Brands have an opportunity to connect to audiences using voice technology, giving new life to brand personalities. According to sonic branding experts Colleen Fahey, Laurence Minsky, Susan Westwater and Scot Westwater, the brands that will remain relevant in the future will be those that put customer needs first by embracing the shift into a “voice-first” world. Learn how brands are harnessing the power of voice experiences across industries and how best to craft your own. As machine learning and AI expand the possibilities of voice experiences, there’s an urgent need to start creating your sonic branding strategy today.
- Brands hoping to serve evolving consumer needs must leverage the power of voice experiences.
- Develop a compelling brand personality to serve customer needs in a “voice-first” world.
- Inspire trust with your audio brand, investing in the development of sonic assets.
- Build audience trust by demonstrating a commitment to privacy and data ethics.
- Connect to your audience like a trusted friend with conversational audio content.
- Don’t just build voice experiences hoping people will discover them – spread the word.
- Commit to continuously improving your voice experience, with the right KPIs and metrics.
- Machine learning and AI are expanding the possibilities of voice technology – seize opportunities now.
Brands hoping to serve evolving consumer needs must leverage the power of voice experiences.
People are increasingly turning to voice-enabled interactions when seeking information that helps them in their everyday lives. Maybe you want to find a coffee shop near you while you’re driving, or need to source a quick recipe in your kitchen. Voice experiences are wide-ranging: You might ask Google Assistant for information or simply speak commands into a voice-activated TV remote control. For marketers, this creates both a challenge and an opportunity: How can you ensure voice-activated assistants mention your business or brand?
“What if the new word of mouth becomes word of a voice assistant?”
Voice is a powerful marketing medium: Think about how spoken endorsements from people you trust influence your own decision-making. Voice marketing also enables your brand to provide a positive and consistent customer service experience, 24 hours a day, without recruiting additional human call center staff – and unlike humans, AI voice assistants can have hundreds of conversations simultaneously. Harnessing the power of voice experiences helps your brand keep pace with competition; puts values such as accessibility and inclusivity into practice; and lets you tailor voice experiences to serve a wide range of customer needs.
Develop a compelling brand personality to serve customer needs in a “voice-first” world.
It’s a “voice-first” world because customers are increasingly turning to voice experiences to solve their problems, and the brands that thrive will be those that put their customers first. Voice-controlled devices are being adopted at record-breaking speed: Between 50% and 75% of US homes have one or more smart speakers. Many people find it easier to communicate with brands via speech than by typing their queries – voice-first experiences are more efficient and convenient for them. While some voice technology is mediated by screens, others use a voice-only format, so marketers must conjure compelling images with voice alone, tapping into the “theater of the mind.”
“How is your brand being brought to life – and why? Look beyond the visual. How does it feel, taste, smell and, of course, sound?”
When deciding upon how your brand voice will sound, consider the literal “voice” and “tone” of the personality embodying your brand – how does your brand persona sound, emote or convey certain attitudes? Is it female, male, nonbinary, a robot, or even an animal? What word pronunciation, emphasis and speed seem most fitting? It may not always make sense to use the voice of your brand’s visual mascot if you have one – consider keeping mascots in a supporting role if it better serves listeners. For example, the mascot for Lucky Charms is a leprechaun, which consumers would likely struggle to view as an authoritative source of nutritional information. General Mills introduced additional characters to its voice experiences, such as a narrator.
Inspire trust with your audio brand, investing in the development of sonic assets.
There are unique considerations you must prioritize when engaging in audio branding, or “sonic branding.” Just as you consider color and logos when crafting your visual brand identity, when you engage in sonic branding aim to create a “sonic identity,” building a coherent brand using consistent “sonic logos,” tunes, tempos and either spoken voice or voice-over usage. If you’re wondering what a sonic logo is, think of the five-note tune McDonald’s plays at the end of its messages, or the BBC news theme tune. According to 2020 research from Ipsos, while audio assets can be more effective and attention-grabbing than visual assets, brands use them less frequently. Ensure your sonic branding strategy’s success by embracing branding expert Philip Kotler’s five principles: consistency, clarity, continuity, visibility and authenticity.
“In the end, all contact points share the same sonic DNA and sound as though they come from the same family. That’s reassuring to the audience because consistency has a way of building brand trust.”
Resist the temptation to create a sonic brand that simply reflects your desire to be liked. For example, if your brand isn’t actually “sweet and lovely,” don’t be disingenuous by creating a sweet and lovely sonic brand. Focus on attracting attention, communicating your brand values, being memorable, building associations to your service or product, and differentiating yourself from competitors. Find the right balance between the familiar and the novel, as too many familiar sounds may bore customers, while too much novelty can trigger confusion. When hiring a designer to create your sonic brand, don’t just ask for a sonic logo. Also commission a longer musical piece that establishes branded elements, such as the harmonies, textures and rhythms you prefer – running at about 45 seconds – that will serve as a resource for anyone updating your brand logo. Prepare for any marketing turnover by commissioning a sonic style guide, explaining the inspiration behind brand sounds and giving clear guidance on how best to use each element.
