SEATTLE: The rapid uptake of voice-activated personal assistants means marketers need to start thinking about how they can reach the screenless consumer, a top Microsoft executive has said.

"For the last decade, the focus in the digital marketing industry has been on making advertising more visually appealing, whether that's through video ads or richer display ad formats or native ad formats," noted Rik van der Kooi, corporate VP/advertising sales and marketing at Microsoft.

"While that effort and quest isn't going to go away," he told AdExchanger, "screenless advertising will be an important complement to this, as people and consumers start speaking to their personal assistants in a variety of physical environments, but mostly while they are on the go."

Research firm Gartner has predicted that 30% of web browsing will be done via screenless user interfaces by 2020 and that is where van der Kooi believes marketers should direct their attention.

"Search really is a central capability for this new marketing opportunity," he said. "There will be more data for the marketer to understand their consumer and deliver more relevant messages and offers."

Microsoft's own offering in this field is Cortana and it recently partnered with audio brand Harman Kardon to launch a voice-activated speaker similar to Google Home and Amazon Echo.

It is Amazon that is setting the pace, however: it reported that Echo and the smaller Echo Dot – eminently affordable at just $50 – were the best-selling products on during the recent holiday period, shifting nine times more than the previous year and giving millions of people their first experience of having a 'virtual servant' in the home.

"Amazon will increasingly subsidize Echo by bundling content (think music, video) with the device," suggested Thomas Husson, Principal Analyst at Forrester Husson, explaining to Business Insider that "the end-goal is to facilitate interactions" and drive spending on Amazon.

It is less obvious how Google Home will drive the internet giant's advertising revenue, but as Husson noted: "For them, this is vital since this is simply about the future of search".

Data sourced from Ad Exchanger, Engadget, Business Insider, Digiday; additional content by Warc staff