Rise of Smart Speakers presents new opportunity

Carl Brady, Director of The Freethinking Group


Whether it’s in the kitchen, at the office, or hooked up to a sub-woofer in the living room, smart speakers have rapidly grown from seldom spotted pieces of kit into relatively standard appliances, implanted into our everyday lives.

Research from eMarketer suggests that by the end of the year over 20% of the population will have a smart speaker device. Consequently, as penetration and user adoption increases (mainly on Amazon Echo & Google Home), the potential for audio or “voice” commercial messages via these devices will grow too.

In an attempt to truly resonate with our client’s customers, we are forever looking to boost brand awareness and create genuine standout – an increasingly difficult challenge in a world saturated with commercial messages. Smart speakers could well prove to be an ideal platform for reaching customers in a more meaningful and intimate way. Not only do consumers forge a “relationship” with their smart device, but the targeting and contextual potential on such devices far eclipses what can be currently done via traditional radio platforms.

Voice enabled technology has the potential to take customer interactions to a one-to-one level of intimacy. In light of this kind of opportunity, at Republic of Media we are already paying close attention to the evolution of this platform on behalf of several of our clients. Audio strategy, as part of the ever-evolving mix, is now firmly part of our thinking.

Whilst we are keen to ensure no opportunities in this area are missed, it would be remiss to suggest that “voice” is a concern-free environment. From a consumer perspective the line between ‘targeted’ and ‘big brother’ is very fine. A lack of trust in technology and fears over privacy are real barriers to marketing effectiveness that shouldn’t be ignored. Nervousness over any member of a household having the ability to make purchases via a pre-authorised credit card is natural, and while 22% of smart speaker owners already use their device to purchase goods, the commercial potential for high ticket value products is far less than for smaller purchases like fast food.

This platform can only be truly effective if it aligns with, or enhances the user experience, without being intrusive.

Advertisers and agencies need to be mindful of how they integrate brands with smart technology opportunities, whether it’s an association with an Alexa skill, a sponsorship of a podcast, or content. According to eMarketer, smart speaker usage in the UK grew by 99% in 2018, meaning there were 9.5 million monthly active users. This is a rate that far eclipses the rate at which smart phones were adopted.

With voice AI reaching critical mass, and the BBC unveiling plans to develop a voice assistant to rival Alexa, at Republic of Media we are keenly watching this intriguing and exciting area, with interest.