Conversational commerce is e-commerce using conversation-based tools like chat, messaging apps, and voice assistants. Despite the privacy concerns that have come with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Home, they are starting to have a real impact on how people shop online today.
Volker Schmidt is the CRO of Productsup, an ecommerce platform that provides enterprise integration and product data syndication. He's also building a golf coaching app and has an avid interest in understanding how society is developing, particularly from a communications perspective. Schmidt shared his perspectives on voice-search and how it's changing the way ecommerce solutions are built.
The shift to voice-first commerce
Traditionally, marketing has been a shouting system, Schmidt said. But now, with the entrance of conversational commerce, this approach does not work. Schmidt said that ecommerce is heading to a point where there will be no user interface, or at least, a very small interface. And that means all our other senses come into play.
Are we in that period now? Consider that Walmart has teamed up with Google to provide voice-activated grocery shopping, and you pretty much have your answer. According to research from NPR and Edison Research, over 53 million US adults own at least one voice-activated smart speaker, and most of them use that device one or more times a day.
There was a time not so long ago that we talked about the need to be mobile-first, but now it's more like we need to be voice-first. Schmidt said that voice commerce would fundamentally change ecommerce strategies.
Of course, there will always be an alternative, he acknowledged, such as instore, highly visual experiences. But voice commerce is a real alternative for people with no time (and that's a lot of us).
How marketing is adapting to voice-enabled commerce
Marketing tactics need to change to support voice-based commerce, Schmidt said. It must shift away from traditional ads that tell people to "buy my product" to interacting with customers on a conversational level. For example, Schmidt described pet supply apps that focus on the needs of a puppy. Or, Purina, which shares stories on dogs that are hyper allergic. These types of conversations, focused on customer needs and not products have the ability to ultimately funnel down to buying the product, which at that point, people will use voice to order their products.
Schmidt pointed out that the technology is still quite new, and there is no golden rule on how to best market for voice commerce. He said brands have to figure out a strategy that fits their product, industry, and audience. The key is to rethink how you to talk to customers.
But if you think about it, it does make sense. Content Marketing is a primary focus for many marketers who want to focus on the needs of customers and tell stories that speak to those needs. They do this with the idea that people will appreciate the information, consider the brand an expert in that topic and, as a result, must know how to create the best products those topics focus on.
It will be interesting to see how a marketer maps a piece of content on a hyper-allergic dog that is read to a customer over Alexa to getting the customer to purchase the brand's dog food. Does the brand get mentioned in the article? Sounds very much like native advertising.
Optimizing content for voice search
To go along with voice commerce, you must get good at creating content for voice-based searching. Schmidt suggested optimizing your inventory to fit the requirements. One way to do that is to provide a Q&A style of product writing. Answer questions such as "why do people use my product" and "what is my product good for?"
You need to pay attention to how people are interacting with your content and be ready to change it fast to adapt to new areas. He said that Google and Amazon are changing how they work all the time, and you need to stay on top of ideas and conversations.
Creating your product-based content in this manner is a great idea. You're matching product capabilities and features with specific questions customers ask. Imagine going to a website that lists features in this way. It would be much easier to understand if the product matches your needs. And if you ask your voice assistant a question, the brand has a better chance of being the answer you get because they optimized their content in this manner.
Schmidt compared what's happening with voice now to mobile not so long ago. With mobile, 90% of the screen space disappeared, and brands struggled to make it fit. It's the same for voice commerce, except there is no UI at all. Marketing will struggle, but Schmidt does think it's possible to adapt.
Where does privacy fit in?
For as much as people seem to like their voice-activated devices, there's also been a massive backlash around them due to privacy concerns. But Schmidt believes we need to overcome those challenges because most people would rather get what they want than get everything. And that means they have to give something to get that level of personalization.
Transparency will be critical, he said. But these are again similar conversations to what we were/are having with mobile and tracking. There will likely be more privacy outbreaks with the voice-activated technology over the next three years.
Mobile changed ecommerce, and it continues to change how brands sell - both B2B and B2C. The good news is that it has made brands think hard about the user experience and what's most important. Conversational commerce and voice-search is the next evolution of that evolving user experience.
It requires marketers to understand what's important about the products and services they sell and how they convey that through content and product marketing strategies. There's an element of psychology here that is important to consider - understanding customer needs and wants. Just one more piece of the marketer's new job description.