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Have brands lost their voice in the age of audio tech?

17 Oct 2019  |  Sarah Salter 
Have brands lost their voice in the age of audio tech?

Sarah Salter, head of innovation at Wavemaker, shares four ways voice will transform marketing in 2020

Voice assistants have been a part of the global brand marketing discussion for years, but with user penetration in the UK alone reaching 20% in 2019, the buzz around smart speakers is growing ever louder.

Amazon might have blazed the trail with Alexa five years ago, but with the likes of Samsung, Facebook and even the BBC launching their own offerings, momentum is growing and, with that, competition.

It’s obvious why. After all, no other technology could enable brands to communicate so openly and fluently with consumers (to that end, the BBC has even engineered its offering to understand regional accents). And in the era of ‘post-truth’, transparent and authentic brand communication is vital for establishing a strong brand-consumer relationship.

But there’s still a lot for brands to learn when it comes to capitalising on the power of voice. Right now, many are still confused about where to go next, with some creating thousands of ‘skills’ that may address certain issues, but do not always have a connection to brand identity or purpose.

At Wavemaker, we’ve conducted extensive analysis of the opportunities and implications voice holds for brands. With that in mind, here are the four biggest ways voice will transform marketing in 2020.

Talk to me

The popularity of the #hashtag grew out of a necessity for social media users to easily share content based around keywords and phrases. But as voice activation moves from early adoption to mass market, the hashtag will be superseded by something even more direct - the utterance.

When you picture the possible avenues for incorporating voice tech, it’s not so hard to believe. Pretty soon, our TVs, cars and even bathroom mirrors will be able to interact with us via voice commands. Amazon has even just launched ‘wearables’ - voice assisted jewelry – to its voice-controlled Alexa collection.  Perhaps a sign of their move to eliminate the smart phone – and a need for brands to understand how best to deliver their brand experience through ubiquitous voice platforms.

In 2020 and beyond, brands poised to make the most of the smart speaker revolution will be those that can capitalise on this two-way dialogue as quickly and as cleverly as possible. As a starting point, brands therefore need to get to grips with the complexities of machine learning so they can navigate the basics of voice before we reach peak voice assistant saturation point.

Take it personally

Alexa and Google can already address the household, but the smart speakers of the future will be able to address individual members of the family and hold distinct, simultaneous conversations. In the era of personalisation, this is an incredibly powerful concept for brands, enabling them to build profiles of individual consumers and utilise richly personal contextual marketing opportunities and in-depth behavioural analysis.

Sound is, lest we forget, an incredibly powerful emotional trigger, particularly when used in tandem with corresponding visuals (as the success of the Amazon Echo Show has proven). It’s also been shown to elicit twice the emotional response of text.

To really understand how that connection can be maximised, it’s therefore vital brands learn when to “take off their marketing hats” and think like human beings. After all, how can we expect our voice assistants to act like us if the brands providing our content are not doing likewise?

Utility over gimmickry

Ofcom research recently found that 62% of smart speaker owners use their device to stream music, 32% use it to listen to weather reports and 22% use it to listen to podcasts. Only 5%, meanwhile, use it to play games. Can you see a trend forming? People like voice assistants because they’re useful.

With that in mind, moving forward it will be vitally important that audio brands prioritise utility over gimmicks. The availability of celebrity voices (Issa Rae and John Legend for Google and Samuel L. Jackson for Amazon) is a nifty distraction. However, it’s not going to change how we interact with our devices - just what they sound like.

Voice-activated technology can open up incredible new routes for helping people. But if brands want people to take them seriously in this area, they need to think hard about integrating audio services into products and services as a means for enhancing lives through a truly useful brand experience.  Some great examples of this includes: WeWalk recently embedding Alexa in a smart cane for the blind; and PHE and Wavemakers Start 4 Life BreastFeeding Friend offering an unprecedented and easy-to-access support network for new mothers that could not have existed on any other platform. My Carer, meanwhile, is a skill that helps those with Alzheimer’s maintain independence and Red Cross’s first aid skill which talks people through medical emergencies.

Speak now or forever hold your peace

We are not quite ready (or able) to speak to our devices in the same way we speak to each other, but in the interim we will fill that void with a truly multi modal experience – interacting with voice and screen.

eMarketer expects monthly smart speaker users to rise to 12.6 million this year and the adoption speed of smart speakers has been unprecedented. At the same time, we’re repeatedly hearing that people want to buy from brands when they feel an emotional connection. So, as that reality is finally breached, brands could be exposed to a treasure trove of voice-enabled insights if they are efficiently prepared.

New opportunities, new sources of insight, new value, direct path to purchase and innovation – this is what voice holds for the future of brands. So, in order to take advantage, it’s time to set your goals, plan your strategy and get ready to speak up.

Mediatel are the audio experts operating at the centre of audio trading, distribution and analytic processing. Contact us for more information on J-ET, Audiotrack or our RAJAR data engine.

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22 May 2020 

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