Caraustar: How voice-search assistants are impacting your brand’s future success

How voice-search assistants are impacting your brand’s future success

Voice-activated product searches have a lot of surprises in store for consumer-product brands, and they aren’t all happy surprises.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, Amazon’s Alexa app uses an automated algorithm to answer consumers’ voice-search questions. When users ask Alexa to order them a new product but don’t mention the brand (“Alexa, order more toothpaste.”), the algorithm will search to see if the user has ordered toothpaste from Amazon before. If they have, Alexa will reorder the same product.

The problem comes when the user hasn’t ordered and a product before and doesn’t request one by name. The algorithm delivers the top products that it finds in Amazon’s database. Brands have little or no say in whether their products are included in these search results, the Journal reported.

Consumer-product brands aren’t accustomed to being kept out of the loop like this. In brick-and-mortar stores, they negotiate with retailers to secure premium shelf space within easy reach and view of customers.

Mind you, brands do not automatically lose all their advantages in the voice-activated future. Indeed, many sources suggest iconic brands will be among the top beneficiaries of voice-activated search because they are so popular to begin with.

Nevertheless, automated, algorithm-driven consumer technologies should be front of mind for everyone in the consumer-products business. These services build on the trend of putting consumers in the driver’s seat. Brands ignore these innovations at their peril.

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Starting with the Amazon Choice Badge

Alexa attempts to match voice-search commands through the Amazon Choice Badge. This badge is awarded to products that Alexa’s algorithm thinks consumers want.

It’s most helpful in choosing products people have purchased in the past. Most likely, it scans data points like product ratings, sales volume, and pricing, according to AMZ Advisers, a retail-tech consultancy that focuses on Amazon. The badge also coordinates with products available on Amazon Prime.

Of course, Amazon isn’t the only voice-activated search brand, but other providers will no doubt optimize their algorithms on similar lines, developing artificial intelligence features that learn people’s preferences and become more accurate the more people use them.

Voice search will keep getting better

Around one in six U.S. adults owns a voice-activated smart speaker like the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, according to VentureBeat. Apple’s new HomePod also expands consumers’ options.

There’s no evidence that this trend will end anytime soon. TechCrunch reported an estimate that 55% of all U.S. homes will have a voice-powered smart speaker by 2022. That’s 70 million households and 175 million installed devices.

It’s a stretch to suggest that voice-activated search on these gadgets will replace traditional online transactions using finger slides on smartphones and mouse clicks on PCs. Still, the fact that more people are using these devices is sure to pressure brands to make sales more amenable to voice-activation technologies.

Remember the power of your brand

The advantage of your brand is that consumers automatically select you over your competitors. People want to search for your products by name.

Thus, you’ll face growing pressure to make sure buyers find your products in voice-activated searches on smart speakers. Perhaps this means you tweak your marketing and messaging in other channels to encourage people to find you on Alexa.

One thing is certain: Online sales are becoming the dominant mode of modern retailing. Everyday consumer products that used to be sold exclusively in stores are being home-delivered as Amazon, Walmart, and others create programs encouraging repeat sales through their websites.

It’s all about consumer loyalty

Doing everything you can to help your customers find your products online, through voice, and in traditional searches is a sure bet for strengthening brand loyalty.

At GREIF (formerly Caraustar), we’re encouraging brands to make sure they haven’t neglected the basics of building brand loyalty: It starts with the package the goods arrive in. The right package ensures safety, consistency, and consumer satisfaction, no matter how people buy.

With so many more consumer goods purchased online for home delivery, it’s crucial to ensure your packaging is durable enough for the eCommerce distribution chain. You also need to think about how to optimize your packaging for standard eCommerce pages that include pictures and descriptions.