February 15, 2021

The Evolving Role of VoiceTech in the Home


This article was originally written by Rob Bennett and published on Creative Review

Voice-tech has seen a monumental rise in the last few years, and has now become a de-facto member of many households.

A quarter of UK households already own smart speakers and more than half of smart device owners are using voice commands more than once per day. The most up-to-date figures even show that by 2021, they’ll be in more than half of households, making them more commonplace than tablets.

One obvious driving force behind the ongoing uptake has been COVID-19, which has seen people evaluate the homes they became confined to, willing to invest in technology to improve their set-up, whilst also being conscious of ways to make isolated relatives feel more connected. But make no mistake - this isn’t just a COVID fad, this is a new facet of technology that is becoming intertwined with our daily lives, much like the smartphone.

It’s already made plenty of chores obsolete. Those with smart speakers mostly don’t go anywhere else for simple tasks like alarm-setting, playing media or creating shopping lists – all of which have become ingrained as normal parts of modern consumer behaviour.  People are also now using devices for discovery, whether this be asking questions that they’d otherwise Google, or stumbling upon new skills and actions through recommendations they receive from the smart speaker. They want answers more quickly than ever, and whether it’s via a device in their home or the assistant on their phone, voice search is quickly becoming a hugely popular way to find answers.

From these benefits that voice tech has brought to us, the most prominent impact on people’s behaviour has been trust in the tech itself. The number of people making a purchase using their voice assistant is up 42% from 2018 to 2020, and recent surveys have uncovered that people are open to voice tech as an alternative to touch experiences in public settings. Some of the early-stage reluctance and mistrust is, rightfully, starting to dissipate. 

Education and entertainment in the home has also been a very interesting area for voice this year. My colleague, Beth Abel, has looked extensively into the ways in which technology can be used to engage with young audiences, and she believes that these changes are opening some interesting doors: “With voice technology now an established, trusted member of the household, there’s a big opportunity to leverage smart speakers as a way of engaging children in positive ways – to educate, entertain and inspire. Previously, lack of trust in the devices may have presented barriers to this. Now there are significant opportunities for brands to create mini games, quizzes or tell short stories. For example, you can ask your smart speaker “How many sleeps till Christmas?”, a fun example of an experience that excites and engages children in a simple way. It’s actually quite surprising that there aren’t more children-focused experiences out there right now.”

We know this first hand. Our work with Pottermore and Alexa helps introduce children to the franchise, but also tests comprehension skills by asking children to answer questions about audio snippets they’ve just listened to. We’ve also recently released our own game, Mischievous Max, as another example of how voice can be used to educate and entertain children - quite timely with a shift to remote learning.

Skills or actions can be first and foremost fun to interact with, but there’s also an opportunity to educate – both of which are positive relationship-building moments for the brand. For example, ahead of a big family holiday, could an airline brand not only allow parents to check in for flights via the smart speaker, but also provide facts to their children about capital cities, or the word for ‘hello’ in a foreign language? Simple experiences like this can become an integral part of building relationships between brand and consumer.

So where’s this all going next? Firstly, the prominence of such experiences is only going to rise. Research estimates that by 2024, the amount of devices used to interact with voice assistants will outnumber the world’s population. This sounds quite drastic upon first reading, but it really shouldn’t feel scary or concerning. Instead, it provides a key opportunity for brands to start building products in this space.

Perhaps most obviously, we’re already seeing a shift towards consumers feeling comfortable making purchases via smart speakers, so, crucially, brands need to ensure they make this functionality available. 

For instance, brands that consumers currently only associate with apps or browsing online, such as Asos, need to look at how they can provide tailored and contextual experiences which ultimately encourage consumers to purchase things they already know they want. For example, ‘Tell me when this is back in stock’ tends to be an option provided by a lot of online retailers, so could this become a smart speaker notification, meaning consumers don’t have to rely on emails or in-app notifications? This could allow consumers to buy on the spot, as their card details and preferences are already saved. 

It’s this kind of seamless, effortless experience which will build confidence amongst consumers and begin to further ingrain these devices in their daily lives. The potential for brands to make voice tech a positive player in people’s lives, of all ages, is endless. 

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