Voice Search: Are Pharma Brands Listening?

Voice search usage is on a rapid rise due to widespread mobile adoption and tremendous advancements in speech recognition technology. With product names often difficult to spell and pronounce, pharmaceutical brands are not always sufficiently visible in voice searches. Pharma marketers must look closely at how their brands are interpreted via voice search and determine how they can effectively embrace this exploding search innovation.

Voice Search Today

Though voice search is only a small portion of current searches and won’t exceed text searches anytime soon, it will continue to grow significantly in volume and importance. It is now deployed on practically all devices, including mobile phone and tablet apps like Apple’s Siri and Google Now, new car features like Hyundai Blue Link, Google Glass personal technology, and desktop computer interfaces on Chrome, iOS and Internet Explorer.

Voice-activated search is only now beginning to deliver on its potential. Speech recognition tools have historically struggled to accurately distinguish similar-sounding words with different meanings or unclear human enunciation. However, greater prioritization and technology investment have advanced voice search, enabling it to play an increasingly important role in many sectors—including local-based businesses, travel and healthcare—in which voice recognition tools are already a staple of healthcare professionals’ office management systems and electronic health records.

Searcher Benefits and Impact

There are many user benefits driving the increased adoption of voice search. It is far more convenient and effective than text search, especially on mobile devices, when searchers are:

  • Away from their computers
  • Unsure of a spelling
  • Making long queries
  • Using their hands for other tasks
  • Struggling with small touchscreens
  • Slow or poor typists
  • Seeking information quickly

Voice-activated search significantly alters how people seek information and engage with search engines because it is designed to interface as conversational, natural-language (“talk as you would to a person”). It even remembers your query and responds to follow-up questions, as you would expect when carrying on a normal conversation. Personal assistants like Siri focus more on answering a user’s questions than returning a list of search results. Google, however, is not competing directly with Siri, and has created a vastly improved search experience that understands natural language queries, provides a specific answer in addition to relevant search listings and reads back the answers for many searches.

The experience to-date with voice search demonstrates several user behavior differences from traditional text search. First, the queries are longer because conversational language usually requires more words. Additionally, the spoken language searches often consist of questions or entirely new phrases, and keyword use is reduced because search behavior no longer relies on such a limited list of words and phraseology. Further, a new tracking and measurement approach is needed for voice search because it frequently provides answers without driving website traffic, which has historically defined text-based search success.

Immediate Marketing Opportunities

Voice search creates unique opportunities to enhance pharmaceutical brands’ marketing strategies and tactics. Marketers can revise their digital content to incorporate the most important natural language searches that a voice query will likely specify, including posing some information as questions, adding phonetic spellings and including frequent mispronunciations. Brands may also capitalize on the additional lower-volume, long-tail searches this new search language creates.

Marketers must assess their brand’s current voice search readiness and apply the learnings to implement improvements. Conduct voice searches for pharma brand and generic names on smartphones and desktops to determine whether products are properly searchable. Very distinct brand names are often accurately displayed, but brand names sounding like other words may not be. Generic name voice searches are even more problematic.

Similarly, ensure that the most important brand searches and keywords work as conversational language queries. Confirm that a physician can easily double-check product dosing, or that a patient searching for the best therapies for your indication will find the brand as a primary option.


Healthcare and medical terms can be challenging for people to pronounce and speech recognition algorithms to interpret, and as a result pharmaceutical brands are at risk of being omitted from relevant voice-activated query results. Although voice search is still evolving, its rapid growth means that pharma brands incorporating it into their marketing strategies can reap immediate benefits and begin building longer-term competitive advantages.


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