This may sound far-fetched, but it’s an inescapable reality for marketers, brand leaders, creative agencies, and product experts as audio becomes a primary touchpoint.
This may sound like a scary proposition, but it’s also an opportunity for branding experts to get things right from the outset.
According to Google, at least one in five mobile queries on both its own mobile app and on Android devices are voice-activated, and as these systems become more pervasive, the ways we interact with brands will change.
There will be digital brands that we experience but never see or touch — only hear.
It could be software that runs via an internet-enabled device, appliance, or vehicle. For example, I might download a weight-management app to my smart fridge that talks me out of snacking after 9 p.m. My only interaction with the app is via voice: installation, set-up, payment, and other interactions are done through voice commands.. There are no visuals. I never see anything associated with the brand.
Voice activation is also coming to B2B. I’ve talked to product developers who are looking at ways to incorporate voice activation in business software and applications. Imagine driving home and asking your car to bring up today’s sales figures or read through the top three résumés you received.
What does this mean for branding?
It starts with a clear definition of your brand voice: the audio facet of your brand. How do you want stakeholders to describe how you sound? What attributes do you want them to use? Professional or casual? Playful or serious? Upbeat or downtempo? Informative or entertaining?
If you have human-sounding voices, what is the pitch and timbre? You may want to avoid using stereotypes or gendered language to describe the tone.
You might want to think about creating proprietary sounds associated with your brand. “Intel Inside” was probably the most famous example of a product that was unseen by the end customer but strongly associated with a sound signature in its marketing.
I think there are two warning sirens to heed.
You may have little to no control of the audio brand. If your communications are delivered via a third-party voice like Google, Alexa, or Siri, your brand’s spokespeople and sounds may not be heard by your customers. If you don’t control the delivery mechanism, your brand voice might not be heard.
Also, most voice systems are pretty good at understanding the way people naturally speak. You might want your customers to say, “Hey Google, open up [my product] and give me today’s sales figures for the central region.” But when speaking naturally they would probably exclude mentioning your brand, “hey Google, what are today’s sales figures—central region?”
When there is no mention of the brand, your brand becomes invisible, and that seems like a problem.
I can think of a couple of ways to mitigate this. Combine new tech with old school marketing: advertising, loyalty programs, direct mail, and editorial content are good ways of getting your brand in front of your clients.
And maybe you can turn your brand or product name into an imperative verb that is recognized by voice command systems. “Siri, [my product]-ify my sales figures for the central region.”
I’m sure there are other ways to address it. Whatever they are, it pays to have a sound strategy.