Smart Speakers: The Voice Of A Generation

A young boy nerd shouts at the top of his voice to his co-worker through a megaphone trying to talk some sense into him. The young nerds are dressed in bowties and glasses. Retro styling.

In this opinion piece, Growth Tank, youth marketing experts, look into research on the usage of voice assistants and access to smart speakers for Generation Z, Millennials and Generation X in Australia.

We hear a lot about how Millennials, and now Generation Z, are changing the game on marketing by adopting the latest technology, including digital voice assistants on smart phones and speakers.

Recent US research supports such claims, for example, a study by AppDynamics suggested that “adoption of voice technology by millennials was very strong, with 71 per cent reporting that they use voice assistants on a daily basis”.

This may be explained by other data from eMarketer, which showed that the US smart speaker userbase was dominated by “the affluent, older millennial male”.

There have also been claims that this technology is changing buyer behaviour, with Verve’s research suggesting that two-thirds of Millennials and Gen Z are “interested in discovering, exploring, and buying new products with the help of emerging interfaces such as voice-based virtual assistants.”

However, as voice assistants are still in the early phase of adoption, there is limited data on behaviour, and most research has focussed on the younger age bracket.

But is there any evidence to suggest that age impacts voice assistant usage, and does it differ in the Australian market?

We recently conducted a survey of more than 1,500 Australians aged 14 to 54 years, as part of the Custoptimize Research Series for the upcoming YMA Conference.

About a third of the people we surveyed claimed to have used voice assistants in the past month – and this was similar across Gen Z (38 per cent), Millennials (36 per cent) and Gen X (32 per cent).

What was clear, was the difference for those who had a ‘smart speaker’ (e.g. Google Home or Amazon Echo) in their home.

The research showed that about 1 in 5 people surveyed claimed to have access to a ‘smart speaker’ within their home, with no meaningful differences by generation, and that these people were much more likely to have used voice functions in the past month, when compared to those who didn’t have access to a smart speaker (66 per cent vs. 26 per cent).

We also looked at the types of voice functions people were using.  We asked about the last voice assistant request made, finding that phone call / message (28 per cent) functions were most common, followed by weather (16 per cent) and playing music, radio and podcasts (13 per cent).

This result is not unsurprising since we also found that two-thirds of the last voice requests were conducted via a mobile phone or tablet.

And despite claimed interest in other research, we found that shopping-related queries were still rare, making up only 2 per cent.

We did see some limited differences between the generational groups –  for example, Gen Z were more likely to play music, radio and podcasts, while Millennials / Gen X were more likely to make phone calls or send messages.

However, we saw much more variation for requests when split by device.

That is, almost all (91 per cent) of phone / messaging requests were actioned on a smartphone or tablet, while music / radio / podcasts requests were more commonly actioned on a smart speaker.

Peter Hammer, Director of the Marketing Scientist Group, and lead researcher on the Custoptimize Research Series, said “we hear a lot about the differences of younger generations, especially Gen Z and Millennials, but often when we look at the data we see that they aren’t that different from Gen X.

“What this data shows is that technology, such as smart phones and speakers, has a much greater impact on usage, and that placing too much focus on age may have limited benefit.”

Sarah Dwyer, Event Manager from Youth Marketing Australia, added “We’re excited to share these exclusive insights from the Custoptimize Research Series about the different generations in terms of digital behaviours, media usage and advertising at the upcoming YMA conference in Sydney.

“Voice will be an important part of marketing strategy into the future, so locally relevant insights like these will help brands make informed investments”.

It is our aim that this research will assist marketers to make smarter investments when it comes to smart technologies, and not be distracted by claims that they carry different usage across generations.

As the saying goes, age is just a number – and this saying holds true for voice.

The Custoptimize Research Series will be launched at the Youth Marketing Australia (YMA) Conference in Sydney on 30 October and in Brisbane on 15 November.

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