As AI-driven voice interaction and personalized, immersive experiences become a fact of our digital lives, tomorrow’s “brand palette” will need to go beyond fonts and color schemes and cultivate a recognizably “human” personality.
Let’s Take a Step Back
What makes a brand a brand? Let’s hazard a definition and say this: a brand is the sum of its experiences. That, and differentiation.
Whether you agree with that pithy definition or not, there’s one thing we all know intrinsically: we know a great brand experience when we see one (or hear one, or participate in one). And the brands we love become intimately familiar to us. We form relationships with them. They’re like friends, in a way.
But what if you could recognize a brand’s voice the same way you do your best friend’s voice (because your brand called you, and the moment you picked up, you knew who it was). You expect your friend’s voice and personality to resonate regardless of whether you are swiping through their Insta-story, sending GIFs on messenger, or FaceTiming. The level of intimacy and interaction changes, but you still know it’s your friend on the other side of a screen.
We Like Experiences, but We Love Personalities
As technology gives brands the ability to be more like your flesh-and-blood friend—to make the “sum total of their experiences” more “human” in an uncannily real way—the very nature of interactivity is going to change. Even a simple idea, like “brand voice,” is going to take a literal turn as voice interaction and chat bots suffuse the digital landscape.
With 360 videos, live-streaming, VR, AR, chatbots, and voice assistants, today’s breadth of interactive and conversational digital interactions is already pushing (if not shoving) us into a new frontier of digital brands with near-real personalities and literal voices. In other words, the idea of a “friend,” “brand,” and “immersive digital interaction” will blur together into a mind-bogglingly personalized, entirely new kind of experience.
The future digital brand will have the capacity to edge closer to approximating an influencer—a real-life and nuanced individual—than an invented fictional icon of the past (e.g., Tony the Tiger). And brands will need to find ways to explore what a cohesive brand personality could entail—an up for grabs question. In fact, as tomorrow’s technologies and design possibilities emerge, brands may very well find uniformity, differentiation, and cohesiveness in a unique brand personality like never before.
The Journey and the Destination
Human-like brand personalities driven by immersive content and voice interaction can seem a little esoteric. So let’s bring the topic back to earth by talking concretely about a specific industry—like Travel and Tourism.
Google (in their “Think with Google” content) makes the convincing case that there are four basic yet distinct phases of the traveler journey: “Inspiration, Planning, Booking, and Experiencing.” That’s precisely where brand personality comes into play—a way to provide a fluid yet consistent, unified yet momentarily apposite brand encounter across each phase. Differentiation is no longer a question of updating a style guide or color palette or imagery, but a broader conversation about the how the brand is expressed—in every sense of the term.
In the near future, improved voice-interactivity, smarter personalization, and increasing proliferation of AR/VR will open up enormous traveler experience possibilities. But incorporating those opportunities is step two—step one is pinpointing a consistent brand tone and personality.
Ask yourself, is your brand a coach? An authority? A friend? Does the language it uses reflect your heritage? Or does that tone reflect the language of an aspirational audience? With the growing demand for multi-channel communication, asking questions like these is a “must-do” exercise for all brands, including those in the travel and tourism space.
The more robustly a travel brand can articulate itself in terms of personality and tone, the more successful it will be as it incorporates things like machine learning and immersive content into its overall experience.
The Goal: Fluid Personality + Technological Opportunity
The traveler journey is a precarious, emotionally charged buying decision, because so much anticipation and expectation are attached to the outcome. Depending on the kind of vacation—a tour, a resort stay, a cruise, hotel-hopping through a cosmopolitan city—many travelers may find themselves choosing varying routes, locations, accommodations, and activities all at once. A brand personality, married with cutting edge technology, could turn anxieties, confusion, and frustration into a seamlessly reassuring, companionable experience. Here are some ideas to keep in mind (or to be on the look-out for):
1. Inspiration/Building Awareness: In digital personality building, this is a brand’s first introduction, a chance for a good first impression that also provokes intrigue. An awareness piece could be a 360 photo of a hotel or key landmark, an immersive Facebook canvas, or a promoted piece of UGC content; having the ability to know who a traveler is early on (as travelers conduct research over multiple, sporadic sessions) will help you to personalize content, establish your brand as a helpful advisor in the planning process, and provide opportunities to introduce key elements of your personality. By tapping social listening tools with AI-enabled natural language processing (NLP), a brand can further identify key audience needs and speaking styles and reflect them back in its own voice.
2. Planning/Winning Consideration: The planning phase is the time to deepen both personality elements and the sense of relationship—so use a little enticement. Be generous and show off your best features. The ability to surface information and content that best matches the style, preferences and budget of your potential customer is a key component of building rapport with your brand. It’s a matter of frictionless, not just info. Imagine if a traveler could ask your brand’s voice assistant, “Hey TravelBot, I loved that day-sail by the Great Barrier Reef—any tips for Turks and Caicos?” A good answer, with a unique personality, would build trust and legitimacy by delivering right at a traveler’s moment of need, and with a memorable style.
3. Booking/Converting Sales: Booking can seem overwhelming—especially for infrequent travellers and groups. A Chabot can guide travelers through the process, eliminate steps, and set defaults for effortless onsite bookings. But that’s just the beginning. A chatbot represents a chance to really anthropomorphize the brand overall. Brand values can lay a foundation for both manners and mannerism—a unique “voice,” inflected in every word and phrase, that resonates from the initial greeting. A travel brand that can mask the complexity of booking with a helpful and distinct personality can go beyond engagement and build a relationship.
4. Experiencing/Maximizing Service: For travel brands that host guests directly, the “experiencing” phase is an ideal time to have an ongoing conversation with a voice assistant—part friend, part guide that shepherds, amuses, and accompanies travelers as they explore everything on their “must-see” and “must-do” list. Voice interfaces backed by deep learning and AI are ideally suited for providing engaging, deeper, ongoing levels of trip personalization. By immediately adapting the experience based on inputs that could include anything from traveler reactions or changes to local weather, things like tour itineraries could evolve from static timekeepers to dynamic local guides that can single out the best things to see and do for each individual.
The next generation of brand personality must gradually and appropriately build across the customer journey. The digital experiences and touch points become more and more immersive and intimate—from banner ads to smart bracelets—as the customer moves down the funnel. The connective tissue that stretches across the journey is a consistent voice, tone, look and feel that eventually translates into a distinct personality. Or ideally—it’s one personality that subsequently translates into a consistent voice, tone, look and feel.
For a brand that wants to make a mark with digital innovation, the first order of business should not be to launch a suite of shiny objects and immersive content for the sake of launching shiny objects and immersive content. Instead, ask why you’re bringing the bleeding edge of digital experiences into your ecosystem, and what your overall brand personality will be in an age of chatty AI, virtual immersion, and data-driven personalization. If you focus on cultivating an engaging and unique personality, it will be a lot easier to find the tactical improvements that will subsequently bring to life the brand your customers will fall in love with.