Voice-activated technology was already gaining in popularity before COVID-19 turned social distancing into a way of life around the world. Now, according to a GeekWire report focusing on Amazon’s industry-leading Alexa platform, COVID-19-era isolation has spawned an even bigger jump in voice-activated searches — and some observers believe it may change the way people seek information long after the pandemic has passed.
GeekWire says Alexa use increased significantly between late 2019 (pre-corona in the West) and the spring of 2020, when much of the U.S. and Europe entered some degree of lockdown. That growth has continued into early summer.
“Skills [Amazon-speak for Alexa’s voice-activated applications] usage is up 65% worldwide over the past two months,” GeekWire says. “Alexa voice search with Amazon’s Fire TV platform is also increasing.
“Alexa is fielding plenty of coronavirus-related queries as well,” the article adds. “Amazon quickly worked to fill the Alexa database with information from sources such as the CDC.”
Independent developers are also using the platform to provide vital information. The Mayo Clinic launched a COVID-19 information skill in late April, which includes a COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool to help users decide whether to seek testing.
Speaking to GeekWire in June, Amazon Alexa team senior VP Tom Taylor argued that voice-activated tech’s appeal goes beyond the convenience of speaking rather than typing.
“People do build relationships with Alexa,” he said. “We have something like one million marriage proposals and compliments of love to Alexa. I don’t think anybody has ever done that to a keyboard.”
But hands-free voice activation also has a less romantic upside: It’s safer than touching a screen or keyboard when cleanliness is a matter of life and death. “Voice tech is also being used inside hospitals as a communication tool,” GeekWire says. “Northwell Hospital in New York added 4,000 [Amazon Alexa-equipped] Echo Show devices to allow staff to speak with COVID-19 patients in isolation.”
Alexa’s success has drawn others, such as Google, into the voice-activation arena, with Google taking a big bite out of Amazon’s market share in 2019. Then there’s Apple’s Siri, which can also be used hands-free.
According health-focused journalist Lisa Mulcahy, who has been following marketing trends during the pandemic, the growing adoption of voice-driven technology should play a role in COVID-era marketing plans and beyond.
“As the coronavirus has caused consumers to stay at home, their search needs have become more specific and focused,” she says. “Right now, and for the foreseeable future, your customers and clients want convenience as they search to buy what they need.
“The best way you can give it to them: positioning your brand for success with a great voice strategy.”
She says successful tactics include location-based product pitches, focusing on transportation-related voice searches, streamlining mobile searches, and — perhaps most important — emphasizing consumer privacy.
“In this anxiety-ridden time, consumers need reassurance and results,” Mulcahy concludes. “Never skimp or cut corners when it comes to providing it. Always keep relieving worry at the forefront of your marketing approach.”