If voice marketing has made a place for itself in the hearts of certain brands and their customers for relational uses, it is not yet won for transactional marketing! State of the art.

Words, words… We hear (expect?) a lot about conversational marketing. In 2019, is the customer really able to make an order just by guiding a robot by voice? “Not yet, according to Renaud Ménérat, president of the Mobile Marketing Association France. For the moment, the experiences are quite disappointing…. The use cases are still very similar to those offered by voice servers in the 1990s!” That’s all said and done. It is true that voice marketing seems to be struggling to take off. “We see, for example, that only half of Amazon’s skills score one star out of five…”, says Renaud Ménérat. But is this a beginning that seeks emancipation or a real flop? “The mastery of artificial intelligence and the learning time of the tools developed are still lacking. But we can say that after touching it in 2005 (smartphones, tablets), the voice is a real background movement, a new step in the interactions between humans and machines.”

Search & customer service ahead

The first use of voice, whether through voice mailboxes from a smartphone, tablet or PC, or via applications on connected speakers, focuses on search. More and more brands are offering their customers simple searches based on their voice: a train timetable, a hotel recommendation or the composition of a product. But even when this is the case – 25 to 40% of searches are done by voice – the results are often delivered and consulted on screen! So much so that Amazon and Google are now moving towards voice terminals with screen versions….

Second frequent use of voice marketing: to strengthen customer relations. Buyers can give voice to track the status of their order or check their bank account. “These uses work well because, again, it is a one-way relationship between the brand and its customer. Simple requests with a single answer,” explains Renaud Ménérat.

But what is the point of using voice rather than the Internet, for example? For Oui SNCF, which has been involved in relationship marketing for more than 10 years now, “offering the use of voice to[its] customers is consistent, according to Béatrice Tourvieille, director of marketing for e-voyageurs at SNCF/Oui.SNCF. It is easier for them to express themselves naturally orally, but also faster, since they can say more than 160 words per minute, compared to only about 50 via a keyboard.” This innovation seems to seduce: Yes. 10,000 users are registered daily on SNCF’s bots, half of them on OuiBot. “It’s starting to become significant,” says the marketing director.

Purchase assistance

In the summer of 2017, Monoprix was the first French food distributor to launch a “wish list” service. “We started from a customer insight to follow this objective: helping to create the shopping list,” says Pierre-Marie Desbazeille, Monoprix’ customer marketing director. The customer holding the brand’s loyalty card can talk to his Google speaker or, since last January, Amazon to add to his list the products he plans to buy. Flour, eggs, chocolate, technology records its wishes and returns them in a shopping list, accessible from its smartphone or its Monoprix.fr account. “To date, the customer shares the generic product he wants and, on his list, will appear either the product of the brand he is used to buying, or, if the history of his orders does not inform him, the most popular item in the category,” says Pierre-Marie Desbazeille.

Could this pave the way for strategic commercial agreements between retailers and consumer brands? “For the time being, no,” replied Pierre-Marie Desbazeille. We do not push marketing on the voice. Above all, we want to improve and stabilize the service-based voice system for our customers before imagining any brand partnership.” At the end of 2018, the distributor nevertheless authorized a partnership with Playmobil, in which Monoprix voice users were recommended to purchase a advent calendar from the toy brand.

Voice shopping, mission impossible?

Would voice and transaction be incompatible? Voice marketing can go as far as buying, but within a very specific scope. “In 2019, only one-click transactions, short in the exchange and with only one round trip between the user and the brand, are possible,” notes Renaud Ménérat. And to cite the examples of Domino’s Pizza in the United Kingdom and Uber. “It also works because, when the consumer downloads the skill, he or she enters an ID, a payment method, an address and preferences (pizzas or trips). This is therefore limited to very small and extremely controlled purchasing environments…”, adds Renaud Ménérat. Marco Tinelli, founding president of the start-up studio RedPill, believes that the list of purchases concerned could be extended: “Today, pizzas and Uber, but tomorrow, batteries, laundry, water, cinema tickets, books…. As with every launch of a new interaction channel, power is in the imagination. Voice is a great interaction if it offers a simple, practical, fast and reliable experience.”

Amazon, both a precursor of connected speakers and a major e-merchant, should be at the forefront of transactional voice marketing. However, only 2% of Alexa users ordered on Prime via their premises, and half of these 2% did not order again afterwards… This probably makes brands reluctant to launch. However, at Monoprix, pushing the voice customer experience to the point of purchase is still under consideration: “We are thinking about it, especially for re-order orders, or as a subscription… We are exploring different paths, but voice marketing is for us a cross-country race,” says Pierre-Marie Desbazeille. Yes, Sncf already allows you to book journeys by voice, without going as far as the transaction: “Customers of the TGVmax subscription offer, dedicated to 16-27 year olds, can book trains via Messenger or Google”, notes Béatrice Tourvieille. However, at this stage, SNCF does not set itself any volumetric objectives for these reservations made by voice. “Brands must not hope to use it as a sales channel that could compensate for a decline in their e-commerce business, for example…”, warns Renaud Ménérat. For Marco Tinelli, “voice marketing will become a formidable vector for the development of local commerce for simple and recurring everyday objects, very close in the idea of the concept of neighbourhood commerce or cultural commerce. It will be a vertical additive channel for specialized single transaction applications.

So, are the brands that are launching out there right to invest? “It’s a good thing for them to do it now, because they will have participated in the learning process, will have already started to collect data on this channel. Voice marketing should be considered as a marathon. It will not solve short-term marketing and sales issues, but could develop strong potential in the future,” predicts Renaud Ménérat, who sees greater potential in visual marketing. Start the purchase from what you see, by photographing a pair of sneakers spotted at the feet of his colleague…. A promise that some players already believe in, Amazon having recently entered into a partnership with Snapchat.