Right now Australia is way behind the rest of the world when it comes to voice-activated tech, but one industry commentator says it will really start to take off in the next couple of years.

We’re talking about the rise of things like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, but right now they are pretty limited to just weather updates and playing your music list.

Going forward though voice-activated tech will expand into the consumer good markets and people will eventually be able to find the best place to buy their favourite brands just by asking their trusty home speaker assistant.

Kath Blackham, CEO of Australia’s first voice search agency Versa, argues the opportunity is “absolutely massive” but Australia still has some way to go.

“Although we haven’t seen it take hold in Australia as much, we will see that grow over the next 12-24 months,” she told Stockhead.


Tech giants battle for market share

Back in the 1990s, Google was just a search box on Yahoo and there were alternatives such as Ask Jeeves and AltaVista.

But that style of internet search is rapidly changing as several tech giants compete for dominance.

“A couple of years ago I was at [a marketing conference] and the head of marketing at Hotels.com made the comment that we’ve come to end of that kind of mono search engine approach to marketing,” Blackham said.

“Those of us who remember Ask Jeeves and Yahoo know we had to optimise for platforms. Then we just did it for Google and now we’re going back to that.

“There’s a lot of frustration about going back and learning and I think the situation we’re in. Google is kind of the same across voice and online websites.”

What’s more problematic is not only that there are multiple platforms, but it is all organic, it is not possible to pay for higher rankings – even with Google.

“You have to make sure as a brand the relevant questions that users are asking come up in the top two or three because they [Google] are only going to expose that many search results,” she said.

“Amazon works differently, they don’t go out to the world wide web they use trusted sources like Broadsheet or Yelp.

“They have trusted sources they use to find these results, so you optimise for those platforms.

“The problem that we’ve got is penetration of smart speakers. They don’t have it in the Australian market to justify [spending] yet.”

The opportunity for businesses, however, expands beyond just smart speakers, according to Blackham.

“There’s an opportunity for brands to use their own voice experiences, such as Microsoft,” she said.

Blackham says brands could incorporate voice-activated tech in their apps or websites.

“So over the next 12-24 months we will see brands of companies taking the friction out of searching for things,” she said.


Is Big Brother listening?

The biggest concern among consumers is that the emergence of voice-activated tech has brought more into their homes than just a convenient assistant to answer questions.

Blackham said the notion that a person’s smart speaker was listening and recording their conversations was a privacy concern people quizzed her about a lot.

“In the last 12 months I haven’t been at a conference where I haven’t been asked,” she said.

“We have got a close relationship with Amazon, Google and Baidu, we’ve asked them. They emphatically deny they are listening beyond just listening for those invocations but you just don’t know, maybe we’ll find out.”

She did, however, point out that smart speakers were less concerning than phones.

“But people carry their phones around with them and that is more dangerous than a smart speaker,” she said.

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