Our Stance: Thoughts on Voice and Search


Welcome to your March installment of Our Stance, an irregular - but hopefully welcome - insight into the views of the Strategy and Insight Team. Do give us a shout if there’s anything you’re keen to hear more about. Or if we’ve said something you disagree with. We love a wee fight.

Strategy Our Stance Voice search

DuckDuckGo's word on privacy by Maddy Sim


This week, I’m on a subject close to my heart. Search Advertising; my occupational entry point into the world of marketing. Last week, Gabriel Weinberg, DuckDuckGo CEO, testified on privacy legislation – and in doing so he theorised on the most debated issue in advertising at this time;


“privacy legislation is not anti-advertising”

DuckDuckGo is notable because it provides un-trackable searching.  Fear not, I’m not about to go into some GDPR related dirge. This ain’t March 2018. But I do find DuckDuckGo a fascinating acid test on privacy concerns and how they impact on ‘actual’ people’s behaviour – ‘actual’, in this case, referring to non-marketing folk.


DuckDuckGo has 0.53% of the search market in the UK. It’s the very definition of small fry. Even Bing (Bing!) has 4.57% (mind you – that 0.53% is still a 39% growth on this time last year, and in the US it’s capturing 1% of searches, up from 0.5% a year ago). People aren’t flocking to DuckDuckGo in their droves. But they are an interesting platform, because of the points that Weinberg made in his testimony to Senate;

1. He remarked that the company has “been profitable using contextual advertising since 2014, and last year we earned substantially more than the $25 million revenue floor that subjects a company to CCPA.”

2. He said that taking a harder line on privacy will be good for businesses – because more people will turn to brands that they trust. Hence the increase in searches for DuckDuckGo (felt a bit meta putting ‘duckduckgo’ through Google Trends…);

3. And finally he said “well-drafted privacy legislation can spur more competition and innovation in one of the most foundational markets of the Internet: digital advertising.

”And those 3 points, together, are why I think we should care about DuckDuckGo. If regulation gets tighter or more people select browsers and providers that guard their data, it’s going to shake up the tactics at our disposal and it’s going to necessitate original thinking. Meaning we’ll need to do more audience planning and more contextual due diligence – top news for the strategy and insight team 😉.

However, a final point. Out of interest I switched to DDG as my preferred search engine at the tail end of last year. I was back on Google within weeks – it just didn’t offer a great search experience, and that’s partially down to the amount of data on me they capture (ie. none). At the end of the day, for most folk utility still trumps privacy.


Identity: Standing out, in the voice era by Ian Martin

I fell into the Alexa trap by association.

I’ve been a long-time fan of the Sonos group of products, even when the office speaker was hijacked again, and ‘work’ by Rhianna played for the 349th time that week. That stat is real, we kept a tracker.

That aside, my love for Sonos has led me to a form of Stockholm Syndrome with Amazon, thanks to their latest release of speakers which include Alexa as standard. I find myself asking for more songs to be played, more updates on the weather and a morning joke, even though I’m sure it’s all against my will.

I haven’t bought anything, at least not yet.

Voice technology has come a long way, I’m sure we’ve all had moments where we’ve been misunderstood (NSFW) and plenty of us are using them in the UK;

In 2018, 9% of smart speaker owners used their device to make low value purchases, primarily in the grocery, entertainment, electronics and clothing categories.

Low prices for Amazon’s Echo speaker range, accelerated their growth into homes – over 100m globally and still counting, but Google, Apple, Sonos and Facebook (maybe) will fight back. When they do, the battle to listen to us and make money from what we say will intensify.

I was inspired to write this by a Gary Vaynerchuck snippet, and I couldn’t agree more with his views on the importance of a brand in the voice search era. His point is that it’s expensive to appear as position one for key PPC terms now, but at least advertisers in second or third place can be seen, recognised and selected.

When I catch myself asking Alexa to order me a case of beer in 6-months, I don’t want to have to say one for Beavertown, two for Tennents or three for Cloudwater, and so I’ll need to name a brand to avoid Alexa defaulting to the highest bidder, or worse making the choice for me based on my purchase history.

Fundamentally, the underlying principle remains the same for advertisers.
Currently brands need a strong identity away from Google to invoke attention and action when their name is written in plain text. When their name isn’t written at all, a strong identity and category association is even more important. Without one, they risk irrelevance in an increasingly important category of commerce.

Let’s not get carried away, we’re not going to start shopping in the dark. Voice will help power our device use, gradually moving from a private affair to a public one, and it will help improve our shopping and information searching experiences. But pure-voice experiences, like those through smart speakers (without a screen), will stick to low-value, low-consideration items, and as a research tool for more considered purchases.

As with everything, advertisers need to adjust now to be relevant tomorrow, but balance is key. Voice search isn’t where all attention should be diverted to and focused, it’s simply an area to be addressed, if you have the time, resources and it’s right for your audience.

This is just another reminder that as things change, building a strong brand will always be the most important area for organisations to focus on. If you can only afford to do one thing, it isn’t building an Alexa skill, it’s strengthening your identity.

If you have any topics or ideas for Our Stance, please get in touch with us here!

Strategy Our Stance Voice search
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