VOICE Summit 2019 recap header

I had the pleasure to attend what is arguably the biggest voice conference of the year, featuring the industry’s crème de la crème. You could even say I was a bit starstruck because a lot of the cca. 5000 people that were present, either as speakers, panelists, or attendees, are doing amazing work with voice technology (or are about to). And, as you may or may not know, I’m a huge believer in voice tech so it was awesome to be there and soak up both the knowledge and the atmosphere.

This sort of leads into my first, and probably the main takeaway from VOICE Summit 2019:

Voice is a tight-knit industry, and a SUPER promising one at that

The beautiful thing about a small industry like voice is the fact big global names like Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, US Bank, General Motors, and a bunch of others sit side by side with companies essentially comprised of two people with a great idea, just like that. Where else can you see such a sight, a “small” man to be shoulder to shoulder with the big league players? I’m no expert but I highly doubt that’s a common scenario.

The reason for this “anomaly” is fairly simple: businesses involved are seeing the big picture, identifying the opportunities and potential at hand and are actively collaborating in order to figure out the right way forward. It doesn’t matter if your business card is of an enterprise or a small startup. Everyone involved shares a deep enthusiasm about the voicetech, brainstorming ideas and generally eager to make an impact.

Ron with Teri Fisher, MD and an all-round voice-first legend
With Teri Fisher, MD and an all-round voice-first legend

That’s what a young industry full of promises looks like from the inside and it was really stimulating to witness it first hand. The summit was buzzing with excitement with respect to where voice is these days and where it’s headed. At the end of the day, those are the types of industries I want to be part of. 

There will be an abundance of personal assistants

Moving on to business, there’s a big question mark over the direction voice assistants are taking when it comes to providing personal assistance – you know, being the go-to modus operandi of doing things. I’ll leave aside the development of underlying technology for another time, although as you can imagine there was more than plenty of talk about it as well. 

Here’s the deal. At the moment, the market has three major assistants: Google Assistant, Alexa, and let’s say Siri (even though it’s not in the same league as the former two), each having one specific area of voice expertise they excel at, so to speak. Google Assistant’s “thing” is search, Alexa has e-commerce, while Siri has Apple’s landscape under its thumb. There was also plenty of talk regarding Bixby and its potential or in other words: if it can achieve something similar to Siri within Samsung’s ecosystem. 

The prevailing forecast portrays a professional voice assistant for basically everything, whose capabilities and functions will be suitable for specific needs. Count me in as I firmly believe this is how things will play out because that’s how real life works. When you want to get advice from one of your friends about cars, you go to the one with the most knowledge in that area, like a mechanic, right? The principle is the same: a custom personal assistant that specializes in a specific area.

Bret Kinsella talked about this extensively in his Voice Strategy Workshop which focused on building a brand through voice. An increasing number of different companies either have or are developing personal assistants, trying to figure out a way to position their solution in the market. Like a kid in an amusement park, it’s a major area numerous businesses are keen to explore, likely driving the trend. 

Voice adoption is moving fast…

Traditional industries are moving fast into voice which would be my third takeaway. As examples, special mention was given to healthcare and finance, labeled as industries generally known to move at snail-like pace when it comes to adopting new technologies. Just think about cryptocurrencies and finance: there have been years of serious talk behind possible application but we’re still far from any meaningful crypto adoption in the financial industry. 

However, this is not the case with voice. These industries are into it. Like, really into it. They understand the benefits of voice for the end users, whether it’s a B2C or B2B solution. They understand the efficiency behind the voice technology and most importantly, that the users themselves want it.

David Isbitski, Chief Evangelist for Alexa and Echo at Amazon, expanding our minds and ears.
David Isbitski, Chief Evangelist for Alexa and Echo at Amazon, expanding our minds and ears.

Naturally, there will be some legal wrangling (as usual) until everything is sorted out but generally speaking, a much greater understanding of voice capabilities is at work here (which somewhat surprised me). As someone who is looking from the inside out, it’s really interesting to see how industries usually not quite known as being the early adopters are turning into early adopters. I guess that’s another testament to the power of voice.

…but there’s still lots to figure out

The final takeaway relates to audio and voice technology. There are two issues/challenges regarding brands and media that both revolve around the same two things. 

One is advertising and all applicable layers of it. Where does one advertise within the voice and audio landscape – is it podcasts, online radio, something else? What is the advertising plan for voice in general? How can a brand leverage smart speakers? Basically, the 1000 piece puzzle many are still trying to solve is the best way to use audio and voice in order to advertise their brands. 

The other thing is (I’m sure you guessed it because what else?) marketing. Here the main challenge is how to incorporate this “new” channel (which is actually an old medium getting back into the spotlight) to create engaging content and leverage a brand. 

On the surface, these are two questions that are completely different yet have the same path to their respective answers. My industry peers share the sentiment that every brand and content maker needs to ask themselves how they want to leverage audio and voice in both their advertising and marketing strategies, then look at their options. And we all know there are plenty of those to leverage and be an early adopter – a cool brand, if you will, because you’ll be leveraging what’s trendy/the hype right now.

Final words

Those would be my key takeaways after coming back to Tel Aviv and having a weekend to think about all the things that happened at Voice Summit 2019. Far from it that these are the only personal observations on trends, ideas, and stories I could share from last week in Newark, New Jersey. I noticed a lot of talk about healthcare, especially the role of voice in elderly care, as well as voice application in education. There were so many things happening it’s hard to keep track on merely half of it. The ones I wrote about are just the ones that stuck the most. 

That’s it for now, just a little peek at how one voice fanboy got through such a significant event. It was certainly a great satisfaction of mine and I’ll be sure to come by next year. Till then!