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Chinese consumers lead in usage of voice assistants: Report

The rise of voice-activated technology is being driven by a desire for faster and more efficient ways of accessing information – and consumers in Asia’s fast-paced economies are leading the way in adoption, according to global research from WPP agencies J. Walter Thompson, Mindshare and Kantar.

A new report titled ‘Speak Easy’, jointly created by the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group and Mindshare Futures, reveals that 45 per cent of regular voice users globally say they use voice technology because it’s faster, and 71 per cent feel that speaking to tech now comes naturally.

Chinese consumers are leading the way in using voice assistants. Use of voice is higher for most of the activities measured when compared to the global average, reflecting the strong appetite for voice technology in China. Finding out product information and searching online have the highest usage, which is driven by the busy and fast-paced lifestyles of Chinese consumers. Voice usage is also important when it comes to leisure, where it’s mainly used for fun and for playing music.

Developments in speech recognition and natural language processing (NLP) mean we can now talk to computers in a way considered science fiction just a few years ago.

Working with the neuroscience market research firm, Neuro-Insight, the WPP agencies investigated the brain’s responses to voice, compared with touch or typing and found that voice interactions showed consistently lower levels of brain activity than their touch equivalent, indicating voice response is less taxing than its screen-based equivalent.

The study also found that when people asked a question involving a brand name, their brain activity showed a significantly stronger emotional response compared to people typing that same brand question. So the act of saying a brand name appears to strengthen the pre-existing emotional associations to a greater degree than typing it.

The ease of voice interaction is also key, especially in countries with a character-based language. Indeed, we found that 51 per cent of regular voice users in China and 57 per cent in Japan use voice because it means they don’t have to type.

In Japan, the main usage of voice technology is online search (63 per cent) and for finding information on a product of interest (55 per cent). Weekly usage of voice technology amongst smartphone users in Thailand is above the global average at 51 per cent. In general Thai smartphone users (typically young, urban and aspirational) are very enthusiastic about voice and only 5 per cent say they will never use it.

Another trend that stood out in the report was that people are falling in love with their digital assistants – almost half (43 per cent) of regular voice technology users globally say that they love their voice assistant so much that they wish it were a real person. This is particularly true in the markets enthusiastically embracing voice, such as China (65 per cent) and Thailand (61 per cent).

Thirty-nine per cent of all smartphone users are excited about a future where their voice assistants will anticipate what they need and take actions or make suggestions. This is particularly strong in Asian markets embracing voice rapidly such as China (64 per cent) and Thailand (57 per cent).

Fifty-three per cent of global smartphone users think “voice technology will help people interact more with each other as they won’t always be looking down at a screen”.

However, privacy is still a big concern – guarantees around personal data security ranked the number one issue in five of the nine markets surveyed. About half of the global respondents expressed worry about companies listening to the conversations they have with their voice assistant. In Singapore, for example, 65 per cent of voice users are concerned about this. However Australia demonstrates a relatively relaxed attitude (only 33 per cent expressing concern).

The study also highlighted that algorithm optimisation will become the new SEO – in a world intermediated by voice assistants, brands will need to ensure they are chosen above their competitors.

Zoe Lawrence, APAC Director – Digital, Insights, Kantar, said, “Voice is absolutely the next frontier of consumer connectivity and is set to further transform how consumers make decisions and engage with brands. With any new technology, brands need to enter into the environment very carefully, and this is even more acute with voice technology – it’s such a personal environment that any brand presence needs to feel completely appropriate and non-invasive. For brands that are beginning to think about ‘skills’ or ‘actions’, ensuring that they are adding value to the customer experience is essential to get accepted.”

“Consumers in Asia love embracing anything new, cutting edge and exciting, and we see this clearly in the incredibly strong affinity, across our region, for voice-activated technology. The people we talked to really enjoy interacting with their voice bot. It’s a great platform that brands can use to build a tighter relationship with their consumers. Finding a unique brand voice to talk to their fans will be essential,” said Lo Sheung Yan, J. Walter Thompson Asia Pacific’s Creative Council Chairman.