Just like the mobile tsunami radically changed online marketplaces and classified sites a few years back, the “voice search” tsunami will again change the landscape during the next few years.

ComScore projects that in just two years, 20 percent of all searches in the U.S. will be done by voice, according to Steve Goldstein, CEO of Amplifi Media, who spoke at the Borrell Associates Local Online Advertising Conference in New York a few weeks back.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. Amazon, Google, auto makers – “they’re all chasing it.”

And it’s not just “smart speakers” like Alexa and Google Home, and smartphones, that are behind the growth of voice search. Auto manufacturers like Ford have embedded it into all of their new models, which can tell where you are (GPS), how you’re driving (sensors), what you’re listening to (data recorders that capture the radio station or other music, and can report it through connected devices), and even power a voice search and report that back to Ford, too.

Imagine the data and advertising possibilities.

If you’re looking for a car – yeah, they know that, too, of course – and driving past a dealership, your car or the advertising medium can offer you incentives. If you’re hungry and driving past a restaurant you visit frequently, or alternatively, one you don’t visit frequently, it can offer you coupons or free food or drink. If you’re coming up on a highway exit with a hotel or motel that might fit your needs, you can get an alert if rooms are available.

This isn’t science fiction or “sometime in the future.” All of these services work today. Most haven’t been implemented yet, but the capability is there now.“

Already 20 percent of Americans own a smart speaker; 42 percent (of those) own more than one. Fifty-five percent of households will have one by 2022,” Goldstein said.

“It’s the fastest-growing technology device, faster than the smartphone.”

Google is far-and-away the leader in traditional search, but if Amazon, which is ahead with both smart speakers (Alexa) and has an extremely loyal user base with iPhones, can use voice search to catch up with or move ahead of Google, the implications for every search-oriented company are profound.

One thing became perfectly clear during several of the sessions: Of all the newspaper companies (pardon me, “media companies”) in the U.S., A.H. Belo Co., which publishes The Dallas Morning News, is one of the few – maybe the only one – that “gets it.” Belo bought digital advertising agencies; set up two marketing companies to support local and not-so-local advertisers; sold off most of its newspapers outside Dallas and expanded its publishing portfolio in Dallas, and reduced its revenue from the printed daily Morning News itself to just 60 percent of total operations – 30 percent from subscription revenue and 30 percent from advertising. Another 17 percent comes from its marketing services, which are growing while traditional revenues are shrinking.

Jim Moroney, chairman and CEO of Belo (NYSE: AHC), said the company had to change or it would have gone out of business.

“I’m in the newspaper business; I know about secular decline,” he said, describing the key to success as “attributable ROI.

“When you prove [ROI] – you quit talking to [advertisers] about spending. You’re changing the conversation to ‘investing.’ … If you can demonstrate to them that it’s your channel that’s delivering ROI … you get to a place where [you achieve] my three favorite words of the last decade: ‘recurring monthly revenue.’ They just keep spending, or they keep investing, because they know they’re getting a return on investment.”

A four-member team of Belo executives spent more than an hour in an afternoon workshop outlining the specifics of Belo’s ongoing transformation, including the ways it works with advertisers to prove ROI and the social media and targeting / retargeting tools it offers.

For his part, Moroney won the 2018 “Award of Merit” from Borrell Associates “for outstanding leadership and innovation in local media.” Well deserved.

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