Marketing that appeals to the senses captures consumers’ attention in a primal way. That’s one reason brands focus so intently on eye-catching logos. That’s also why some hotel and retail brands use a distinctive scent to send a message to consumers. When deployed consistently, a scent can brand a location on a primal level that can even surpass visual cues.
The human voice has primal power, too. Sharing stories helps us understand, persuade, and empathize. Today, the text function is used more often than the voice communication capability on the mobile devices we still call “phones,” but voice is poised to make a comeback. And while giving voice to thoughts is among the most human of activities, artificial intelligence (AI) is driving that comeback.
Virtually everyone talks to a smartphone’s AI assistant (Siri, Cortana, etc.), though many are still reluctant to do so in public. But AI assistants are taking up residence in people’s homes in unprecedented numbers, with brands like Amazon and Google leading the way. It’s routine now for people to ask their voice-activated AI assistants about the weather or inquire about ingredient measurement conversions.
Just as mobile phones quickly evolved beyond their original purpose (allowing users to make voice calls on the go) and opened a whole new world of third-party mobile apps, in-home AI assistants are increasingly serving as a platform to access third-party voice apps. And while some companies see the potential of these new platforms and the implications for the brand, many do not.
What some brand managers don’t yet realize is that AI assistants are shaping up to be as important in brand-building and marketing as websites were a generation ago. And it won’t be enough to have a voice app that is handled by bot. Companies need to start thinking about developing and protecting their brand voice now and designing a voice app that delivers a message that is consistent across all channels.
Even brands that have highly detailed style guides that stringently control the use of logos, provide extensive guidance on font usage, and regulate punctuation style leave the brand voice to the whims of an AI platform. That must change. The brand voice deserves at least as much thought and creativity as companies devote to logo design; in many cases, voice will be the standalone brand representative.
Left to chance, company voice messaging delivered by a bot can create a serious disconnect between the customer and the brand. That’s why companies must be prepared to continue the conversation with customers on AI platforms. To succeed in a rich media environment that includes voice, brands must define their voice and implement on-brand voice and messaging with voice apps.
Industry analyst Gartner predicts that AI will assist with 85% of customer service interactions by 2020. Increasingly, those interactions will be voice-driven. Voice will feature more prominently in search as in-home AI assistants become the go-to choice for customers who are in the “micro-moment”—that fleeting instant in which they learn about a product or service and make a purchasing decision.
Having an on-brand voice communication capability isn’t about committing to one channel at the expense of others; it’s about delivering a consistent customer experience across all platforms, including print, email, and social media. It’s a recognition that customers are demanding a richer media experience and that companies that deliver can build stronger relationships.
Perhaps most of all, deploying an on-brand voice app is an acknowledgement of the power of the human voice and its central role in persuasion and learning. It’s a recognition that the brand needs representation in the data-driven, rich-media future, where customers form impressions across multiple channels. Brands that want to succeed in the machine-learning era need to get primal now.