Hey Alexa, what does my brand sound like?

This year’s CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics show where next-generation innovations are presented, concluded last week.

In case you’re wondering why a marketer like me is talking about a technology conference, there’s a huge tide of change coming at us — and the way we market brands.

The neck and neck presence of Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa at CES2018 proved that voice assistants are soon going to call the shots.

Experts predict that 30% of browsing sessions will take place without screens by 2020, leaving behind the buying decisions to voice assistants, who will pick brands from an invisible virtual grocery shelf.

Sounds like a great opportunity to acquire the search space, but here’s the catch.

The voice shelf will probably have only two or three brands, making it difficult for the third or fourth brand in the category to stand out. Brands will now have to create identities when consumers can’t see the products, or develop a unique “voice” or audio signature that makes their brands instantly recognisable.

Amazon, for instance, allows brands to develop skills for Alexa. Nestlé has rolled out a “GoodNes” skill, which pairs voice cooking instructions with an online guide. There are currently over 25,000 Skills on Alexa and almost 500 Actions for Google Assistant from brands from a variety of sectors. Companies such as Campbell’s Soup, Capital One, Kayak, Sephora and Accor Hotels have all launched a Skill or an Action.

Voice Strategy

What voice-activated speaker owners would like to receive from brands

No matter what brands think as the right way forward, our research suggests a few core principles integral to every voice experience design.

  1. Find ‘micro-moments’ where voice interaction adds genuine utility. Brands must identify short yet powerful opportunities in a consumer’s journey and reduce points of friction, also known as ‘micro-moments’. These opportunities can be identified at different stages along the consumer journey and serve different marketing purposes.
  1. Find your voice (that won’t end up creeping out your customers). Whether brands likeit or not, consumers always project a personality onto a brand. Neuro-scientific research shows that while carrying out a task, respondents displayed double the emotional response in speaking a brand name as compared to typing it out. People are hardwired to look for human-like patterns in inanimate objects (a concept called pareidolia).

However, one of the potential pitfalls in developing a brand persona is to create something so lifelike that it may creep out the customer. The trick to avoiding this concept of ‘uncanny valley’ is to convey brand personality without pretending to be human.

  1. Focus on discoverability.  Voice assistants are influential gatekeepers to the consumer, so ensuring they surface your brand becomes increasingly important. Think how you could enhance SEO for voice search — using FAQs, for example, reflects voice queries within your site.

Alexa Skills needs to be enabled by the user and with over 25,000 skills now available, discoverability is a challenge. By contrast, Google Assistant Actions can be used without prior activation. Whether an Action is surfaced without being mentioned by name (‘implicit invocation’ as Google terms it) is dependent on Assistant deeming it the best result.

Launching a voice experience is just the start. People will behave in unexpected ways beyond all the potential testing scenarios and ask unexpected questions. This is particularly the case if a voice experience is being developed for multiple markets such as India & the UK. The cultural and linguistic differences will inevitably  throw up local nuances.

It is critical that in planning a voice experience, brands employ resources to quickly adapt to the user’s experience after enough data has been collected.

Just in case I scared you, the future of Brands won’t be completely blind. Smart display technologies will be around to save the day (and our ears).

Last year, Amazon debuted Echo Show—an Alexa-powered device with a seven-inch screen; at CES2018, Google Home created enough buzz around devices with screens.

One thing’s for sure: search isn’t going to be the same. But this won’t and shouldn’t stop brands from embracing the change with creativity. Here’s how some case studies for your inspiration.

IBM Watson & Pinacoteca de São Paulo

70% of Brazilians have never visited a museum or a cultural center. The Pinacoteca de São Paulo art gallery set out to change this using voice technology. Visitors can ask IBM’s cognitive assistant about art pieces shown at the museum via a smartphone equipped with the mobile ‘Voice of Art’ app. By explaining the stories behind the pieces and their historical context, the voice assistant inspires greater interest in art.

HelloGbye App

Launched in 2017 in the U.S., the HelloGbye app aims to help travelers plan, book or change itinerary. Operating across both desktop and mobile, users can use voice to enter requests and refine arrangements with a chat bot. It aims to tap into voice’s promise of a simpler, more intuitive interface to help with the travel booking process which is notoriously cumbersome.

Starbucks, Alexa & Ford

The car is a powerful environment for voice technology because of its hands-free demands. Starbucks has identified a micro-moment in the consumer journey where customers could place a drive-by order whilst enroute to the venue. Ford vehicles in the US equipped with its SYNC3 voice-activated technology will be able to order from Starbucks by saying, “Alexa, ask Starbucks to start my order,” utilizing Alexa which is built into the car.

Artificial intelligence, voice, and bots are the new creative canvas for brands. Challenging as this sounds, nevertheless, we at PracticeNext are super excited to explore this new marketing paradigm.

Tarun Mitra

Founder & Creative Strategist @practicenext interested in Building Brands with Digital DNA, Design, Fashion & Beer. Founder/Ex-CEO @LurnQ, Ex-VP @aptechltd

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