Ubaid Zargar

Agencies invest in 'Voice Verticals'

With the advancements in Voice AI, people are now increasingly opting for voice searches over typing. This has led many agencies to invest in Voice Verticals, that provide brands with voice solutions in order to garner better engagement with the audience.

In the realm of the internet, engagement of users has seen some significant strides over the years. Not so long ago, after the breakthrough introduction of smartphones, the whole scene of user engagement on the World Wide Web took a dramatic turn. Users across the globe shifted from their conventional 'mouse and monitor' interactions to a more personalised experience on mobile phones. Consequently, the transformation in wireless standards shook the traditional marketing methods to their core.

With the advent of social networks and apps, online marketing has seen a structural makeover, time and again. More recently, we've seen brands and advertisers alike shift their focus from being television centric to making their presence felt across digital platforms. But the digital space hasn't stopped shape-shifting, and neither has marketing. With the introduction of voice assistance from the likes of Siri and Cortana, to Alexa and Google Assistant, there has been a change in user engagement when it comes to surfing the web, in that people are now growing fond of voice searches opposed to typing.

As revealed by Google, voice-based searches have surged by over 270 per cent in India. It is estimated that, by the year 2020, about 50 per cent of all searches made will be through voice.

To meet the growing need for voice assistance powered by AI, many agencies have come forward with specialised voice solutions. Marketing communications company MullenLowe Lintas Group recently launched Lintas VoiceX, a business unit tailored to provide voice solutions. And so has media agency Mindshare, with its launch of 'mSamvaadh'. Agrahyah, a tech and content startup had launched India's first ever voice agency last year.

But what are the services that these platforms provide to brands, we wondered. We reached out to Virat Tandon, group chief executive officer, MullenLowe Lintas Group to understand the need for voice solutions.

Virat Tandon
Virat Tandon

Tandon says, “Voice and gesture-based inputs have already become primary for mobile users globally. In India, Voice opens up a whole new set of addressable audience base for brands and businesses; broadly defined as type-averse and type-challenged.”

Expounding on how voice-enabled services assist brands, Tandon says, “We aim to provide end-to-end solutions - from auditing an organisation's voice-readiness to implementing and managing the voice experiences. We will tackle everything from Voice strategy and roadmaps for brands to design, develop and manage platform-agnostic voice experiences like purpose-built voice apps and conversational AI engines. While we can voice augment existing assets, our focus is to design whole new experiences for newer CX journeys. We also provide ongoing support for all our experiences, as Voice is not a one-time release initiative but something that needs constant tuning and learning to get better with time."

Commenting on the future of voice-enabled marketing, Tandon reckons, “Voice is neither a threat nor an opportunity, it’s the new normal. An organisation that is not voice-ready will quickly become inaccessible to this set of users who have come online in the voice era and have a baseline expectation and experience of voice-enabled services. Everything from the website to search ranks, from customer service, point of sale experience, lead management - in addition to mobile apps and how social communities interact - will be affected by Voice and Voice technologies.”

Niraj Ruparel
Niraj Ruparel

Niraj Ruparel, national head – Mobile, Mindshare India, is of the opinion that voice-oriented marketing has always been the choice of marketers given its wide reach and simplicity. He says, “Today's India is a mobile rich market with pan-India coverage across all age groups and economic segments. Moreover, voice is the only medium which provides personalised communication to a wide base in the shortest possible time. Today, most brands have prospects base across segments and geographics; considering all these advantages of voice, it becomes the most efficient and effective medium in today's age. By eliminating the need to use your hands and eyes for browsing, vocal interactions extend the web experience to multiple activities such as driving, cooking, waking, socialising, exercising, operating machinery, etc.”

Speaking about the services provided by dedicated Voice solutions, Ruparel suggests, “The most significant benefit of voice AI is personalisation and ease of use. Brands can offer control of screens, conversation commerce, gender/mood based offerings and historical preference based product offerings just by analysing voice.”

He adds, “People are now equipped to use their voice – interacting with brands more quickly and easily than ever before. As people get accustomed to using their voice to accomplish tasks with their assistant, they are speaking more and clicking less. With their conversational user interface, Voice Assistants are putting a human touch into technology. The goal is for the consumer to interact with the device as it would deal with a real person. With powerful AI analytics, these devices can assess tone and sentiment in the user’s voice. By intuitively anticipating their needs and preferences best, brands can create an entirely adaptive customer experience that’s personalised to each user at scale.”

But how does that assist brands, we wondered. Ruparel answers, “For the loyal customers of the brand, replenishment can be automated. AI tracks previous purchases and reminds a customer when it’s time to buy new supplies; or briefs them about the special offers. Another area where voice AI can significantly help customer experience is automating the returns. The more people shop online, the more they return. And customers have very little patience with it. It is important that the customers are satisfied with the return process because then they are more likely to purchase again from the brand.”

Sreeraman Thiagarajan
Sreeraman Thiagarajan

Sreeraman Thiagarajan, co-founder, Agrahyah Technologies is of the opinion that Voice can only enhance the already established communication system between brands and consumers. "Ten years ago, brands were building applications for mobiles. Then social media came along, making the communication two way. Voice adds more to that communication, because it is almost a real time dialogue with the customers…it’s a conversational medium as such. There is two angles to this – voice and audio. Voice is what action is built upon in this model, like Alexa. But, the responses customers get back, are almost audio."

Pointing out the distinct advantages voice offers, Thiagarajan says, "Voice is inclusive. Imagine a 700 rupees Jio phone, while it doesn’t have a touch screen, the biggest button on that phone is that of voice assistant. Since it comes with pre-loaded Google Assistant. You can picture a maid servant, a driver or an office boy, regardless of their literacy, can now voice command to get their desired results, which could be songs, locations et cetera."

Commenting on the format of voice and how it works, Sreeraman says, "There are three phases for voice strategy that could assist any brands. They are Information, Service and Delight. Picture a bank, and its website. Can all the information available on the website be made available through voice? I could inquire about the interest rates, home loans, ATMs. All of this is classified as information. The second phase – service, in the analogy would be to link my personal account with the app and then do activities such as transferring money, or inquiring of account balance. The third phase – Delight, which refers to audio content, podcasts or others. So, if the bank were to launch podcasts on tax planning or other topics, that would be delight."

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