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With recent advances in AI, including natural language processing (NLP), voice will be the next big paradigm in how we interact with digital devices. With the big tech companies racing to establish dominance of their respective voice platform, it’s only a matter of time until spoken dialogue will become the standard for digital interfaces. Whether Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google Now or Viv will win that race, ‘voice’ will also change our path to purchase. This is a great leap forward for user experience, and a big headache for brand managers.
Conversational interfaces are the logical progression in easing our interaction with digital devices. Just as mobile freed us from having to be at our desks, voice liberates us from having to hold and type on any device at all. With voice technology, we can access digital information and services in more contexts, for example when driving, exercising or cooking. And adoption rates are steep, especially younger demographics embracing the possibility to interact with technology through speech.
Evolving the Brand Management Playbook
In contrast, brand management today is still mostly concerned with visual differentiation. Style guides, brand books, logo refreshes and image campaigns are at the heart of current brand management practices across organizations . In a digital world where customers will increasingly interact with brands via voice, this fixation can become a problem.
There are some early warning signs of what could happen if brand don’t adapt to this new environment: already today, consumers display alarmingly lower levels of loyalty towards many brands. How will searching or shopping for products change if done via voice without any visual cues? When a brand is not in sight during discovery and purchase, the impact of traditional approaches to branding is greatly diminished. This will most likely hit traditional CPG brands the hardest. With almost fully commoditized products, consumer loyalty will be even harder to uphold in a voice-first world.
So, what are brand managers to do? Focusing on two key aspects will allow brands to stay relevant in a voice-first world:
1. Brand the Conversation
First, they need to brand the conversation by bringing their unique brand personality to life in dialogue. This will require more than just programming a chatbot logic that is not more differentiating then your average phone tree. Brands need to carefully examine how they can transport their particular character and values through a specific conversational style.
Within UX design, there are already concepts emerging on how to tackle this challenge. Meaningful differentiation can also be achieved by providing specific voice-based services, for example a Skill on Amazon’s Alexa platform.
2. Innovate Products and Services
Brands must relentlessly focus on customer needs as well as the readiness to constantly recalibrate their offering and its delivery. Meaningful product and service innovation emerges again as the most important strategic imperative. Brands innovating in ways relevant to consumers differentiate themselves through better overall customer experience.
This is much more powerful than having to rely solely on visual imagery and storytelling. Products and services that stand out with a specific and value-adding experience will be sought out by consumers — even without a great deal of visual brand building. Brands that grew their business by rethinking the customer experience and not by running large-scale advertising campaigns are a testament to how successful this can be.
The emergence of a voice-first world will challenge today’s take on branding as a largely visual discipline. To stay relevant in a world where screens are not the standard requires brand managers to up their game and think beyond logos and image campaigns. This development will ultimately lead to a renewed appreciation for the fundamentals of brand management: conveying a unique brand character across all channels and relentlessly focusing on product and service innovation.
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