Media has to change every couple of years, or it gets old. We had print, then radio, then TV. Along came the Internet, then mobile — and now it’s voice, an entirely new medium that will disrupt everything that has come before, but maybe not in the same way as previous disruptions you’ve witnessed.
There are two ways to think about voice — 1) as a channel in itself, and 2) as a conduit to, or means of engaging with, all existing channels.
As a channel, voices is a way of entertaining or gathering information. There are a limited number of outlets for voice content, led by Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung. These are the companies who have developed voice platforms with reach. A company like Amazon has created an entire infrastructure that allows for individual creators or companies to develop content and reach a consumer audience.
You can think about this channel in the same way you thought about mobile apps nine or 10 years ago. Mobile apps were confusing to brands. Did you need an app? What should it do? Why not just develop for mobile web vs. putting out an app? Over time the answers became clearer, and the market solidified with two primary players providing a channel for you to develop, distribute and engage in an app environment (Apple and Google).
Brands and creators are asking the same kinds of questions as they look to build a voice strategy, and many are coming up with voice “skills” enabled through Alexa. Amazon has created a cottage industry of developers who will develop skills for the brand or creator, who are then marketing and driving engagement. In the last few weeks, I’ve read of a half-dozen companies whose sole existence is to create skills and drive engagement on Alexa. Is there a business model there? I can’t say for sure, but I know it smells and sounds similar to the conundrum facing companies at the beginning of the app space.
Voice is also a conduit to all forms of existing media. More specifically, voice is the UI for AI that will drive consumer access to all of these existing forms of media, in both a B2C and B2B environment. Voice gives access, and AI creates curation in an automated fashion.
Voice search on mobile devices is exploding and is destined to overtake traditional search soon. This kind of search significantly reduces the impact of display search ads, which means brands need to find other ways to engage with their consumers. Voice search predates other types of voice-enabled discovery online.
In the meantime, my kids interact with the TV by holding up a remote and asking the TV for things to watch. I talk to my phone and ask it to play songs, podcasts and more while driving to and from work. At work, we’re seeing interest in speaking to virtual assistants and using them to engage with general office systems like conference room scheduling and more.
These interfaces are being adopted quickly, and they’re replacing traditional means of engaging with media. Soon enough you’ll be able to ask any device for something and it will be delivered using voice: access to radio stations, TV networks, individual content and more.
It’s funny because the search voice trend seems to coincide with the resurgence of podcasts — and a voice-driven podcast network seems to make a lot of sense these days.
These two areas — stand-alone channel and conduit to existing channels — create an opportunity where voice becomes omnipresent. What’s different about voice, though, is that it doesn’t create a sense of fear or antipathy from old media. If anything, it becomes a means to bring old media into the future by making it continually accessible by people, regardless of where they may be. It creates convenience, a luxury consumers enjoy.
Some might even say “Voice Is The New Black,” if they were into old clichés becoming new again.