Published December 2017

It’s safe to say that once a topic warrants a feature on Saturday Night Live, it’s part of the national conversation. And while shots fired in an SNL sketch can range from light-hearted to critical, new tech products landing as the butt of a national joke can signal their arrival on the scene.

SNL writers recently poked fun at the latest advance on the frontier of digital technology with a segment featuring senior citizens interacting with Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa. And while this instance might just be a small pop-culture observation of voice user interface (VUI) technology’s increasing notoriety, recent research more accurately gauges the transformations it has prompted for both businesses and consumers.

SNL takes on Amazon’s virtual assistant.

By the Numbers

As of June 2017, over 10 million Alexa-powered devices had been sold in the United States.1 By 2022, it’s forecast that 70 million+ U.S. households—or more than half—will have at least one smart speaker in the home.2

These numbers aren’t surprising when you consider the ever-increasing use of voice search through platforms like Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa. In fact, by 2020, as much as 50% of web-based searches are expected to be done by voice.3 According to Ford Motor Company, 90% of all new vehicles on the road will be equipped with some form of voice recognition system by 2022.4 And MarketWatch is projecting that speech and voice recognition technology will be an $18 billion industry by 2023.5

Much More Than “Alexa, Play That Bruno Mars Song."

On top of personal convenience, VUI technology has led to innovations in areas like healthcare and education. People with disabilities like cerebral palsy or blindness—who have trouble using smartphones or keyboards—are using virtual assistants to manage daily tasks. In the classroom, speech recognition software is there for students who struggle with writing or reading due to conditions like dyslexia or ADHD. And, contrary to what you might think after watching SNL’s spoof, voice assistant technology is quickly becoming an invaluable aid for residents of retirement communities. Front Porch, a nonprofit organization that runs a retirement community near San Diego, has instituted a training pilot program to test the value of home robots for older adults.

Scott Galloway examines voice tech’s winners and losers.

Be Heard through the Noise

Despite all of this, AI voice recognition is still a nascent technology. Big players like Google and Amazon are just beginning to monetize their voice systems for consumer advertising, and more traditional brands like Nordstrom—whose Trunk Club brand declined a fashion partnership with Amazon’s Echo—are waiting until further user experience data is available before diving into brand marketing in the VUI landscape.6

But digital commerce in the VUI market is definitely on its way. In fact, some outlets predict that nearly 25% of digital commerce will be conducted via voice technology by 2020.7 Whether for SEO or PPC, brands will soon find themselves vying for the first or second “voice slot” instead of the first page of a search engine results page. Location-based, natural (semantic) language content marketing will be a reasonable first step in acquiring favorable SEO indexing.

Even as voice purchase transactions increase, some marketing analysts are predicting that brands could end up losing out because voice device manufacturers with their own private-label brands—like Amazon—are dictating purchase choices offered to voice consumers, typically only listing their own products. In addition to omitting consumer product options in voice searches, cost algorithms are influencing search results, favoring a select number of low-cost items.8

Voice technology offers a new landscape in advertising and marketing—one where content and ads co-mingle in unison rather than side-by-side. As user experience and preference improves and modifies the voice market, the best thing brand marketers can do is stay abreast of innovations in the industry, prepare to adapt to changes—and take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.


  1. “Amazon passes 10M Alexa-powered devices sold, survey says, with more models on the way.” GeekWire, May 2017.
  2. “Voice-enabled smart speakers to reach 55% of U.S. households by 2022, says report.” TechCrunch, November 2017.
  3. “Mary Meeker: Voice and image searches are going to make up at least half of all searches by 2020.” Recode, June 2016.
  4. “Ford’s Advanced Voice Recognition Technology Could Have You Falling In Love With Your Car.” Forbes, February 2017.
  5. “Speech and Voice Recognition Market Worth $18.30 Billion USD by 2023.” MarketWatch, August 2017.
  6. “Here’s What You Need to Know About Voice AI, the Next Frontier of Brand Marketing.” AdWeek, August 2017.
  7. “Ads on Amazon Echo: Wendy’s, ESPN, Progressive Among Brands Tested.” Forbes, May 2017.
  8. “Scott Galloway: This Technology Kills Brands.” L2 Gartner, June 2017.