As we progress alphabetically from “U” to “V” in our trending terminology, designing the user experience of voice is vital. Brand communication is, quite literally, becoming a dialogue as we converse with voice assistants in the comfort of our own homes. In-store experiences are even more accessible at home, thanks to Smart Speakers, as we invite brands into our living rooms.
Living rooms, family rooms, dens (whatever your preferred terminology) are where 52% of these devices reside, according to data gathered by NPR and Edison Research, and “30% of Smart Speaker owners say their speaker is replacing time spent with TV.” As nearly a third of these participants stop looking and start listening for content, how should marketers prepare themselves for a voice-first future?
“What does your brand sound like?”
Articles such as PracticeNext’s “Hey Alexa, what does my brand sound like?” aptly pose this and other important questions with their playful headlines. Even Gary Vaynerchuk addresses the question at his recent VoiceCon Keynote, but the question itself is far from new. Sonic branding (the practice as we know it) in many ways was born out of necessity in the Golden Age of Radio, although it wasn’t until the year 1950 when the first audio logo was officially memorialized by NBC registering the first audio service mark. The reality may just be that many (if not most) brands have never been in an environment that has physically demanded such an answer before.
We’ve now come full circle, hermeneutically, as we once again gather around a speaker with our friends and family with what many call Radio 3.0. Only this time, we have nearly a century of best practice to draw upon when it comes to audio-based engagement. Considering that 65% of users “say that they wouldn’t want to go back to life without their Smart Speaker” (The Smart Audio Report), this medium appears to be here to stay. The time is nigh to begin your audio strategy. To quote Pandora’s The Definitive Guide to Audio 2018, “There has never been a better time to be a marketer who invests in audio.”
When entering the skill/action/app marketplace, the first thing you’ll need to do is define the “voice” in your voice experience (VX). Considering that many, including Pandora, believe that “voice is the new touch,” taking the time now to define all aspects of that voice before entering the market can save you time and money, as well as help you avoid trouble later.
Agencies, consultancies, internal teams, and the like already undergo massive amounts of work to develop brand voice, so why not take that same amount of care when developing what that brand voice actually sounds like? Again, although this is a relatively new space, there is plenty of science and strategy established for casting an on-brand voice.
Start Your Engines
Something you’ll want to consider is exactly how interactive you want your voice to be. Emerging technology has afforded us a wide range of possibilities for voice engines and voice synthesis. If you want to customize your audio VX beyond recorded snippets and phrases, the spectrum ranges from simple TTS a la the late and great Stephen Hawking all the way to more complex, conversational AI. Taking the lead on this front is Google Duplex, a conversational AI so convincing that it can purportedly pass the Turing Test.
Google made several other voice-centered announcements this year at their I/O developer conference. They showcased six new personalities for their Google Assistant, including singer-songwriter John Legend. Keep an eye (and ear) out for other astonishing advancements in the voice space, especially Adobe VoCo, aka “Photoshop for voice” and iFlyTek, the Chinese AI company that can make an American, English-speaking president “speak” Mandarin.
Use Your Words (Talk QWERTY To Me)
Conversation design is what currently extends a brand’s voice into a more colloquial tone with the chatbots that many interact with on Facebook or otherwise. VX is a chance to humanize these bots even further as voice may become the dominant chatbot interface. After all, Alexa is ESFJ.
Voice is the liaison between your audience and your brand. It’s an opportunity to create deeper connections and strengthen the bonds between consumers and their favorite products. By taking the time to design how your message is heard, you will create a more meaningful experience when someone chooses to interact with your voice app or skill.
The (V)X Factor
Now that you’ve found your voice, it’s time to make it sing. We’ve established what it says, how it says it, and what it sounds like, but let’s talk about how to augment that experience even further. There has never been a more perfect medium through which to take sonic branding to the next level and deliver an immersive audio user experience. Imagine it: You build brand equity by launching a voice app with an audio logo (the sound equivalent of a landing page), elicit emotions by scoring the experience like a film, and help users navigate the journey more fluidly with UI sounds.
These are some examples of how you can transport a user from their house to your store with sound. The power of audio can be a tool to deliver white glove service in a hands-free environment; a frictionless conduit through which you can deliver customer service as the experience unto itself. The seamless interface of voice can afford extra time for people to learn more (and ultimately buy more) from you.
It’s Now or Never
There is an “…urgency for brands to build a voice app now to establish voice SEO before it’s too late.” I’ve been to several conferences lately wherein voice is a hot panel topic. Panelists call for brands to start putting content via Amazon, Google, and beyond ASAP. While hurrying to establish voice SEO is undoubtedly important, putting out a thoughtful voice experience is arguably equivocal. Let us not forget the proverb, “Measure twice, cut once.” Backpedaling to repair poor VX or simply doing the bare minimum isn’t the philosophy for web SEO or ROI, so why should it be any different for voice? Take care to develop your VX, and your product will speak volumes.
Cover image: Mitchell Hollander