Harnessing ‘voice’ is going to be key for brands in the very near future

A growing number of voice searches and the ease of listening over reading or watching means audio could be the next big frontier, says Landor's Lulu Raghavan

As the fourth industrial revolution continues, brands cannot be content with the status quo. Standing out is imperative, both through eye-catching visuals and through auditory methods like hearing and speaking. Why should businesses and brands sit up and pay attention? Because audio and voice are exploding in popularity, offering a newfound opportunity.

Recent statistics show that digital audio and streaming has grown over 75% year-on-year. Podcast ads are rising at a similar pace. Google says that one in five searches made on its platform is on voice. This is set to grow from 20% to 50% in a few short years.

In India alone, the usage of Google Voice has more than tripled since the beginning of the year. Globally, Alexa is now available on 20,000 devices, from microwaves to cars.

In my own life, I’ve noticed a strong shift toward audio and voice technology. The list of podcasts I subscribe to has grown exponentially as I discover high quality, insightful shows like HBR Women at Work, BBC’s My Indian Life, and Fast Company’s Creative Conversations.

Apps like hibooks by Otto Radio provide easy access to a plethora of audio books on my smartphone. Keeping up with texting can be tedious, so I voice record my messages instead of typing.

I’ve witnessed similar behaviour from my younger daughter, who rarely types queries into Google, instead opting for voice search. My gardener recently sent me a WhatsApp voice message because he can neither read nor write, but speaking allows him to communicate easily.

And the list goes on. Lately these myriad data points have been converging in my mind, leading to one fundamental question: Why have voice and audio technology suddenly become so popular?

The surge in voice technology

At the root of this question sits one core truth: in today’s world, we have access to more content than we can ever hope to consume, making it impossible to quench our desire for knowledge and learning. The result is a need for efficient solutions that help us pack as much as possible into our days.

Listening provides the answer, since we can do it while driving, running, or even checking our email. As a medium, audio provides flexibility because it doesn’t demand our full attention 100% of the time. It is also highly efficient — while we may only be able to type 40 or 50 words per minute, we can speak nearly 150.

Voice pioneer Sreeraman Thiagarajan the CEO of Agrahyah Technologies, uses India as an example of why voice is taking off. He says that as Indians, we hate to type, but love to talk. He considers this one of the core reasons that chatbots didn’t take off in India, while voice has.

Voice interfaces also have the ability to recognise mixtures of languages, a feature especially helpful in countries with highly diverse populations. In India, many voice control devices can recognise Hinglish (a mix of Hindi and English) and Tanglish (a mix of Tamil and English) in addition to other combinations, allowing users to be themselves when interacting with these devices.

The intersection of voice and brand

How can brands leverage the massive opportunity of voice to connect better?

Before activating a new auditory touchpoint, brands need to develop a strong voice strategy. It’s not enough to merely understand brand voice as it’s traditionally defined for use in written words. A well-defined voice strategy is as robust and considered as the thinking behind a new logo or visual system. Here are three questions to consider to get your voice strategy right.

What is your brand’s persona? 

You need to know what your brand represents: what it stands for as well as how you want it to interact with customers.

Should your brand be male or female? Is it targeted at younger or older consumers? Is it humorous or serious? More human or more robot? Once you clearly define the voice persona of your brand, it’s time to consider how to activate its vocal power.

What can your brand teach consumers?

Amazon Alexa Skills Kits are a good place to start. Alexa’s ‘skills’ allow brands to create unique and helpful connections with consumers through customised auditory applications.

For example, the Tide Stain Remover skill helps consumers clean their clothes by searching a library of over 200 different stains. Möet Hennessy’s skill helps consumers learn about champagne, from which foods are complementary to how to serve it best.

A broad variety of global and local brands have found ways to use this platform to stay relevant. The trick is to understand how your brand can address a customer need — one that’s more convenient to navigate through voice.

How can your brand seamlessly provide a service?

Alexa can also help reinforce your brand’s core business. Consider Ocado, a grocer in the UK, which allows consumers to order by voice command. Meanwhile Whirlpool has partnered with Amazon to allow consumers to control their appliances via voice. Embassy Group rolled out a partnership with Amazon to offer Alexa-enabled homes in their Embassy Edge residential project in Bengaluru, India.

And IndusInd Bank is the first Indian bank to offer transactions such as fund transfers, mobile phone recharges, and credit card payments through Alexa. Amazon has also recently announced the creation of an ‘Echo-System’, allowing Alexa to be seamlessly embedded across brands and touchpoints wherever you go.

Consider how your brand can augment its current offer through voice technology. Making the experience efficient and seamless across all platforms and devices.

Capturing your brand’s vocal power

Although some brands have recognised the change in consumption patterns and are actively working to connect with consumers through audio, many have yet to take advantage of this opportunity. The shift is upon us, and the sooner brands realise their vocal power and innovate to boost consumer engagement, the greater the rewards.

Lulu Raghavan is managing director at the consultancy firm Landor and is based in Mumbai, India


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