Venkatesh Rangachari and Vani Gupta
Guest Article

Marketers searching for their Voice

With voice commands gaining popularity, every Indian who can speak, is now a netizen.

The WSJ carried, sometime ago, a fascinating story about a railway porter in India, who earns less than Rs.500 a day, but can be found whispering into his smartphone - he's downloading movies, messaging, checking train schedules and more. He is illiterate. But he uses voice search to get all that he needs from the internet.

Marketers searching for their Voice

Venkatesh Rangachari

Marketers searching for their Voice

Vani Gupta

The story got us thinking more about this railway porter. A migrant from a village deep in rural India, exposed to technology that has allowed him to go beyond what his education would ever have allowed. Cheap hardware and powerful software available to the railway porter, creating new consumption opportunities.

This has always been technology's story. From radio, to TV, to cable and satellite TV. Technologies came, became cheaper and penetrated into less affluent India. Continuously bridging segments, and creating larger homogenised audiences.

But technology, before the internet (and the smartphone as its most widely used tool), was always one-way. Broadcasting. With the consumer, rural or urban, simply taking in a standard message. The internet began to allow the 'educated' consumer to seek information.

The uneducated urban and rural consumer, however, still relied on information to be provided to him. And this is a very large segment of the market, that simply could not participate in this information age.

The marketer still controlled this segment.

Voice-enabled search is changing all this rapidly. Every consumer is now becoming the master of what he wants to consume. He can find it, share it. And herein now lies the challenge for the marketer.

Before going any further, lets look at the statistics quickly and come to the point we want to make:

• With over 220 million users in 2016, India has become the second largest smartphone market, surpassing the US. By 2018, India's internet penetration is expected to reach 50 per cent. (Source: CounterPoint Research and IAMAI)

• With the Government spending aggressively in rural India, including a 'Digital Village' initiative where free wi-fi will be deployed in 1,050 rural villages in India, it is estimated that India will be home to a billion smartphones by 2021!

And given that a large part of the country now has 4G connectivity, it would be safe to assume that hardware and software together will bring every Indian to the world, very rapidly. With voice commands gaining popularity, every Indian who can speak, is now a netizen. With an opinion and a tool to share that opinion.

Are we marketers really thinking about this new reality?

We argue that the consumer, in the age of information, could be divided into two large buckets.

Information-enabled, and information-deprived. Leave aside the propensity to purchase and the size of various sub-segments in these two segments. Leave aside, for the first time, rural and urban India. Educated and un-educated India. Rich and poor India.

Marketers searching for their Voice

Image taken from Wall Street Journal. Clicked by Karan Deep Singh

Overcoming the barrier of education (in any language), technology is using the power of voice to help a new set of consumers choose what information they are accessing. The new 'information enabled' is now equally equipped to create content and share content. She has, literally, found her voice.

This new consumer will rapidly open new opportunities for marketers.

The marketer of tomorrow must recognise this reality so that he can start to build demand in this segment. The marketer must recognise that this population is no longer ignorant. And is capable of finding relevant information. There are half a billion potential Facebook customers out there, still. And another half a billion WhatsApp consumers... who could never get on the app, because they could not read and write.

These are, for all practical purposed brands that start with zero, in rural India. They have no legacy, no relevance. Can a voice-based chat app enter rural india with a first-mover advantage?

It is no longer only about selling Manchester United to the world. Its about tapping into the stories that are getting created everyday around a new emerging information consumer. And entrenching your brand into these stories.

• News and information: How quickly are they adapting to this 'voice' enabled world?

• Is voice-enabled search being built into products/services and websites?

• Are voiced-based services now default on websites?

• Is your SEO voice-optimised? With long-tailed keywords.

• Are articles on your web page written in a more conversational manner? To facilitate voice searches which mimic normal language.

Marketers have always believed that they create "pull". Welcome to a world where every individual is capable of creating his own pull. With almost a billion voice searches a day now, it's time for marketers to find their voice , all over again.

(Co-authored by Venkatesh Rangachari, co-founder, Hypersonic Advisory, a firm that helps start-ups reach scale, and Vani Gupta, a marketing professional).

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