What Should SMB Marketers Ask Of Siri?

It's time to consider how Apple's Siri voice assistant affects your SMB's marketing and business plans.
Here's a question small and midsize businesses (SMBs) should ask of Siri, Apple's new-ish voice search feature: Do I need add you to my marketing plans? Just don't be surprised if the answer is unclear.

To hear Google tell it, it's a definitive yes. Google chairman Eric Schmidt told a U.S. Senate antitrust committee that Siri poses a threat to the company's search dominance. But as InformationWeek's Eric Zeman pointed out, Schmidt has an ulterior motive for saying so--and Siri still has a ways to go before it generates a tectonic shift in search. Still, there's some excitement around the feature--it is Apple, after all--and even some downright glowing reviews.

"[Siri] is complete acknowledgement of the power of voice communication," said Jason Ferrara, VP of marketing at Ifbyphone, in an interview. "People are making this shift: voice is important in our lives, and this is how we'll start interacting with search."

If Ferrara's on target, then SMBs--particularly those that invest heavily in paid and organic search--should be paying attention, right? Never a bad idea to consider the source, though: Ferrara's firm builds voice-based marketing automation tools, so it has a clear interest in the medium. Yet he went on to make an interesting point: In the ever-evolving era of email, social media, mobile, and other digital media, it's almost easy to forget that our actual voices--excuse me while I clear my throat--still work. Siri, if nothing else, might remind people they can still speak, even if to a virtual assistant.

[ Consider this advice when prepping your next online marketing strategy: 5 E-Commerce Trends For SMBs In 2012. ]

"We like to talk about voice as the Rodney Dangerfield of lead generation," Ferrara said. "Nobody wants to give voice any respect as it relates generating and driving leads, but a lot of leads are coming in by voice. [Siri] is an acknowledgement of that."

When it comes to the original question--does Siri deserve inclusion in SMB marketing plans?--Ferrara isn't getting carried away. Ferrara points to Siri as further evidence that online search is no longer a keyboard-and-desk proposition--not just for the iPhone legions, but everyone in the mobile era.

"Search doesn't just get done when you're sitting at your desk--it gets done everywhere," Ferrara said. He sees a lot of potential for companies to leverage Siri and similar technologies, but think it will take a while before voice search matures. "This is how my children will be searching in the future."

In the meantime, forward-thinking SMBs can take some simple steps to evaluate Siri as a viable channel, marketing or otherwise. For starters, don't go overboard. Ferrara joked that SMBs shouldn't suddenly shift the lion's share of their marketing budgets into voice search. "It's about the right marketing mix," Ferrara said.

Siri would appear to have significant potential in how potential customers discover a business. Now might be a good time for SMB owners and marketers to be sure they understand how leads come into their organization--and what happens with them. "Yes, they need to optimized for search," Ferrara said. "They also need to be optimized for what to do with a lead if they come in by phone or [voice search.]"

In a similar vein, consider the multichannel strategy when it comes to how you manage and respond to new leads. If a prospect comes in via email, for example, are you responding via email--or perhaps another medium? As voice search matures, that just adds another consumer behavior to take into account. "Right now, Siri raises the awareness of: How am I dealing with voice leads?" Ferrara said.

Ferrara said it's also worth beginning to assess the universe of questions someone might ask Siri-- directly or indirectly--about your business. "[SMBs] should think about: What is happening when somebody looks for my business and tries to contact me? What's their experience, and am I capturing that experience effectively?"

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