01 March 2019 by Marek Mis

Thinking about "voice" is wrong.

Thinking about "voice" is wrong.

Recently, being immersed in a lot of "voice" projects, I noticed that there's a small, but very important misinterpretation in the understanding of what "voice" tech is all about.

The promise is for a magnificent AI algorithm, able to listen and respond to human queries, wrapped in a shell called a smart speaker. Apparently, it's great for every brand to get involved and build something for "voice" - to boost sales and offer customers the best products. The promise of a new marketing channel, where once again marketers can run their campaigns, outperforming each other in the name of ROIs, CPAs, and generally speaking substantial success.

This promise creates false expectations towards what can actually be achieved, and what the technology is actually all about.

Here's the thing: it's not "voice" we're dealing with. It's "voice assistants".

It’s not voice. It’s assistants.

Alexa and Google Assistant are: assistants.

Voice as such, is just another endpoint, an interface, which allows for human<>assistant interaction. All smart speaker manufacturers quickly realised that voice is not enough. Assistants also use screens and in many (if not most) cases the user experience is a lot better, from displaying lists of items to showing videos and instructions - the human brain likes to see things.

Assistants become multi-modal, or multi-surface technology. Alexa wants to be present on every device, from a light switch, to a microwave. Google Assistant wants to be with you at all times, hence the natural habitat for it is your smartphone. When you put it aside at home, it will listen and talk to you on a smart speaker.

Another example is Bixby. It's built into any Samsung smart-tv as standard. But until Bixby lives on other devices that you carry around with you, or those that surround you - I can’t really see a great future for it as a proper assistant.

Assistants are meant to be helpful, by design.

The key thing to realise, is that the voice assistants have great potential to become a part of customers' lives. Assistants are designed to adjust to people's routines. To be present and helpful (!) in any situation.

Only once brands understand this can they start thinking about taking their seat on this fast moving train. The graph below says that the tech is ready. It says that you can estimate the cost of development, ROI and measure the success. The same way you do for a website redesign, landing page, or an app.

Image: https://stateofdev.com/t/technology

Assistants will only get smarter.

It’s worth remembering, that on a graph like this, we can very often see the 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation of certain technology. All tech giants heavily invest in AI that will keep improving their outcome product: assistant ecosystems. We may certainly expect the 2nd generation of Voice Assistants to come to life soon. If you haven’t seen it already, take a look at this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0P0GcwQqMQ

If I could offer a piece of advice to anyone who feels lost in this space, or feels that they have a great idea to implement using “voice”, here it is:

Think "being helpful", not "sell more".

Think "ubiquitous", not "smart speaker".

Think "assistant", not "voice".