Whitepaper - Adapt for Voice Search or Kill Your FMCG Brand: Why adapting to voice search is critical

Posted by Holly Maunders on 27 March 2018

During Module 5 of Squared Online we ask participants to complete a whitepaper on how future digital trends will impact a specific industry. The top 3 whitepapers are shared on this blog as a celebration of all their hard efforts!

Congratulations to Group 9 for this fantastic piece of work. Team members include: Emma Roach, Jennifer Whitfield, Louise Ferguson, Natasha Griffin, Ruth Franklin, Timea Demeter and Alex Memmott.


Getting traditional search ‘right’ has been a huge priority for FMCG businesses for the last few years, with companies investing heavily in search engine optimisation and pay per click advertising. Google alone processes around 3.5 billion searches worldwide per day¹.

However, recent trends are showing that traditional optimisation might not be enough for your brand to remain competitive in the future. The top insight from Gartner’s Top Strategic Predictions for 2018 and Beyond² is that consumers favour visual and voice search, and that this is rapidly becoming the dominant search method on mobile devices.

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Christmas 2017 saw extremely strong sales of voice search related products. Amazon recently announced that the Echo Dot was its best selling product of the holiday season. Around the same time, the Alexa app was the number one downloaded app in the app store, with Google Home also featuring in the top ten³.

Voice search is growing. Google reported that in 2016, 20% of all queries were voice searches, with ComScore predicting that by 2020 that will be 50%. Google has more recently reported that around 55% of teens and 40% of adults use voice search daily, and experts say that the ratio of voice search is growing faster than type search4.

This paper explores recent innovations in voice search, recommends a strategy for your FMCG brand, and looks into the benefits, risks and challenges of including voice search in your marketing mix.

Recent Innovations in Voice Search

The growth in ownership of voice-controlled smart speakers will dramatically affect the FMCG industry because it makes voice activation shopping for FMCG products extremely convenient.

Voice controlled smart speakers offer opportunities for third-party developments and device integration, which other industries have been quick to take advantage of, for example Nest. The FMCG industry has not been as experimental yet. Campbell’s soup is the stand out example offering users of Amazon Echo  step-by-step voice instructions while making Campbell’s recipes to enhance the user connected kitchen experience5.

There are many opportunities past the ‘buy now’ and auto-replenishment prospects of voice search, including activity with branded third-party apps, technology developments, or processes that can be integrated with voice-based consumer tools to take advantage of this growing digital trend.

How to Win at Voice Search

“Voice search could kill brands,” says Marketing Week columnist, Mark Ritson, who, along with Professor Scott Galloway from NYU’s Stern School of Business, declare that voice search will be a problem for the FMCG industry. So how can your FMCG brand win at voice search?

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1. It’s all in a name 

Be “Lurpak” not “butter” is the advice from Shaun Varga6. Use of brand prefixes is declining in search and it is necessary to get ahead of the game by acting now to make voice search work for your brand7. Having a brand name synonymous with the product is ideal for voice search queries. Failing that esteemed position, focus on a smaller product portfolio with shorter, snappier product names; ones people will naturally ask for8.

2. What are you an expert in? 

What questions can you answer better than anyone else? When people ask for the best camping food, Heinz will want to be there answering that question. Keep FAQs on your website conversational. Invest in apps, web pages or Alexa Skills, and keep an eye out for other ways to engage directly with your customers, and even work with them to co-create meaningful voice content.

3. Re-think your search strategy 

Don’t just focus on Google. When it comes to home assistants, Google is falling behind9, so it is necessary to have strategies for Bing - the search engine of choice for Amazon Echo’s Alexa - and Amazon itself10. Focus on long tail, conversational keywords11 and content which will “focus on addressing the needs and passions” of your customers12.

4. Collaborate with your retailers

Keep a good relationship with retailers focusing on voice search or, better still, co-invest in the technology behind voice-based consumer tools, like Unilever is doing13.


Early adopter’s advantage 

Mobile browsers and app-based technologies account for around 50% of some e-commerce sites’ transactions, and brands who re-design their sites to be voice friendly may see a 30% increase in their digital commerce revenue by 202114. Early adopters who capitalise on consumers' shift to these search modalities, will more likely gain competitive advantage through conversion rates, revenue growth, new customer acquisition, market share and customer satisfaction.

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Win in micro moments 

By answering ‘I-want-to-do’ and ‘I-want-to-know’ questions better than anyone else, your brand can be there in crucial micro-moments. A clear, customer-centric content strategy around voice search can create awareness in the ‘see’ stage of the customer journey, build trust in the ‘think’ stage and enhance consumer loyalty in the ‘care’ stage. Be the brand who provides the answers for potential customers looking for recipes, healthy lifestyle advice or housekeeping, for example.

Decrease awareness of competitor’s brands

As an early adopter of voice-search technology and by developing functions that allow, for example, users to order the ingredients directly from a recipe by just by saying “yes” to the question “do you wish to order the ingredients?”, can reduce the ‘think’ stage in the customer journey and puts more emphasis on the ‘do’ stage15. There is less opportunity to compare products so the chance to see and remember competitor brands is reduced.

Not just an advantage but a future necessity 

Due to the increasing consumer trend of voice search, convenience of voice command shopping and virtual assistants, rethinking your search strategy and adapting to voice search will become a requirement for FMCG brands to stay in the market.

Risks & Challenges

As with any marketing technology, voice search comes with risks and challenges. So how can your FMCG brand ensure the risks of voice search are mitigated?

