.” Others show that 10%+ of consumers are purchasing using the devices on a monthly basis.

And from the “what’s old is new again” file, recent data show 60% of UK households listen to podcasts and 40% of UK households will own an Echo by 2018. That’s a global business opportunity. The new streaming reality offers hundreds of billions of data points. With that kind of penetration, these devices are basically a network, with basic cable numbers.

Fast Company reports that “Amazon is announcing general availability in the U.S. for in-skill purchasing, which allows the creator of a skill to sell content to an Alexa user–both one-off purchases and monthly or yearly subscriptions, with the entire transaction handled inside the skill via voice on a device such as an Echo or a third-party Alexa-compatible gadget.” In addition, the company is opening up the ability for sellers of real-world goods and services to receive payment via Alexa using the Amazon Pay service; early adopters include 1-800-Flowers, TGI Friday’s, and Atom Tickets. All of these skills dovetail.

Then there are voice-first games, which are already one of the most popular Amazon Alexa skill categories. 

Games are helping Alexa take off. According to Voicebot.ai, “Alexa Skill games are the second most popular skill category behind smart home skills.”

But there is still a lot of work for brands to do if they want to take advantage of the situation.

According to WARC’s research on voice in late 2017, “¾ of consumers globally expect brands to have their own voice identity, yet only 17% of brands have audio guidelines whilst 86% have visual guidelines.”

But wait…there’s more!

The potential for the use of Voice Assistants as a marketing tool is just starting to be realized as Google has announced the use of celebrity voices coming to the Google assistant. And the door is wide open for sonic branding in the smart speaker space. And what may be the most astounding and controversial development, a newly demonstrated tech, Google Duplex, will actually make a bot-like call for you “to help users make restaurant reservations, schedule hair salon appointments, and get holiday hours over the phone.”

And the voice AI can even speak and recognize characteristics that make it sound and react in a more human-like way. The ethics of this are just being discussed.

First came the “Normal” of TV and Radio, then came the “New Normal” of the Internet and Streaming. Now we are at the nexus of “The Next New Normal,” a place where the audience can create their own radio and TV-like networks by linking these devices either with friends or at home, making everyone a micro-influencer and a content programmer.

The impact this will have on communication and marketing, and the dissemination and tone of news, information and entertainment, is transformative. And the devices that will make it happen are the virtual personal assistant, the smart speaker, and the always-on smart screen.

The age of voice is now. It’s all about the VUX (voice user experience).

PS: The hardest part about writing and researching this blog was finding a place to end it. Every day more and more stories broke and I felt compelled to include them. To me, that is a strong indication of the importance of this tech.  It will surely impact life and change behavior.

 *Vox populi (/ˈvɒks ˈpɒpjuːli/, /-laɪ/ VOKS POP-ew-lee, -lye) is a Latin phrase that literally means “voice of the people.”