Build audience trust by demonstrating a commitment to privacy and data ethics.
People who are reluctant to use voice assistants often cite issues of “privacy” and “trust” as adoption barriers, according to research undertaken for the 2022 Voice Consumer Index. To build trust, brands must cultivate the belief that the brand will fulfill its promises, and the perception of integrity and benevolence. To build a trustworthy brand identity, target consumers in their own language. Aim to reflect: their typical speech patterns (for example, word and phrasing choices); how they refer to your services and products; how they typically discover products or services in your niche; their accent and how they pronounce your brand attributes and name; their individual intent when engaging with your brand; and their expectations. Brand stewards must also consider their social responsibility when creating brand personalities, reflecting on any social implications of their choice of voice. For example, are you perpetuating gender biases?
“It’s amazing and fun to think through all the ways that a voice experience can solve problems or change the world, but it’s at least as important not to create new problems as we move toward a more inclusive and helpful world.”
There are urgent concerns surfacing regarding data privacy as it pertains to voice technology. People may be reluctant to allow smart speakers to listen to them if they’re unsure of who might access the information the device captures. Home devices, ranging from smart thermostats to Ring cameras can also listen in, and given that companies such as Amazon and Google have historically harvested user data for corporate purposes, brands must contend with significant consumer concern regarding their privacy and how you use their data. Be vigilant when it comes to data ethics, ensuring you have permission to collect any user data they collect, and protect this data after collecting it. It can be challenging to know how one ought to use new types of data – namely biometric aspects of a user’s voice – as you can potentially identify health issues, such as depression or concussion, using data such as vocal rhythm and tone. Ensure your brand has firmly established its values and ethical compass, and your compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
Connect to your audience like a trusted friend with conversational audio content.
Think of content as “the connective tissue that ties together all your channels into a cohesive, consistent and branded whole.” Integrate your voice content with all other content in your marketing ecosystem, ensuring it expresses a consistent value proposition. When writing for audio-only, make sure you remain conversational, communicating with your customers in the same way you’d communicate with friends or family. Take guidance from David Berner, a morning anchor at WBBM: Pay attention to how combinations sound to your own ears, ensuring they don’t sound awkward or unpleasant; read everything you write aloud, paying attention to moments that sound awkward or odd; and refrain from always speaking in full sentences, as people often use fragments. Harness the full potential of the spoken word by using sensory language to conjure the other senses, describing sights and smells.
“In every channel, the marketer’s primary goal is to deliver useful and usable information. Useful because it meets a need or helps the customer complete a task. Usable because it’s easily understood and easily navigated.”
Create your content strategy, unifying all your online and offline channels, while leveraging the opportunities and meeting the requirements of each. Focus on defining the style and methods you’ll use to connect to users and on outlining guidelines and rules to ensure clarity, usability and consistency across platforms. Optimize content using the long-tail phrases people actually use when speaking queries aloud, as opposed to simply keywords.
Don’t just build voice experiences hoping people will discover them – spread the word.
Savvy marketers don’t just wait for customers to find them – they drive awareness and usage of voice experiences. When you’re leading adoption of a new technology, you’re facing a “double-edged sword.” On the positive side, you’re setting your brand apart from the competition, establishing yourself as modern and innovative. But on the negative side, you’ll need to proactively engage audiences, letting them know about the new voice technology options you offer. You’ll need to properly launch your voice experience, integrating it with existing touchpoints. Don’t try to replace other communication platforms with your voice technology, as you should offer it as an additional service, as opposed to forcing people to use it.
“Ultimately, users will not engage with something if they don’t know it exists, regardless of the technology involved.”
When marketing your voice experience, harness paid, owned and earned opportunities, as you would with any marketing effort. If you’re launching an Amazon Alexa Skills Store, one way to make your voice technology more discoverable is by adding a description in your store feature. You can also use email and website content to help spread the word about the way your brand is harnessing voice technology and start your onboarding process. Weave invocation prompts or links to your voice experiences into your marketing ecosystem (for example, adding them to your email signature), ensuring you attract the critical mass of people needed to optimize voice.
Commit to continuously improving your voice experience, with the right KPIs and metrics.
When building your strategy for voice marketing, take time to identify your current situation before establishing your objectives: Are you hoping to simply retain the customers you have, or do you need to grow your customer base? Reflect on your customer journeys and the desired actions you hope to inspire each to take, as well as any obstacles on their “paths to purchase.” Are there any touchpoints where they’d benefit from more information? Identify your specific objectives or goals, creating strong key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure your success in working toward achieving them. Some KPIs you might consider tracking include information requests, conversion rates, and the frequency with which people use your voice experiences.
