Sound has always been the neglected middle child of the advertising world, lacking the glitz of video, the buzz of tech innovation and the classic impact of perfectly kerned headlines. But with smarter voice assistants becoming more mainstream and a culture that’s always plugged into a pair of Airpods, sonic-only advertising might finally have its chance to make some noise.
Long gone are the days that ‘audio-only’ advertising meant radio spots or short interruptions to your Spotify playlist. Brands like Nike are tapping into the popularity of podcasts. The global smart speaker market could top 200 million units by the end of this year. Mercedes-Benz is making Knight Rider a reality with its MBUX user experience interface that combines voice recognition with voice-activated AI technology.
With more accessible technology and ever-smarter ‘hearables,’ it’s time that brands not just join the social conversation but start getting into actual ‘one to ones’ with the people they hope to market to. Here are a few things your brand should know.
Create a Distinct Sonic Voice
Most people don’t give the ear enough credit for just how smart it is at detecting and discerning sounds. Siri, Google Home and Alexa all have a distinct sonic voice that’s instantly recognizable, and so should your brand’s smart assistant too. When Starbucks inevitably allows you to order your very-particular latte by voice, their assistant might sound like a peppy 20-something. Meanwhile, Geico’s insurance shopping assistant might help you flesh out your plan in the recognizable tone of a coy, British amphibian.
One way to define your brand’s sound signature is to translate your tone principles into something more human. The other is to redefine the whole category all together, like “Q,” the genderless voice assistant. But a unique voice assistant is only the beginning. Smart brands will look to examples like Pandora’s first sonic logo aimed at helping consumers identify its brand whenever the three-second sound bite is heard. As more people spend more of their day engaging with brands through voice commands, we’ll have the opportunity to create a whole new sonic landscape. A distinct voice will help make a brand recognizable in someone’s ear regardless of if the voice sounds male, female or like something else entirely.
Blend Fun with Function
As technology and machine learning algorithms get smarter, the way we engage consumers through voice shouldn’t be a choice between creating work that’s pure utility or gimmicky entertainment. Nike’s TRAINED podcast delivers complex, cutting-edge science through easy-to-understand conversations wrapped into an entertaining, 30-minute episode. It’s not just a conversation between host and athlete, but a weekly conversation between listener and brand too.
While podcasts may seem like an obvious form of infotainment, the same balance of fun and function should also be applied to the conversations we create elsewhere. “Zombies, Run!” is a good demonstration of a ‘passive’ conversation that pretends you’re being chased to motivate you to jog your neighborhood, and Nat Geo’s “Bravo Tango Brain Training” uses Google Home to deliver engaging and impactful conversations to veterans suffering from PTSD, helping them comfortably re-adjust to civilian life. Regardless of the product you’re creating, conversations have the power to provide functional information in an entertaining package.
Respect Consumer Privacy
Voice is a growing market, which means a lot of people are going to try a lot of things in hopes of finding something that works. Try away but remember that consumers expect voice engagement to offer more personalized recommendations and experiences. In fact, according to new research by Adobe, nearly 40% of people who have heard voice based advertising find it more engaging. While consumers are generally becoming more tolerant of brands in their home, their tolerance for brands selling their data isn’t getting any more lax. According to a new Bing Ads study, 41% of users of virtual assistants still admit to having concerns around trust, privacy and passive listening.
As we shift to a more conversational world, it’s important to not break conversational norms by oversharing or introducing outlandish offers based on all the data we collect. When building experiences for voice, smart brands will keep the conversation feeling as authentic and as human as possible, which means maintaining the same sense of privacy one might have in confiding with a friend. In other words, before trying to sell someone on your widget, use conversation to build trust first.
The more people tune into their digital world, the more they’re going to crave human-feeling interactions, something that will put a premium on the value of voice and authentic sounding conversation. After all, a few years of digital advertising isn’t going to erase a millennia of conversational human behavior; it will simply need to adapt and find a way to stop talking at customers by finding a way to start talking with them.