Voice Assistants Land Brands in Uncharted Creative Territory

Branding on audio assistants is in its infancy, but brands should prepare for a new audio-focused world

Sixieme Son logoVoice assistants and smart speakers have become the latest consumer-electronic devices to transform the marketing industry. The number of speakers and assistants in the U.S. is now more than 180 million, and voice-driven informational searches and interactions have become interwoven in many consumers daily lives. With the rise of VUI, marketers are faced with vital questions. Does our branding transcend into audio? If not, what do we need to do now so that it does?

As consumers increasingly adopt voice, brands certainly don’t want to get left behind. However, for many brand marketers, this is the uncharted territory where there is little understanding of how to create a unique audio brand for these consumers. Just as having a name alone is not enough to exist in the visual world: brands need colors, shapes and visual vocabulary to create impact and convey the right message. You can’t stand out in the audio world with just a voice.

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Consumers currently interact with the leading voice assistants via activation words and phrases designated by the leading technology companies – Alexa, Hey Siri, Hey Google or OK Google. These companies are now telling brands to use the default voice and accents on their platforms. This would be the equivalent of the New York Times or Vogue telling brands to use the same font and the same photographer and models for their advertising campaigns. There’s simply no way for a brand to differentiate.

Both Google and Amazon are making small steps to expanding the range of voices available for their assistants, but it’s still a limited landscape for brands to build a truly unique audio brand. If brands, eager to participate in these VUIs, rush in and create voice apps or skills for these new platforms, they risk having an auditory experience and voice that is identical to a competitor. This is a problem.

And, it’s not just a problem because there’s no way to differentiate. In England, one study showed that almost half of users found Alexa to be unsympathetic, even contemptuous: the emotions were negative because Alexa represents a know-it-all. Not exactly the positive voice branding experience you want your customers to experience. Voice evokes an emotional response. Marketers have to ask themselves what qualities of a brand do they want to emphasize and highlight via their voice branding.

When considering their strategy for these devices, brands need to understand that they must be intertwined with an overarching auditory brand identity. You also cannot have a strong branding approach in the voice assisted world if you do not have the right branding outside of it. For example, a unique and customized transaction sound telling your customers that their purchase is approved in Alexa, will not be as effective as the same sound used in all other touchpoints outside of the voice assisted the world. Consistency and coherence are needed across all platforms.

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The the Intel chimes provide a brand signature that transcends all platforms, TV, desktop and voice assistants. Intel’s audio signature says innovation and dynamism. Its landing note and the pause before the melody, grab attention from the start. It has been used consistently, not just on Intel’s advertising, but on that of many hardware partners. A brilliant marketing strategy for achieving recognition and awareness. Likewise, United Airlines benefits from its long-term association with Rhapsody in Blue, which can be heard in different versions in safety videos, airports and communications.

What excellent sonic branding requires is a system, not merely a sound. The brand team should require the voice and sound of their brand to be differentiating and coherent across its whole customer journey. This requires a rigorous branding process, defined core audio territory and logo and commitment to consistency. While branding on voice assisted devices is still in its infancy, and somewhat crude due to technical constraints, marketers should begin preparing for its continued growth and the new dimension of branding that lies ahead.

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