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Digital Home Assistants Were Popular Gifts This Year. Content Marketers, Take Note

4 Minute Read

For the second year in a row, digital home assistants were one of the most popular gifts unwrapped this holiday season. Amazon’s sales for its Echo home assistant broke a Cyber Monday record this year, and the Seattle Times reports that Amazon sold “tens of millions” of devices over the entire holiday shopping season, beating 2016’s numbers by millions. That number includes sales of the Echo Dot, a simpler digital assistant that sold millions of devices on its own.

Meanwhile, sales for Google Home were strong, even if it remained a distant second to Amazon’s product line—it’s estimated that Amazon’s Echo products outsold Google Home by a margin of three to one, even though exact numbers have yet to be revealed. Whatever the final tally, it’s impossible to ignore the huge role these voice-activated assistants played in this year’s holiday season. Amazon also sold Echo and Echo Dot alongside other tech products equipped with the company’s digital personal assistant, Alexa.

This boom in sales may not be surprising for proponents of digital home assistants, as well as retail experts who have long viewed this technology as trending among consumers. But a fresh influx of new devices in consumer homes around the world is going to send a ripple effect through the digital marketing industry. Such rapid growth in device adoption will likely make voice search queries and audio content far more influential on consumers in the coming year. With that boost in overall voice search volume, and its promise of stronger marketing ROI, marketers will be scrambling to build a brand footprint on this fast-growing medium.

The message to marketers couldn’t be more clear: Consumers are ready to find out how their new toys can make daily life easier. Every brand should want to be a part of the answer.

Amazon Echo presentation

Image attribution: TechCrunch

Consumers Have Adjusted Their Behavior Accordingly

It’s not as though voice search were a peripheral consumer activity in the first place. Kleiner Perkins’ annual report on digital trends found that 20 percent of mobile searches were conducted via voice in 2016. Those numbers are certain to be higher in 2017, and they’ll go up again in 2018.

Search figures to be the most common activity for consumers using their digital home assistants, but it won’t be the only way people make use of these multifunctional tech tools. According to Business Insider, voice purchases for consumer products increased by almost 14 percent in Q3 2017, demonstrating consumer desires for hands-free shopping and other functionality beyond the basic question-and-answer format. There are plenty of challenges yet to be solved regarding voice-based shopping, namely the challenges of purchasing products without seeing them on a screen, but consumers are nonetheless willing to test shopping and other possibilities hoping to find ways to reduce the friction in their daily lives.

In other cases, both brands and consumers are exploring how digital assistants might offer new experiences that connect solutions to their audience. As Digiday notes, the alcoholic beverages company Diageo has already made a concerted effort to build a branded experience through the Amazon Echo Show, offering consumers in-home guidance in crafting signature cocktails and learning the basic techniques of bartending. At the same time, those consumers are able to build and save shopping lists and purchase ingredients and Diageo’s line of beverages, which include the Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, and Captain Morgan brands. Other brands are following suit: Adweek reports that Jameson created an experience via Google Home called “The Jameson Bar,” which treats users to Irish cocktail recipes and witty Irish toasts.

Let Your Brand Voice Be Heard

The first step of marketing across digital home assistants is obvious: Brands need to begin adjusting their SEO strategy for natural language searches. ComScore estimates that 50 percent of all searches will be voice-originated by 2020, so adjusting for this change now will save your brand plenty of catch-up work in the near future. Voice-centric SEO will involve a lot of long-tail keyword targeting and deep research to better understand how your customers phrase the queries most relevant to your brand.

But SEO isn’t the only way to drive marketing ROI from a voice-centric marketing strategy. Branded audio content can be an innovative way to leverage these assistants while bringing your brand directly into the home, via recipe advice, directions on using power tools, or properly stretching before a workout. Ad Age notes that brands will likely experiment with creating distinctive audio signatures that instantly identify content as belonging to a brand. And dedicated voice apps, built for specific assistants and operating systems, can be a destination for helpful, engaging branded content.

Paid advertising isn’t yet available through Amazon’s and Google’s digital assistants, but it’s likely that these options will be incorporated as soon as these brands find a way to leverage paid content without hurting the user experience. In the meantime, brand marketers will find themselves engaged in a wild west of content marketing that will hearken back to the early days of social media, or even the Internet itself. Voice is a new frontier, largely unexplored, but the audience available through this medium continues to grow with each passing holiday season.

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Featured image attribution: Amber Faust

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Jonathan Crowl specializes in digital marketing and content creation for both B2B and B2C brands, with an emphasis on startups and technology. His past and current clients include B2B brands IBM, LinkedIn, Mad Mobile, Oktopost, BrightSpot, and Waze, as well as B2C brands Porsche, Epson, and PayPal. He lives in Minneapolis.

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