4 Questions Marketers Asked Us About Voice-Activated Smart Audio

October 2017

People are hooked on voice-activated smart speakers. Those who own them are starting to consider them essential, and many who don’t own them yet, are eager to get on board.

Voice-activated smart speakers – Amazon’s Alexa devices and Google Home – started hitting the market just over two years ago. Already, they’ve found their way into more than 20 million U.S. homes – an adoption rate that has outpaced adoption rates for tablets and smart phones.


Equipped with AI-based operating systems, and providing instant access to programming and commerce with a simple voice command, smart speakers are not your everyday household appliance.


“The next frontier of brand marketing” – Adweek on voice-activated technology


In June 2017, NPR and Edison Research released the first results of The Smart Audio Report, an in-depth study on smart speakers – audience insights, user behavior trends, attitudes and more. The Report raised important questions for advertisers, brands and publishers curious to understand this audience and how they can utilize this space that’s becoming increasingly essential to the people they’re trying to reach.


Download the Smart Audio Report 


Edison and NPR expanded on that research with The Smart Audio Report, Part Two, which was released in September during Advertising Week New York.

“For marketers, this opens up opportunities to create or sponsor audio content, such as ads and podcasts, that is designed to be listened to by families or groups in parties and other social settings.” 
– Tom Webster, VP-Strategy & Marketing, Edison Research


Below are four common questions we received from marketers during our Smart Audio Report events and webinars along with answers from Edison Research VP of Strategy, Tom Webster and National Public Media CEO Gina Garrubbo, who has been helping NPR sponsors navigate this growing platform.

Have more questions about the Report, smart speakers or how your brand can be part of this space? Email us at We’d love to hear from you!


Marketers’ Questions About Smart Speakers Answered 


Q: What will advertising look like in this voice-activated environment?

Currently, Amazon Alexa devices and Google Home do not have standard ad units for brand messages. Brand messaging integrated into streaming content – such as NPR One and some music services – is heard by smart speaker users, and the platform also offers brands the opportunity to develop skills, experiences and other content for the platform.


“As an organization built on audio and voice, we at NPR and NPM, know that [voice-activated] devices have the power to fundamentally change the way audiences engage with media and brands.” 
— Gina Garrubbo, CEO of National Public Media


Voice-activated technology and smart speakers present a tremendous opportunity for brands and promising advancements in tracking ROI on advertising.

As Webster explains, brands, in the near future, will be able to track whether users actually listened to a brand message and place a call to action in brand messages to track response. With a simple voice command, listeners can ask to hear more about a product, program or service they discovered while using their smart speaker. This technology has the power to provide advertisers data on all of these actions to track engagement and also insight into how much users already know about a brand.


Q: Have these devices changed the behavior of older users, A45+?

Users of all ages are adopting these devices, including those A55+ who have traditionally lagged in adoption of new technology. Data from The Smart Audio Report, Part Two, reveals smart speaker owners A55+ are using their devices regularly, which is reflective of the frictionless user experience – from basic setup to assistance with everyday tasks. 


Base: Heavy users are smart speaker owners who use their device regularly for 11 or more different types of tasks; Medium-Heavy use 6-10; Medium-Light use 2-5; and Light use 0-1.

Additionally, adult-age children have identified smart speakers as a great gift for their parents based on their own positive experience with the devices.


Q: Why do people only use very few functions of smart speakers?

Smart speakers are only two years in the market, and users are just scraping the surface of how they can use these devices. According to The Smart Audio Report, people use smart speakers for an average of 7.5 tasks regularlystreaming music, checking the weather and general inquiries are among the most popular – and that’s despite the fact that many people are still learning the nuances of navigating a platform by voice.

These speakers contain 15,000+ capabilities, and trends indicate that the more people use these speakers, the more functionality they find and come to rely on. Since getting their smart speaker, 57% have ordered an item through the device, 31% say that they spend more money on Amazon/Google, and 28% say it caused them to pay for a music subscription service.

Lizzie, an early adopter of the Amazon Alexa platform, was a new mother when Edison Research interviewed her earlier this year. This voice-activated speaker allows Lizzie and her husband to care for their child while juggling other tasks around the house. They find themselves calling on the speaker for a variety of needs – from finding out what time it is to soothing the baby with the favorite tune, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” by Frankie Valli.



Q: What is the projected growth of the smart speaker category?

In this specific study, Edison Research captures the current adoption of smart speakers and projects that with with the 2017 holiday season approaching, smart speakers will once again be at the top of many consumers’ lists. In December of 2016, eMarketer reported Amazon sold up to nine times as many Alexa devices than the previous holiday season and expect the trend to continue year-over-year (eMarketer 2016).

eMarketer, which has made projections out to 2019, reports 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month this year, jumping 128.9% from last year (eMarketer 2017).

By comparison, 6% of consumers owned a smart phone within their first year on the market, and ownership grew to 11% by year two, a YOY adoption rate of about 83% (comScore 2016). The smart speaker adoption rate is well beyond that.


Smart speakers and voice-activated devices are the digital audio platform of the future with fast consumer adoption, an expanding range of capabilities and the technology to adapt to the ever-changing consumer landscape. For brands and advertisers, these devices present the opportunity to extend brand marketing efforts into the home, which requires a strategy all its own.

For more on what these voice-activated smart speakers mean for marketers and brands, watch Tom Webster’s Smart Audio Report, Part 2 Workshop from Advertising Week New York, and check out his piece on, “Smart Speakers, Why Marketers Need to Listen Now.” 


Activate Your Brand on Smart Speakers
Asking for the news is one of the most popular commands on smart speaker devices. Take the Alexa platform for example, where 66% of Echo owners request to “read the news."

As a NPR forerunner in the voice-activated speaker experience, sponsors can activate their brand message in NPR news briefings on the Alexa platform and Google Home, and in-stream messaging in the NPR One skill on Alexa. With nearly 9M downloads per month, NPR's smart speaker audience is substantial and growing.