Is your small business ready for the voice assistant revolution?

Shopper: Alexa, put Hostess cupcakes on my shopping list.

Alexa: Done. And do you know that Hostess cupcakes are on sale at Joe’s Supermarket this week?

That’s an imaginary conversation, but similar to one that might soon be heard in millions of households.

As voice recognition hardware and software – like Echo, Alexa, Siri, Google Home, Cortana, and others – find their way into more and more homes, the battle for advertising revenue will get very heated. The issue the services need to wrestle with is this: How to implement the audio equivalent of visual online ads.

When you search for a product on any of the major search engines, you are accustomed to being presented with several ads for related products or from sellers of the product along with all the regular search results.

That’s okay on a webpage where your eye can quickly scan for the information that is most relevant to you at the moment. However, audio is different; your ear can’t scan ads in a fraction of a second and skip over the ones that are irrelevant. This means that the companies behind products such as Echo, Siri, Google Home, and Cortana will probably end up selling just one ad slot to tag onto audio search results.

Theoretically, it’s possible that these devices will be mostly ad free forever. Perhaps the consumer data they gather will provide them with enough value…but that’s highly doubtful. History has clearly shown us that any service that begins with few or no ads moves in the direction of presenting an increasingly greater number of ads. To believe that these voice devices will not evolve in a similar way is merely wishful thinking.

In fact, writing for Forbes, John Koetsier recently described the first ads to come to Amazon’s Echo. He points out the commercial conflicts that will certainly create some friction. Koetsier notes that if you want to buy batteries from Amazon using Echo, you cannot order either the Energizer or Duracell brands – you can only get Amazon’s own AmazonBasics brand.

There is much to be sorted out here in the coming years. As a small business owner, you need to follow these developments and see what the service providers are allowing in terms of advertising. For example, if you owned John’s Print shop, you wouldn’t want to ever hear this exchange:

Customer: Directions to John’s Print Shop.

Voice assistant: Getting directions to John’s Print Shop…did you know that Joe’s Print Shop is three miles closer to your location?

Image: By FASTILY (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Type added.