What happens to brand when Voice takes over?

The new consumer tech on the block

Voice control technology is one of the most anticipated developments for marketers and brands, with much debate on what it will mean in our daily lives. While crude forms of voice recognition are already widely available, it has not been as impactful as initially predicted. The Economist reveals, “Only around a third of smartphone owners use their personal assistants regularly, even though 95% have tried them at some point.”

How will voice achieve its full potential and what will it mean for brand?

The answer - as with many marketing activities - is to not simply use it as an experiential gimmick. Voice is an emotive tool that allows a brand to express a much deeper element of its personality. It offers the possibility of engaging with an audience on a level not previously possible.

We know that building customer centric organisations is a key to long-term success. The same applies to voice technology. By understanding how, where and why customers value interacting with a quasi-human voice, we can identify the most valuable opportunities to incorporate it into a brand experience.

An example of this done well is Patron Tequila. They knew that people asked Amazon’s Alexa for cocktail recipes and saw an opportunity to move away from its ‘served as a shot’ positioning and increase at-home consumption. To do this they partnered with Alexa to bring its 'Cocktail Lab' recipe library to consumers via voice activation. They created a ‘Bot-tender’, which suggests recipes and creations based on local trends, insights and personal preferences – and can even get the ingredients delivered to your door.

Not all brands have found such success with voice however. John Ridding, chief executive of The Financial Times recently addressed this at the BoF Voices conference, where he said voice technology was a big opportunity for branding, but “the FT is 130 years of being pink, pink is not a sound”.

This is an important point to raise, as there is a risk that tools such as Alexa can remove layers of brand building. For example, when the new way to buy insurance is not to leaf through brochures and websites but to say "Hey Alexa, get me three home insurance quotes" and eventually "Alexa, buy the cheapest one you found". Where does that leave the art and craft of brand building with its high investment in strategic and visual elements? Alexa isn’t equipped to see all the beauty of the design and strategic thinking. So in order to stay relevant in this new voice landscape, brands will need to design their brand and marketing activity in a way that doesn’t lose the opportunity to tell a story or bring customers into their world. Ensuring that the purchase decision isn’t merely driven by price.

Points to consider when developing your brand’s voice

Brands need to think about their voice much like they do with all their assets. It needs to fit with the overall brand strategy and personality. So, will it be male or female? How old will it sound? There is also an opportunity to tailor for global audiences, enabling distinct dialects and accents to be incorporated. There is a real opportunity to create a very personal representation of your brand.

Then when it comes to technically building for voice, there are scales that can be considered. Will your customers be talking directly to the brand or will you use a voice service as a middleman? This determines whether you need a whole ‘voice’ or a distinct audio signature that will act as your identifier on a more generic voice service. This might be dictated by the scale and capabilities you have access to as a business.

Finally, to ensure your brand benefits from voice tech, it is crucial to think about how your brand can top the rankings of voice-controlled search. A tight focus on how customers will use voice to search, the type of information they will be requesting, and how your site can answer that information will require careful attention. Google, Alexa and Siri search prioritises content in the same way as screen search. How will you best serve customers’ questions whilst also building your SEO? Reconsider key phrases and tone of voice on your site’s content so it matches the more conversational tone of voice search queries.

Why invest in voice technology now?

Personal connection - Voice is an opportunity to build an even closer connection with your consumer in a world where everyone is competing for a share of basket, social and everything in between. Voice can establish a new type of bond with customers; look at how children interact with Alexa. Voice is already setting new expectations amongst your future customers.

Bring clarity to who you are and what you stand for - Place as much importance on it as defining your values. We are not too far away from voice being the primary form of interaction with a brand. If you can clearly articulate who and what you are in this channel, it will give you a head start.

Build for brand personality – By connecting brand with product teams to create customer interactions that fully represent the brand, this will deliver real value for your consumer. Tone of voice and personality shouldn’t just be how you speak or look; it should be how you sound too.

Stand out from the crowd – As Amazon becomes more powerful, it will be critical to be able to stand out from competitors on the platform. This is where voice could play a vital role by offering the opportunity to deliver a distinction in one of the most over crowded marketplaces out there.

As social technology evolves and brands such as Facebook, Amazon and Google continue to invest heavily in AR and AI, voice will be a very standard way of communicating and consumers will expect the same from brands as they do from their social interactions. So although voice may not have reached its full potential yet in 2019, it really is just a matter of time.

By Charlotte Black, Strategist Director