Brands facing up to “terrifying” voice search challenge

The new generation of voice-activated assistants is posing a challenge for brands as they get used to a world where these devices play an increasingly important part in people’s lives, particularly how they search for information about products.

Speaking at the first day of the two-day Millennial 20/20 event yesterday, Jerry Daykin, head of digital media partnerships at Diageo said: “Voice is terrifying for brands in a way, because if you ask Alexa to buy you a bottle of vodka, it’s not going to reel off every brand, just one or two.” Asked about Diageo’s approach to voice, Daykin said: “With any new technology, we ask ourselves: ‘how do we do it responsibly?’ Because we can’t have a kid walking up to Amazon Alex and asking it: ‘Order me a bottle of Smirnoff please.’”

At the same time, Daykin said, voice could help brands engage in conversations with consumers.

“We have to ask how do we do it smarter,” he said. “Whisky is a very confusing category, it terrifies me, when I walk into a shop and see a wall of whiskies, from some costing a tenner, to others over £100, so can we have a conversation with consumers that helps them and learns what they want? I guess [voice] might play into the hands of bigger brands that are established and are higher up in the rankings.”

Speaking in the same session, Richard Gibbons, director, global eCommerce customer development at Kellogg’s, said in this new world of voice-powered search, data would be key.

“The biggest challenge for us is access to data,” Gibbons said. “We built a direct-to-consumer platform to help us understand how shoppers are shopping our categories but is very expensive to run these operations… When it comes to voice, the need for that data is going to be more and more pressing for more brands, and more and more challenging to access it.”

And Steve Millard, head of eCommerce and digital at Arla Foods said: “If you search for milk on one of the online shopping platforms you will get about 1,400 results. Now I know there are not 1,400 milk products, but you get down to things with ‘milk’ in the name like Dairy Milk for example, so yes, voice will be a challenge.”