As a marketing professional, you've built your career by creating compelling campaigns that capture calls, clicks, likes, shares, and sales. You've mastered the art and science of SEO. But are you ready to market to the next generation of consumers?

Are you ready for voice?

Voice commerce is expected to reach $80 billion by 2023, and businesses that update their digital platforms to support voice search can look forward to a 30% increase in sales by 2021. With over 3 billion voice assistants in use already—and retail sales of voice-enabled smart speakers, smart TVs, and smart cars on the rise—the number of consumers who adopt voice technology will only climb.

Why Voice Search Works

On average, most of us begin speaking before we are two years old, but we don't start reading until the age of five. Even then, young children can navigate a voice user interface like Alexa more easily than reading words on a screen. The same applies to teens and adults. The average person speaks about 150 words per minute but can only type 50 words per minute, which makes it much easier for us to spend money with our mouths than with our fingers.

We have reached an inflection point. A voice user interface is no longer a curiosity but an economic powerhouse, one capable of driving growth for brands that embrace it, and destroying those that neglect it.

The voice user interface (VUI) won't replace the graphical user interface (GUI); rather, it will supplement it, particularly in hands-free environments like driving. Consumers recognize that asking their cars for directions to the nearest Thai restaurant is faster and safer than trying to type that request into a mobile device.

We are talking to our TVs, our sound systems, our earbuds, and our phones, and these conversations are becoming richer and more nuanced.

Beyond safety and convenience, voice offers consumers a deep connection with brands—where they can receive recommendations and interact seamlessly with digital oracles capable of guiding their purchasing decisions.

Deconstructing the Voice-Enabled Path to Purchase

Some 20 years ago, marketers faced the challenge of mastering search engines, embracing SEO, and positioning their brands for a changing future. Today, marketers are faced with a similar test: how to implement and capitalize on VUI.

For those up to the challenge, the solution lies in deconstructing the voice-enabled path to purchase, from the consumer to the device to the voice assistant to the brand.

Here are four steps to get you started:

1. Create a psychographic voice profile

Overall, consumers using voice today tend to be young (18-29 years old), iPhone users, and male (by 69%), according to data from Marketers must look at their brands to determine the psychographic profile of their customer base. Where does voice fit into the behaviors of your brand's target audience? When and how does your ideal buyer use voice? How can voice influence the customer's decision-making journey?

2. Map out brand-friendly devices

Car shoppers are increasingly seeking out cars that pair with Bluetooth to enable hands-free conversations, but that doesn't mean cars are voice assistants. In many cases, more than one voice assistant can be activated through a device, giving consumers the power to choose which voice assistants they prefer to use and on which devices. As marketers, we need to understand which types of devices consumers are most likely to use when shopping for a brand's product.

For example, for restaurants that master geo-enabled "near me" marketing, cars become an ideal voice device. However, a brand of running shoes may be more interested in the VUI of earbuds or other wearable tech, such as smartwatches.

Or take the case of smart speakers. For many consumers, their next smart speaker will be found inside of their TVs, as television manufacturers recognize the value of injecting their own products directly into the path to purchase. Whereas TV was once a top-of-the-funnel medium for delivering advertising, it'll become a cash register for voice-driven purchases made right in consumers' living rooms.

3. Play voice assistant matchmaker

The four most valuable brands in the world, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, correspond to the four most popular voice assistants in the world: Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, and Cortana. However, marketers must recognize that consumers use different voice assistants in different ways. A person may use Siri for directions in the car, use Alexa for purchasing household items, and turn to yet another voice assistant, like Samsung's Bixby, for movie recommendations.

Marketers must play matchmaker between brands and voice assistants to ensure their products are found.

4. Seduce algorithms through SEO

Marketers once focused their attention on seducing consumers, but now they must also seduce the algorithms that drive voice assistants' recommendations. Whereas the search results on a laptop screen deliver dozens of results, voice tends to flatten search down to a single result. Seducing the algorithm requires marketers to understand the features of their targeted voice assistant; they must then use that knowledge to retool their SEO.

For instance, Siri frequently uses Google's featured snippets (the descriptions and excerpts Google extracts from websites) to answer basic questions, whereas Alexa pulls from a library of over 70,000 skills (programmed by brands like UPS and TV Guide) to ensure the Amazon voice assistant delivers an ideal user experience.

Brands must modify their SEO to include the exact questions consumers use in voice search, often in the form of FAQs, to increase the odds of reaching them through voice.

Either Growth... or Silence

Voice is not a fad. It requires immediate attention and investment. Marketers must have a sense of urgency about deploying tactics that will allow businesses and brands to remain visible in this invisible interface.

If you are leading a brand, ask yourself whether consumers can find your products and purchase them using voice. Then sit down with your team and walk through the path to purchase, including defining your target consumers, the devices they choose to use, and which voice assistants suit this process best.

For marketers who embrace this change, there's an enormous opportunity to gain market share and position their brand for growth. For marketers who remain oblivious to voice, prepare for silence.

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Four Ways to Prepare for Voice Commerce

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image of William Ammerman

William Ammerman is executive vice-president of digital media at Engaged Media Inc. He is the author of The Invisible Brand: Marketing in the Age of Automation, Big Data, and Machine Learning. He has held leadership positions at Tribune Media, Hearst Television, and Capitol Broadcasting.

LinkedIn: William Ammerman

Twitter: @wammerman1