WPP’s David Roth: AI-Voice in Commerce is Entirely a New Game for Retailers and Brands

Fri, Nov 8, 2019

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Hear WPP's David Roth's take on how the AI-voice landscape will be a new and challenging hurdle for many retailers to adopt and practice.

WPP’s David Roth: AI-Voice in Commerce is Entirely a New Game for Retailers and Brands

The question of AI-voice in commerce is not whether, but when.

Which means, for those entrusted with retail and CPG brand performance, the critical question is now shifting to one of how and where.

The latest data shows that when is increasingly around the corner, especially when measured by availability and adoption.

Availability? According to Voicebot.ai’s latest quantitative survey of US voice assistant adoption and usage, more than 26 percent of US adults now own smart speakers—a year-on-year increase of 40.3 percent. In addition, 2018 saw some 153 million US smartphone owners use an in-phone voice assistant—more 30 million for the first time.

Adoption for commerce? The same Voicebot.ai survey showed that active monthly shopping usage by smart speaker owners—in activities ranging from search to transaction—grew from 13.6 percent of owners to 19 percent overall. And some 28 percent of owners—a nice cohort of some 18.6 million highly digital, higher income Americans—searched for products via voice on a monthly basis.

Add to that this interesting data point: more than 30 percent of smart speaker owners would like to use their speakers to get answers from customer service departments—and another 30 percent are open to the idea. That’s a why-can’t-we-get-the-answer-we-want-when-we-want-it cohort of about 40 million US consumers.

All this is being heard loud and clear by David Roth, CEO Europe and Asia of WPP The Store, the WPP Global Retail Practice and Chairman of BrandZ and BAV Group.

We sat down recently with David for his perspectives on the potential impact of AI-voice on commerce, and his current advice to clients.

AI-voice in commerce will be, according to Roth, “one of those massive hockey stick transformations,” moving from a relative plaything to something that will be “very important, highly sophisticated, and will happen very, very quickly.”

Where will its impact be found?

Roth identified three key issues for retailers and brands.

The first, he said, was one of “tone of voice” for a brand. He explained that in the brand-marketing industry, the concept of “tone of voice” has been central to creative message development and branding for generations.

In print advertising, the “tone of voice” was expressed through word choice, typography, and visuals. In audio and video advertising, it was expressed in the visuals, the music, and the words, the tone of the voiceover, and the dress/look/voice of the presenter.

With AI-voice, word choice and the timbre/inflection of the voice will continue to be relevant to the “tone of voice.” However, AI-voice means a shift from one-way message delivery to two-way, give-and-take communication. Questions and answers. And ultimately, conversation between the consumer and a brand expressed through artificial intelligence.

From Roth’s perspective, this is an entirely new game.

“At a basic level,” he said, “you can ask if your brand is male or female. But this is a much more sophisticated question for brands, because you’re not just delivering a 30 second message—you’ll be conversing with a consumer and the consumer will be having a conversation with you.

“At its most comprehensive level, how will the brand relate to you? In the conversation, it is deferential? Cheeky? Challenging? Authoritative? And how will you react back? “

“Or does it change depending upon who the brand is talking to and in what geography the conversation is taking place?”

Roth also pointed out that in one-way brand communication, “tone of voice” was open to a significant amount of interpretation by the reader, listener, or viewer. There were a lot of blank spaces—and consumers, generally to their own liking, filled them in.

“In two-way communication, however, the brand voice will be “much less ambiguous. It’ll be like having a physical manifestation of the brand right in front of us—much less open to interpretation. Which means it could be received very, very well, or not at all.”

Roth’s second issue focused on the shopper path to purchase. Where—and how—will AI-voice most affect decision-making and brand choice?

And when, where, and how will marketers go about creating the right AI-voice toolkits for their brands?

The question of AI-voice and the path to purchase was one that, according to Roth, was begging for an answer.

“Very few people have thought about this in terms of the complete customer journey, and where voice will play,” Roth said. “Where will voice create an advantage? I don’t think we have any idea yet. “

“I would think for different brands, in different categories, voice will play different roles. But how do we as marketers, as brands, prepare for voice? Most people are in the place of saying – wait, this is a problem we haven’t needed to think about, it’s never one we’ve had to solve. There’s a lot of work that we as marketers and brand owners need to do, and quickly.”

Roth’s third issue was perhaps one of greatest concern: AI-voice’s potential impact on search.

“Today,” Roth said, “we all know the rules of the search game. You type in the words, and the algorithms are optimized, and you pay-to-play. You play the SEO game. All marketers know how it works.

“And if Google changes the rules, we all learn the new rules, and we adjust. “

“But I suspect—in a voice world—the rules of the game will significantly change. But this time, it will not be so obvious how they will change. And it will not be obvious as to how we marketers will optimize search.”

Roth noted that consumers who typed words into a search bar were more likely to include a brand reference. Voicing search, however, might be a different story.

He pointed to recent research that found that shoppers searching by voice were more likely to use generic terms for products, asking for “dog food” for instance, instead of “Purina Puppy Chow,” or “double A batteries,” instead of “Duracell.”

Because of that, Roth asked, might brands weaken sooner or faster in a world of AI-voice commerce? Might the downhill slope for a weakening brand be steeper and faster?

The implications for brands—especially as AI-voice grows to an ever-greater portion of the search interface—are enormous.

“I think big primary brands like Tide, for instance, will hold onto their market position—people may ask for ‘Tide’ rather than ‘laundry detergent,’” Roth said. “It could mean that those brands that are synonymous with a category—perhaps like ‘Oreo’—might win an even greater share of search. But for secondary brands, this could be very difficult.

“The ability to rise to the top in search is going to be critically important in AI-voice, because consumers probably will not have the patience to listen to a long list of options. Whoever gets there first will win more and more in voice. This may portend a massive shift in brand leadership.”

Roth also warned of another massive shift: of monetized value into the pockets of proprietary AI-voice platform providers, as AI-voice grows in availability and commerce adoption.

Here, he made clear his concerns:

“As AI-voice grows, whoever controls the ecosystem and the routing of the messaging will define the rules of the game—and extract ever greater value. They’ll be the only ones who win.

“Unless there is some set of open standards or regulation to open voice to everyone, the retailers and the brands will be running a gauntlet, squeezed by the proprietary platform owners.”


So, David, what final advice do you offer to retailers and CPG brands now encountering this new world of AI-voice in commerce?

“Because the consumer will need a compelling reason to ask for you by name.”

AI-voice in commerce.

David Roth can hear it coming. Can you?

Let’s talk.

#voicenbot.ai #MITAutoIDLab #WPPTheStore #ConversationalCommerce #OpenVoiceNetwork #DavidRothlondon

Find David at https://www.Davidroth.com.