Oren Jacob, CEO of San Francisco-based software company PullString, and his wife used to load up their three kids and go to Costco, filling their car with toilet paper and paper towels. “From the day Alexa moved in, we have not been back,” he says.
Alexa and Google Home didn’t even exist three years ago. Yet VoiceLabs, a firm that helps companies be successful with voice applications, predicts 33 million voice-first devices will be in circulation by the end of 2017. Gartner has predicted 30 percent of browsing sessions will be done without a screen by 2020, leaving many buying decisions to voice assistants choosing brands from an invisible virtual grocery shelf.
“Search represents an important acquisition channel,” says Barry Lowenthal, president of The Media Kitchen. “What will happen when that changes?”
Waiting for paid opportunities The voice shelf, says Joe Maceda, invention studio lead at Mindshare North America, “is probably only going to be two or three brands. If you’re the third or fourth brand in a category, there’s significant risk.” So brands and agencies are looking to create identities for when consumers can’t see the products, such as offering recipes or developing a unique “voice” or audio signature that makes their brands instantly recognizable.
Though Amazon users see sponsored products at the top of web search listings, there’s currently no way to sponsor products on Echo devices. Brands, however, can offer voice-only deals exclusive to Amazon, though those are negotiated with vendors and not paid opportunities. Products on Google Express are recommended based on relevance, order history and other preferences. It does not offer paid media opportunities behind product placement, but a company spokesperson says Google is “looking at ways to create a business model that will provide a great user experience.”