Okay Google, tell me how voice search is going to affect my brand.

Alexa, can you explain your analytics?

Hey Siri, add yourself to my brand plan.

Whether voice search is conducted using a smartphone, a smart speaker in a home or car, or via another method, its growing ubiquity is going to affect pharma brands in a variety of ways.

A growing majority of searches (60%) are done on mobile devices. And a growing number of those (25%) are done by voice. Things are moving quickly. Siri has only been around for six years, Google Voice for five, and Alexa, only three. But experts estimate that, in three years’ time, as many as half of all searches will be done by voice. This is largely because we’ve passed the tipping point of efficacy. Recognition accuracy must be near 100% to be adopted. And we’re just about there: error rates are the same for Microsoft’s latest transcribing software as for a human.

Voice search changes not just the method, but the words we use to search. You know about SEO, but what about NLO – natural language optimization? We use much more natural language when we speak a search instead of type it. Content has to reflect those changes in order for it to be findable. Those revisions can be a difficult process, with more needing to change than we might first realize.

Voice search means different types of analysis and monetization. It’s easy to learn what words people type into Google. And a user’s history is extant in their account. But what about voice searches? The providers are quick to clarify that they don’t identify or save the listening that makes “wake words” like “Okay Google” or “Alexa” or “Hey Siri” possible: a comfort to privacy-concerned users. While Apple also de-identifies and eventually deletes voice searches, Amazon and Google do not. And the industry is still figuring out how paid results and ads can work effectively in voice search.

But while not all the answers exist yet, voice search undoubtedly has untapped potential for brands. As one marketer noted to AdWeek, “In the past, ‘brand voice’ has been metaphorical. Now it has the potential to become real. What does Nike sound like? Tide? Ford? The decision to develop a unique brand voice is a big one.”

Consider opportunities like these for pharma brands:

  • Patients could use voice search to ask a question or solicit assistance from their HCP, urgent-care provider, pharmacist, or Rx brand — Merck is working on this already. This ability could be particularly helpful for patients with dexterity or vision issues.
  • Pharmacists, who often have to call payers, HCPs and brands seeking information, could spend far less time on hold or navigating automated systems.
  • Physicians often use their smartphones to look up drug information. Voice searches could mean more face time with the patient and less time reading.
  • Clinical trials could use voice for data collection, analysis and even clinical aspects, as voice-recognition software could eventually gain the capability to diagnose diseases.

From “Can people pronounce our brand name?” to “Can Siri pronounce our brand name?” … the growing importance of voice search prompts a variety of important questions that smart pharma marketers should consider.