You may still be getting used to the idea of your own voice as a search and command “platform,” but that is exactly what products like the Amazon Echo are designed to enable. Not only can you command these smart, voice-activated devices to “add potato chips to my grocery list,” you can ask them to “buy potato chips.”
You probably did not imagine your “personal shopper” looking like this.
When you take your shopping list to the store, you are still subject to quite a bit of decision-making. Maybe your second-favorite brand is on sale, temporarily superseding your desire for your favorite brand. Or maybe the store is out of one brand of a product, so you buy another brand. Furthermore, it is easy for retailers and brands to gather extensive consumer insights from your purchase history, but this does not happen in nearly so straightforward a manner with digital assistants like Alexa.
Meanwhile, consumer packaged goods brands are scrambling to learn how search engine optimization (SEO) will work on these new platforms, and what can be done to maximize their success in an entirely new purchasing venue that is brand-agnostic. It is still the early days of voice search, so are any new consumer insights emerging? Yes, but they are certain to evolve as the technology matures and makes its way into more homes.
Will Brand-Agnostic Platforms Remove Consumer “Agency”?
At first glance, it would appear that digital assistants like Alexa take away decision-making power from consumers because digital assistants do not “care” about brands. However, is this really the case? Will it always be the case? Suppose a consumer orders a packaged food or beverage product using a voice platform device like Echo. How does the device decide what brand to use, and what quantity to buy?
Currently, the Echo has algorithms that search through the user’s purchase history to discover preferred items, so brand loyalty that crossed the divide from retail store to online store should survive. Then again, what if you did not like the last brand of trail mix you bought from Amazon?
In-store consumer marketing can do things that virtual consumer marketing currently cannot. At the supermarket, consumers can see and pick up items, and get some idea of the experience of them before handing over money. That is not true with voice-activated platforms.
Brands and Algorithms
Voice-activated digital assistants are causing the development of a whole new form of SEO for brands.
So far, Amazon has not disclosed the metrics that it uses to choose “Amazon’s Choice” products, or how it determines a search result for Alexa orders. The company has, however, said that Amazon Choice makes product recommendations in cases of searches where they believe the customer wants help in finding a high-quality product quickly. Recommendations are made based on popularity, reviews, shipping speed, and availability. Brands currently cannot request that their products be named as Amazon Choice products for a given keyword because selections are constantly being updated.
Targeting Consumers Directly Is More Important Than Ever
Packaged food and beverage brands can gather a few consumer insights from this preliminary intelligence about how voice-activated assistants are going to be used. First, detouring retailers is becoming more common as more brands explore selling directly to consumers. This, of course, will require intimate knowledge of the target consumer, but the advantages can be significant: a more intimate brand experience for consumers, higher sales efficiency, and higher margins, for starters. Even perishable brands are figuring out ways to go directly to the consumer, which often requires buying their products specifically to fill orders.
Will voice search and similar smart home technologies completely upend how packaged foods and beverages are sold? Probably not. Even the hyper-connected Millennial generation appreciates the experience of shopping in stores and the advantages they get there that do not happen when standing in front of their Echo at home. However, the brands that want to take advantage of the unique opportunities for this new type of SEO have a sometimes-overwhelming, yet uniquely promising future in this new sales channel.
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