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Google has the brain but Alexa has the (commercial) braun!

The race for Smart-Speaker dominance is increasingly looking like a two-horse race between Amazon Alexa (50% market share) and Google Home (30%) with the worlds most valuable hardware company Apple, failing to make any real impact (4%).

But whilst Google and Amazon are splitting the lions-share of the market, neither has master all-areas of Voice First yet – with each having their own strengths (and weaknesses) particularly when it comes to “selling”.

A recent study by US cable channel CNBC concluded that whilst Amazon’s Alexa was out-in-front in terms of e-commerce, if you wanted to have a “natural” conversation with your voice assistant then it was Google Home that was leading that race.

It is no surprise that Alexa is the perfect personal shopper. Amazon’s entire business is based on commerce and their range of voice-assistants have been seamlessly integrated into their core shopping platform, making it easier than ever to order your favourite items from Amazon’s global marketplace.

This places a high value on promotional space within the Alexa ecosystem. An advert that can present a product and asks the consumer directly if they wish to then buy that product is a frictionless process that would likely lead to a much higher conversion rate than traditional advertising formats. It’s what makes the question of voice first SEO so interesting.

(READ: “What happens to SEO in a Voice Activated World”)

This integration has also opened the door for brands to sell items directly via their own Alexa Skills. Whilst the most popular form of this “voice commerce” model is similar to the freemium model on mobile phone apps (you can download a basic app for free but then must pay for upgrades). There is also a growth in direct product sales via Alexa Skills: for example, a recipe Skill sponsored by a pasta company may allow the user to order ingredients (pasta) directly via their voice app.

Its a form of direct sales that requires very little work, or even though from the consumer. “Would you like me to add XYZ to your shipping basket?”, “Yes please Alexa”.

In fact, you don’t even have to say please.

This ease of commerce obviously makes the Alexa platform very appealing to brands and companies who want to sell their products directly but they are missing one big plus point that Google Assistant offers: Natural language and understanding.

Google Home is hot on the heels of Alexa and is, for the first time, showing faster growth in the market. Much of that is down to the way users communicate with the device.

Google has years of experience in understanding how people ask questions and request information from its internet search engine. Whilst speech and text are very different formats this leg up has helped Google develop much better language-processing than its big sister Alexa.

In order for Smart Speakers to become TRUE “Voice Assistants”, they need to understand how people speak and learn from previous interactions. They need to learn about their user. Not only understanding their consumer habits but also the way in which they phrase questions (and even their mood from tone of voice). According to research from Dentsu Digital Agency Google is way ahead in this area:

“Google obviously plugs into the Google search network, which has all the resources that Google has including all the history of search. It’s why Google has become the most popular desktop search engine. I think that’s the main advantage of the Google Assistant is it’s one its part of the whole Google ecosystem.”
Dan Calladine | Dentsu

Densu’s research found that Google Assistant was five times more likely to understand a request and give a correct response to a question than Alexa when handling queries concerning asked about travel, finance or retail.

This gives Google a huge advantage not only when it comes to offering the right products to the right individuals but also in creating an enjoyable and fulfilling user journey to its owners – something that could go a long way to explaining its land-grab in market share.

So, if you are a marketeer who do you turn to? Amazon with its commercial platform or Google with its advanced brain? The answer right now is both. Right now Alexa is the best (just) and easiest platform for brands to test their Voice First strategy but in the long term, there is no way of predicting which platform will eventually win (if either) so don’t be putting all your eggs in an Alexa shaped basket.

The competition for dominance in this area is great news for voice innovation. Google will use its deep learning to continue growing its language processing and Amazon will need to improve in this area greatly if it is to keep pace. Likewise, Google will have to make direct purchases as frictionless on their devices as it has become on the Alexa platform.

Competition, in this case, is feeding innovation and Voice First, as a platform of brands and marketers will continue to get bigger and better.

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