“Launching your voice experience isn’t the end of the journey; it’s just the beginning. Once your experience is live, you can then continue to get real-time data about how people are using it.”
Don’t launch your voice experiences and forget about them – develop a process to monitor how people are engaging with your brand, embracing a cycle of continuous improvement using metrics. For example, measuring a voice experience session length can tell you whether your voice experience is engaging users. Don’t just focus on your direct ROI and the final point of sale; also prioritize finding indirect ways to increase your ROI. Remember, no voice experience can create solutions for a poor product that requires too much customer support.
Machine learning and AI are expanding the possibilities of voice technology – seize opportunities now.
All brands have an opportunity to dial up their impact with voice experiences, as the way people use voice technology isn’t limited to a particular industry. According to the 2022 Voice Consumer Index, some top tasks people turn to voice platforms for include checking the shipment status of a retail order, finding a restaurant’s hours and location, seeking answers to common travel questions, learning about a disease, and playing songs. There isn’t a clear step-by-step guide for marketers hoping to advertise using voice technology, so look for creative organic partnerships, connecting with users in ways that reflect how they actually use voice technology. For example, if you are marketing a film, perhaps license trivia facts to the developers of trivia games on Amazon’s Alexa.
“Every brand has an opportunity to use voice to improve their customer experience, potentially increase productivity and efficiency, reinforce their differentiation, and build their image.”
The uses for voice technology keep expanding: While consumers used voice technology in the past primarily to execute simple tasks such as answering simple questions, conversational AI is changing the game, creating the possibility for more intuitive and natural human-computer exchanges. Due to machine learning and natural language processing advancements, voice technology can now execute more complex tasks, ranging from diagnosing health conditions to making reservations. Future possibilities for voice experiences will be amplified by technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and the metaverse. Marketers hoping to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change should get started now, creating an audio strategy to leverage the power of voice technology.
About the Authors
Laurence Minsky is a professor with Columbia College Chicago’s communication department in the School of Media Arts. He’s co-author of Global Brand Management and Audio Branding. Susan Westwater is co-founder and CEO of Pragmatic Digital and co-author of Voice Strategy. Scot Westwater is co-founder and CCO of Pragmatic Digital and co-author of Voice Strategy. Colleen Fahey is the US managing director of the sonic-branding agency Sixième Son and co-author of Audio Branding.
Voice Marketing provides a solid foundational understanding of artificial intelligence (AI) powered voice technology and how it is transforming digital engagement and customer experience. The authors provide valuable insights from industry leaders on how early adopters are leveraging conversational AI to gain a competitive advantage.
The book covers conversational AI, defined as voice assistants, bots, and other AI technologies that can carry out human-like conversations. It argues that conversational AI, powered by natural language processing and machine learning, is poised to massively disrupt customer engagement by making interactions more human and personal. However, successfully implementing conversational AI requires applying fundamental marketing principles and a strategic roadmap.
The book is organized into four sections. Part 1 introduces conversational AI and its potential business benefits in terms of creating efficient customer interactions, improving customer experience and engagement, increasing sales, and reducing costs. However, the authors caution that voice technology alone is not enough and must be part of an overarching marketing strategy.
Part 2 discusses the strategic considerations and capabilities required for implementing conversational AI, including identifying customer needs, enabling first-party data capture, branding and personalization, scaling interactions, and measuring success. Key strengths here include the value frameworks for evaluating voice technology investments and insights on creating conversational strategies and content.
Part 3 highlights case studies of conversational AI deployments by industry leaders such as 1-800-Flowers, Charles Schwab, and Citibank. These real-world examples illustrate how companies are using voice technology innovatively to improve customer journeys and interactions. The case studies provide valuable lessons for other businesses looking to leverage conversational AI.
Part 4 focuses on the future of conversational AI, examining emerging trends like the shift from single-bot to multi-bot deployments, the growth of natural conversational commerce, and the transition from reactive bots to proactive advisors. The authors foresee conversational AI evolving in the coming years to become more intuitive, contextual, and personalized.
In summary, Voice Marketing provides marketers and business leaders with a practical guide for embracing conversational AI as part of an enterprise marketing strategy. The authors effectively demonstrate how voice technology, when properly applied, can deliver significant benefits across the customer journey by making interactions more immediate, personal, and useful. However, the book also stresses that conversational AI requires a holistic approach that addresses people, processes, and technology to achieve true success. Overall, this is a valuable resource for anyone seeking to understand the opportunities and challenges of leveraging conversational AI to transform customer experience.
The book’s strengths include its industry examples that bring the concepts to life, as well as the value frameworks and strategic roadmaps to guide conversational AI adoption. The authors also offer a vision of how conversational AI is likely to evolve and mature. However, the book may be too high-level for some readers seeking more technical detail on specific conversational AI platforms and implementations. Nonetheless, Voice Marketing achieves its goal of educating marketers and executives on the business significance of conversational AI and how to harness its power for voice marketing.