Brands in the era of voice
There has been a lot of chatter about how voice interfaces like Amazon Alexa or Google Home are going to “kill brands”.
The argument goes that when people talk to Alexa, they’re more likely to order generic products rather than brands.
“Alexa, order cereal bars” seems a more plausible verbal instruction than “Alexa, order Eat Natural Protein Packed Crunchy Nut Bars”, for example.
In this scenario, the brand (Eat Natural) will cease to be a direct player in the consumer’s mind. Huge companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook will become the gatekeepers of the consumer relationship instead.
For the lucky few brands that have already become verbs that’s not a major problem.
Even when the robots do take over our homes, people will probably still talk about them “Hoovering” rather than “vacuuming”. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone who doesn’t work for Microsoft say “let me Bing that for you” instead of Googling something.
But for brands in competitive sectors where product differentiation is a slim but vital consideration, this shift to generic terms and mediation through new technological gateways could be a huge concern.
The (slow) rise of the voice commerce
As with any new technology, voice interfaces and digital assistants have their own hype cycle that is quite divorced from mainstream consumer life.
Some have predicted a meteoric rise in people doing things by talking to their smart home speakers, and shifting their spending activity from their fingertips to their vocal chords. The truth so far is somewhat subdued.
A recent study suggests that only 2% users have used it to buy something in 2018, and of those who have made a purchase 90% never used it to make a purchase again.
At Indicia we think the everyday reality will be much more nuanced – quicker to start arriving and slower to become truly ubiquitous than many technology pundits suggest.
Voice recognition by computers is now roughly as good as by humans – around 95% accuracy, depending on language, accent, and gender. As more things get connected to the internet – thanks to 4G and widespread WiFi – the possibilities for voice interfaces become ever larger.
Think “audio” and “interactions” not “voice” and “conversations”
It doesn’t help that these emerging technologies get lumped together under unhelpfully limited terminology. It’s counter-productive to over-simplify things if it hinders understanding.
“Voice” and “conversational interfaces” are an interesting idea, but most people don’t want to converse with Alexa or Google Assistant. Tom Goodwin recently tweeted: “Not sure why we hate voicemail, shun phone calls, love text, emojis and images and then think we want to have aural conversations with devices. Makes no sense.”
That’s not to say that voice control doesn’t have its place.
Whether you’re in your kitchen working through a recipe with flour covered hands or changing Spotify playlists while driving, there’s a benefit to not having to paw at a screen to perform simple tasks.
Creating and communicating a fully-fledged brand identity
Rather than killing brands off, the emerging era of voice interfaces challenges brands to think differently, and not just about voice but rather about “audio” as a whole.
Many brands have comprehensive guidelines for how their brand is used visually – from logo positioning to colour and editorial tone of voice – but the number who have a well-defined audio brand is significantly lower.
Despite the proven effectiveness of audio cues in prompting brand recognition many brands are predominantly visual and textual entities.
Brands that want to succeed in a true multimedia world will need to think about how they identify and express themselves holistically. From logo and brand colours through to editorial tone of voice and increasingly actual tone of voice as well as smaller audio “idents” to create and reinforce their brand in a more subliminal way.
Just think about those little, everyday noises that have been deliberately designed but mostly go un-noticed. A few examples include the start-up chimes of a Mac, Windows PC, PlayStation or an Xbox, that Nokia ringtone, and even the good old MGM lion roar that dates back 90 years.
There is a renewed opportunity for auditory brand identification in a world with an increasing number of non-visual / “voice” interfaces.
Speaking with purpose
Whilst it makes sense for almost any business to consider their audio strategy in the light of the number of non-screen based interfaces that are being used on a daily basis, diving right in at the deep end because you think you have to is not necessarily the best approach.
While brands with a more transactional focus may prefer to concentrate on more procedural interactions via voice-controlled devices, brands like Philadephia have found smart ways to reinforce their brand in the face of the threat of generic voice search.
Taking the obvious association between cream cheese and cheesecake into the digital realm, Philadelphia have managed to own that space (and “cheesecake recipes” as an invocation phrase for Alexa) with their Cheesecake recipe Alexa skill.
All marketers know that consumers love to try new things, but good marketing is not just about the latest technology – it can be as simple as providing an effective solution to a genuine need or problem, and giving your customers a reason to come back again in the future.