5 things your business needs to know about voice-activated technology

Voice-activated computing is everywhere these days.

We see commercials from the Amazon Echo (Alexa) and the Google Home (OK Google) all the time, and Apple HomePod’s entry into the market will only ratchet up the battle for awareness.

Every modern-version operating system has voice-activated computing as well—Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana. Samsung is even trying to get into the mix with Bixby.

These voice-activated technologies are fun to play with. My kids love asking Alexa to play Frozen music and tell knock-knock jokes. They’re also convenient for routine tasks like setting timers and creating reminders. And if you’ve tried to send a text message with Siri or Google Assistant, you know that the natural-language processing engines that underly this technology are getting better and better.

In short, the tipping point is here. Voice-activated assistants are here to stay—and that means your business needs to take notice.

Here are five things your business needs to know about voice-activated devices and software.

It is separated—for now

There are five major voice-activated engines:
Siri (Apple)
Alexa (Amazon)
Google Assistant
Cortana (Microsoft)
Bixby (Samsung)

Each has different algorithms and machine learning engines, which means each one works different to come up with answers to the questions you ask. They don’t share information, either—so how Siri knows to answer a question on your iPhone may not be obvious to Alexa on your Echo Dot. In fact, these companies are fighting for turf in this space and others, with Google knocking some competitors off of YouTube, and Amazon removing products from the store, and so on and so forth. This means they may go to extremes not to share information.

This means there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to reaching customers through voice activation. But that may change. Amazon is starting to work with Microsoft to get Alexa and Cortana to play nice.

As you craft your voice activation business strategies, keep an eye on the market for signs of consolidation.

It is changing search

The nature of search is changing dramatically. Once upon a time, your goal was to make sure your business was on the first page of Google results as seen on a desktop computer, either via organic search ranking or through paid ads. Then, as customers moved to searching on smartphones, it became more important to rank even higher and optimize ads with click-to-call and click-to-text links.

Now, people are searching with voices, and they are getting one result.


And if they’re searching using Alexa, that one result is more than likely coming from amazon.com.

This is a new reality that businesses need to start accounting for now. In many cases, businesses will need to do all they can do to be the first result for key searches. Obviously, this is a big ask—SEO is a deep and competitive landscape that we’re not going to try to break down in this post.

If you need to do more research, go and do it. The No. 1 ranking on each popular voice-activation platform, from Alexa to Google Assistant to Siri to the rest, is only going to grow in importance in the coming months.

It is going to be everywhere

Right now, voice assistants are found mostly in two applications:
1) Smartphones (along with tablets and desktops)
2) Devices for the home specifically built for voice-activation (Echo, Google Assistant, etc.)

But this is just the beginning, as this article from The Verge denotes. Already, car manufacturers like BMW, Ford, and Nissan are looking to add voice-activation technology as soon as 2018. This is a natural application, because voice-activation combines the best of OnStar and internet-connected cars to deliver information and assistance without forcing drivers to take their eyes off the road.

Where is the next application? The Verge says that Amazon may be working on connecting Alexa to smart glasses, and this is certainly not the only kind of product in development.

For example, with the move toward augmented reality in manufacturing, it’s easy to imagine using voice-activation to launch augmented reality manuals or repair manuals.

The point is, voice activation is going to be attached to lots of things in the very near future. Your business should start thinking now of ways voice activation could benefit your customers and your bottom line. You can bet at least some of your competitors are exploring this topic.

It may kill screens—at least some of them

This sounds extreme, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a few years from now, people leave their smartphones at home and just use their voice-activated earbuds to make calls, search the web, and send texts. Could this be one of the reasons Apple removed the cord from AirPods?

Even if screens don’t go completely away, the screen may be used significantly less on smartphones, in cars, and in other ways.

So if your business relies on showing customers something on screen, then you may need to consider a pivot or an addition to your strategy. You can’t rely on that screen being there a when a customer starts a search few years from now.

It’s not for everything

All of this information may have you psyched to launch a voice-activated initiative in your business.

That might be a great idea—but it might not.

This technology is still so new that it’s not clear what things a customer will want to use it for, and what they won’t. And that’s information your business needs to calculate the ROI of an innovation initiative.

So your approach toward this kind of initiative needs to include steps like prototyping and user testing. You need to have confidence that customers or employees want to do things by talking before you spend a lot of time and money to build voice-activated technology.

In Conclusion

Like any emerging technology, there is still a lot to shake out in terms of voice activation, and a lot to learn about it.

But your business leaders need to understand that this technology has the potential to be as disruptive as the first smartphones were.

We hope you get what we’re saying.

Alexa and Siri and the rest surely are.

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