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Voice Search: Mobile Tactic Here. Now. 2DAY.

stewart-gregg
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Mobile has long been called marketers' next emerging opportunity. Nokia's acquisition of Navteq (the mapping folks) is further proof that place-based media and mobile are about to heat up. With 249 million mobile subscribers in the US (eMarketer, August 2007) and 2.8 billion worldwide (Wireless Intelligence, Q1 2007), no doubt it will be big... some day.

So, from a local search standpoint, how do you prepare for the opportunity? Only a small fraction of handsets today have Internet browsing capabilities, and an even smaller number are actively "searching." Yet, a very old offering is hot once again: directory assistance (DA).

Wireless carriers have been making a handsome profit delivering directory assistance searches to mobile consumers. On average, consumers are charged $1.60 to access local listings and $2.35 for long distance 411. Traditionally, DA has focused on delivering company name-based searches wherein users must know what they're looking for by name.

Rapid DA growth has spawned a sub-category, "voice search." Voice search enables users to access name-based information and/or category-based listings in much the same way as printed White and Yellow Pages, all supported via advertiser sponsorship as opposed to user charges.

There have been a number of these offerings over the years (HelloYellow, 800-411-Metro, etc.), but to date, none were successful at attracting user and advertiser acceptance. With today's mobile-enabled consumer, however, we've crossed the first hurdle. We now have users. Lots of them.

The Kelsey Group estimates there will be nearly 270 million calls in 2007 to ad-sponsored/free DA, the vast majority from mobile users. From now until 2012, ad sponsored DA is expected to have a 50 percent compounded annual growth rate and will be the leading DA source by 2012, as shown below:

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To serve this rapidly growing marketplace, a number of companies have fielded products to attract users and establish market share. Some of the larger players are:

Jingle Networks: Free411
AT&T: 800YellowPages
Even Google has gotten into the game with GOOG-411

From a product standpoint, most of these providers have a similar offering. Users access listings for a requested category and are then required to listen to a brief audio ad (average of 15 seconds) from the sponsor/advertiser before receiving the request information/listing. Additionally, untargeted opportunities exist to sponsor residential phone number requests, and other un-sponsored listing categories.

One of the controversial targeting capabilities is the ability to target competitors' names through direct response ads (i.e., consumer requests information for Pizza Hut and hears an ad for Domino's) impressing a commercial message to try and highjack the requested brand's/name's specific leads. Many will remember this was an early search engine tactic with keyword buys, until the resultant complaints and lawsuits rapidly removed this from the product set. I expect the DA marketplace will be forced to do the same once it achieves critical mass.

So, then, how should you consider voice search as part of a mobile strategy?

First, you must ensure the completeness and accuracy of your listing location database. It's a basic access strategy: incomplete or incorrect listings only frustrate users and encourage them to shop elsewhere. If you're a small business with fewer than 20 locations, I recommend going to the Web sites of these providers and searching for your business as part of a listings audit. Communicate back any missing or incorrect listing information and take advantage of any opportunity to enhance listing information (e.g., add hours, brands, credit cards accepted, etc.). If you're a larger, regional or national business, inquire about the ability to feed the provider a complete listings database. Once you've verified the listing data, look at advertising opportunities that have the potential to meet your performance metrics.

It's easy to try sponsorships in categories/headings/keywords that directly reflect how consumers access your brands. Additionally, give some thoughts to upstream search opportunities. Restaurants should consider sponsoring categories like hotels and other travel-related categories, for example, as users will also consider places to eat when arriving at their destination.

Since most users connect to the businesses they search for when using these products, you'll be able to receive reports and measure the effectiveness of your advertising efforts.

Voice search, while not a new concept, is beginning to see a perfect storm of opportunity; users are lining up because of mobile search needs, advertisers are seeking new measurable manners of gaining sales leads, and there's backing by major brands such as Google and AT&T. While many mobile opportunities are still in the distant future, voice search represents an opportunity in the here and now.


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