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February 26, 2020

By: Frank Chang, Creative Director, RAPP NY

It used to be little more than an inspirational quote. Now, “speaking something into existence” is a tangible thing thanks to audio search capabilities.

Alexa, what’s the weather look like tomorrow? Siri, add probiotics to the grocery list. Hey Google, read me the latest RAPP blog post. You get it. Savvy brands are starting to get it, too.

As audio (or voice) search becomes native to more and more products, its omnipresence will soon be inevitable. No longer just tethered to a smart-home device or mobile phone, audio search will be in your car, within kitchen appliances and TVs, you name it. Soon you’ll be able to talk with many more everyday items — and it won’t be crazy to expect a response.

It’s seemingly straight out of The Jetsons.

These are indeed exciting times for consumers and brands. As voice technology continues to improve and evolve its ability to understand natural language, it will become the “quick default” form of search, leaving traditional “type searching” further and further behind. How will brands have to evolve their search results to become more relevant for “audio” results?

As screens start to become less critical to get search results, brands will need to find new ways of distinguishing themselves without visuals (e.g., sonic branding). Will a brand’s voice literally become a voice? How important will it become to own a distinctive audio mnemonic? Consider brands like T-Mobile or Farmers Insurance. As you read those names, did you automatically hear their jingles in your head?

Think about the financial services industry. Beyond just learning about credit card offers, it’s feasible that audio search will be used to initiate the application process. Perhaps a bank could facilitate comparison shopping via such a platform, or maybe audio is just the starting point that transmits more detailed information to a mobile or desktop device. You may be able to create personalized or even preemptive results based on previous questions, location, content consumed, and more.

This obviously raises plenty of data privacy and security concerns, but there is a silver lining here: Voice presents the opportunity to build trust with consumers, as financial services brands typically suffer from a lack of it. With an emerging technology like voice-command searching, brands would be wise to strategize ways they can build consumer confidence through this medium.

As the shift to audio unfolds, financial brands will also need to rethink the search terms they want to own. The terms themselves will likely change from what they are today, as the way people type searches and the way they vocalize them are quite different. Think of it this way: If you wanted to learn about the best rates for savings accounts, you might type “savings accounts best rates” into your search bar. If you were vocalizing your search instead, you’d probably say something along the lines of, “Which savings accounts have the best rates?”

And as devices become more intelligent, the search won’t end after one request. Devices will become smart enough to listen and respond to a more natural conversation to yield far more specific search results. The banks and credit unions that grasp the bleeding edge of this technology will position themselves as tough competition and industry leaders — while also opening themselves up to scrutiny about data-collection practices (which has been a particularly pertinent topic for financial services). The future is bright but a little hazy in spots.

Although this is uncharted territory for financial services companies, audio search capabilities present a great opportunity for a brave brand to do impactful work and establish itself as a leader in this area. It’s no longer just the Jetsons who have access to this technology. It’s the Joneses and the Smiths and all of your other customers who do, too. The real question is: How are you planning to keep up with them?

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