Product discovery diminishes 

Voice-powered devices do not lend themselves to product discovery and comparisons of price or product benefits. Customers using voice search want fewer results than traditional search users. When re-thinking your search strategy, consider that being the 3rd or 4th search result may have traditionally been seen as a good result, however, this will no longer be the case. Having a brand name that is easy to remember or is synonymous with the product, such as Ribena and Marmite is key to ensure that the consumer actively asks for your brand16.

Those brands that don’t adopt a streamlined approach, sacrificing sub-brand ranges for clearer signposted branded products are likely to experience high cannibalisation within their brand portfolio. Adapting new product names for voice search is easily achievable, however the key challenge is going to be considering what you do with already well-established lines. You will need to work hard at building stronger, more personal relationships with the consumer to influence purchasing decisions in your favour.

Own-label threat 

Advertising has traditionally worked to keep FMCG brands top of mind during key micro-moments, but voice search now means that companies such as Amazon, Google and Apple will own the decision on which brand to surface. This decision could be driven by price, availability, or retailer of choice. When brands ignore voice search, they risk retail own labels stealing market share. Bain conducted a voice ordering test17 across a mix of categories using Amazon Echo devices and found that for first-time purchases, Amazon recommends "Amazon's Choice" products, and in other categories where Amazon have an own label, “these are recommended 17% of the time”.

In October 2017, Amazon’s white label alternative, AmazonBasics batteries overtook Duracell and Everlast in online sales18. It seems, “ from now on, Amazon’s Alexa is making the choices on behalf of our consumer”19. Retailer collaboration is clearly key, but be mindful that there will be fierce competition from your competitors. Being one of the first or second recommended products will be vital as voice search grows and it won’t be easy to secure that real estate. You need to act now and consider how to avoid getting lost in this format.

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The emergence of a dominant voice-based retailer could prove to be the biggest risk to the FMCG sector20, so brands who don’t get in early and start to promote competition in the voice-based retail space will be at risk. FMCG brands should collaborate with retailers focusing on voice-search technology or better still, co-invest in the technology or processes behind voice-based consumer tools, like Unilever is now doing21.

Regulatory implications

As with all consumer marketing, voice search has implications for data security. With the new EU GDPR laws coming into play in May 2018, a key part of voice search strategy should be data protection; working with Amazon and retailers to ensure any data is secure and has been obtained through informed consent to ensure compliance with Directive 2002/58/E.22 This includes data you hold as a brand, or third party data you may receive through the voice search assistant (e.g Amazon). You must have mitigation procedures to secure any data held to make sure data servers are protected online and physically, including encryption to minimise the risk of a data breach and processes for threat detection.

Voice search is a rapidly growing trend that will transform the way customers engage with brands and research and purchase products. FMCG brands need to act now and adapt their strategies or risk falling behind the competition. Brands at the forefront of voice search will benefit both by retaining their existing customers and attracting new, whilst brands who wait will find themselves out of the customer’s consideration, seriously affecting sales and, in the longer term, brand awareness. “Alexa, add voice search strategy to my shopping list”.


  1. http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/ 
  2. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/gartner-top-strategic-predictions-for-2018-and-beyond/ 
  3. http://mashable.com/2017/12/27/amazon-echo-dot-alexa-smart-home-top-holiday-2017-gift/#9cmvLVCu1sql 
  4. https://www.branded3.com/blog/google-voice-search-stats-growth-trends/ 
  5. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170710006183/en/Campbell-Soup-Updates-Alexa-Skill-Amazon-Echo 
  6. https://mumbrella.com.au/answer-mark-ritsons-voice-search-problems-can-found-pub-479159 
  7. https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/10/11/mark-ritson-voice-search/
  8. https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/five-ways-voice-will-change-fmcg-brand/1452998 
  9. https://techcrunch.com/2017/05/08/amazon-to-control-70-percent-of-the-voice-controlled-speaker-market-this-year 
  10. https://econsultancy.com/blog/69080-fmcg-brands-if-you-didn-t-have-an-amazon-strategy-before-you-need-one-now 
  11. https://www.jiggledigital.com/the-most-important-voice-search-strategies-for-2017 
  12. https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/10/09/unilever-backs-voice-to-deliver-digital-transformation/ 
  13. http://www.netimperative.com/2017/10/unilever-taps-voice-search-next-gen-digital-consumers/ 
  14. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/gartner-top-strategic-predictions-for-2018-and-beyond/
  15. http://ivolutionconsulting.com.au/2017/06/06/voice-search-seo-strategy-2017/
  16. https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/five-ways-voice-will-change-fmcg-brand/1452998
  17. http://www.bain.com/publications/articles/retail-holiday-newsletter-2017-issue-2.aspx
  18. http://adage.com/article/digital/amazon-private-label-dominates-batteries-speakers/306602/
  19. https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/10/11/mark-ritson-voice-search/
  20. http://www.nielsen.com/uk/en/insights/news/2017/perspectives-the-faceless-battle-with-voice.html
  21. https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/10/09/unilever-backs-voice-to-deliver-digital-transformation/
  22. https://www.marketingtechnews.net/news/2017/jun/06/challenges-marketing-voice-recognition-technology/ 

 You can read more student whitepapers here

Find out more about Squared Online: you can give us a ring on +44 (0) 20 7173 5938, or download the brochure to read about the course and the Squared experience.

Topics: Digital trends, Digital marketing, Whitepaper, Business case studies, Squared Network, insurance, insurtech