Rowan Kisby, Strategy Director@MullenLowe Profero

Smart speakers are infiltrating homes across the UK — so far, so familiar. But the slow march of audio adoption isn’t 2019’s only voice story. Expect to end the year with voice playing not only at greater scale, but in more positions, than 2018. And with audio interactions already rolling out across new devices and in fresh contexts, it’s worth keeping your eye on emerging opportunities that fit with your brand’s objectives and — critically — with your consumers’ and users’ routines.

Audio Goes AWOL: The Top Line

From: experiences accessed through the smartphone screen

To: experiences that mesh with your real-world routin

Tipping Point: audio leaves home with the rise of ‘Hearables’

The steady growth of smartspeakers over the past two years — fuelled by low price points and savvy advertising — has CMOs rapidly switching on to the need to explore what voice tech can do for their brands. And with voice now present in ~15%+ homes (eMarketer, 2017) it’s perhaps unsurprising that ears are pricking.

Say hello to ‘Hearables’

But that’s not all that’s new. Yes, we’re going to see more audio-enabled homes and devices, but we’re also going to see voice assistants stepping outside the front door in significant numbers. Say hello to ‘hearables’: audio-equipped wearables that allow our voice assistants to travel with us beyond the home.

These Hearables are taking a number of forms,from the upcoming influx of Alexa-enabled headphones (thanks in part to the opening up of Alexa’s Mobile Accessory kit, and a new chipset released end of 2018), to the launch of AirPods 2, with (rumoured) handsfree ‘Hey, Siri’ functionality. And it’s not just headphones getting in on the game. The audio-enabled sunglasses previewed by Bose at SXSW 2018 hit the shelves this month (January being, obviously, a peak time for sunnies). I’m not even going to talk about Alexa enabled cars — but yes, those are a thing too.

Audio, embedded

A number of brands are taking audio interactions beyond consumer devices entirely, embedding voice into their own experiences and spaces. KLM have experimented (albeit with a whiff of the PR stunt about it) with using voice for translation in their cabins; Hostelworld have embedded live translation in their Speak the World app; while Walmart, looking further ahead, have patented in-store listening.

A smarter future

And, last but not least, expect assistants to get more perceptive. Amazon’s patents suggest a future where Alexa will be much more sensitive to the nuances of the speaker’s voice.

At the same time, we’re seeing audio assistants become increasingly believable — without some of the ‘uncanny valley’ issues faced by their robotic peers.

Following the impressive Google Duplex demo at Google I/O 2018, Voca.ai have gone even further in emulating the rhythms of a natural conversation. While currently marketed at the business world, it gives a clear signal of how blurred the line between human and audio assistant may soon become.

So far, so theoretical. What actions should I take?

At the very least, maximising the visibility of your content in voice searches is a must. Expect a gradual ‘creep’ of searches into the audio space.

Secondly, explore whether there’s a relevant smartspeaker ‘Skill’ opportunity for your brand. Where we’ve seen success beyond smarthome & entertainment brands (eg Philips hue or Spotify) it’s been thanks to an understanding of where the smartspeaker lives in the home, and how this can allow them to be present in relevant moments. A great example is the Lego Duplo Stories skill, which complements the product by integrating play — often happening in the Lounge space where Alexa is located — into simple & accessible stories.

With more homes, rooms and contexts opening up as audio devices diversify, it’s worth revisiting whether there’s a moment in your users’ routine where you could really add value in — or, with hearables entering the game, out — of the home.

And lastly, consider whether voice could enhance your owned spaces and experiences, or support staff teams & internal operations. Potential partner propositions (like Voca) are likely to multiply in the next 12 months, while open source services like Snips.ai and Mycroft are make it easier for brands to start building secure audio experiences for their own spaces and platforms.

The bottom line? Audio opportunities will continue to evolve (so expect to see a variation on this trend back next year), but now is the time to start testing, learning, and laying foundations you can continue to build on in years to come.

 

This article is part of MullenLowe Profero’s 2019 Experience Transforming Trends.

 

The report covers seven areas that the agency believes will make the biggest impact on how consumers interact with digital experiences in 2019 and can be found here.

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