Thinking

The Rise of Voice Technology and its Impact on Brands

November 6, 2018

By Shaumil Poojara. Edited by Josey Rose Duncan. 

What is Voice Technology?

If you’ve asked your Amazon Echo to play your favorite song and turn your living room lights on as you arrive home from work; if you’ve told your iPhone to text a friend or dial their number while you drive—you’re familiar with voice technology.

Thanks to vocal recognition, we can now speak and listen instead of typing and reading. We can verbally command our phones to do much of what we had to tap and type to access. This includes everything from search to shopping, texting, calling, setting alarms, playing songs, and more. But the possibilities for brands are endless.

But why voice?

If you were to apply Moore’s Law, each time a new technology is introduced, it takes a significantly shorter period than its predecessor to garner a critical mass of users. The adoption of voice has been the fastest so far.

Voice is not only catching on, but it’s also poised to take over. According to Gartner research, voice is the fastest-growing way globally to search on mobile. ComScore too estimates that 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches by 2020.

There are a few macro truths that support the momentum of voice being a hyper adopted technology:

1) Voice is ultra-convenient. It’s easier to listen and talk than to view and type.

2) Voice allows for more authentic interactions that can be localized and personalized.

3) Voice is arguably the most natural interface between humans and machines.

4)  Voice has the ability to be easily integrated into a number of devices. It’s not restricted to a smartphone or a smart speaker.

5)  Voice can be used in conjunction with video and text, thereby reducing the cognitive load for the user, allowing them to be more efficient and functionally adept.

While these all hold true, for me, big shifts are always rooted in a much deeper human insight.

A need for speed

The most important thing to us after love, money, and religion, is time. I don’t think we have quantified our unbelievable addiction to speed.

As people, we are innately lazy. We hate friction and live in a world where our lack of patience is almost palpable. Do you notice how you’re typing faster, can’t bother waiting 15 seconds for a screen to load, and skim articles instead of reading them? In the era of instant gratification, the one thing we are really addicted to is speed. Our minds are functioning faster, and when we’re given a tool that can further facilitate this addiction, my bet is that we’ll latch on. Albeit, with the hope of not being over-dependent.

The fact is, asking your phone to perform a task is faster than taking it out of your pocket, tapping an app to open it, and navigating to what you need. Most of us only type about 50-60 words a minute, but we generally speak 150-160 words in that same time.

Voice is not only easier to use, but it’s also far faster and has the ability to make us more efficient in everything we do.

Impact of Voice on the Indian market

Voice is particularly likely to take over in certain markets with larger lower-income and less formally educated populations.

Here in India, the increasing availability of affordable smart phones and inexpensive data plans has given many of our poorer community’s access to technology they didn’t previously have.

In addition to financial barriers to owning and using phones, illiteracy prevented many people from logging on to the Internet. Voice search solves this problem and throws the ‘privilege gap’ out the window. In fact, use of voice search is as high as 80 percent of all searches in some Indian villages.

Voice has the potential to usher in a new generation of Internet users and change people’s lives in profound and positive ways. All it takes is a little empathy to enable this to be the technology that is more inclusive than its predecessors.

What voice means for brands

As is the case with any emerging technology, brands who adopt and become adept early stand to gain the most value while spending the least money.

Here are some topics to think through if you’re interested in introducing your brand to voice:

How to use it. Is voice right for your brand? The voice universe is expansive. In order to set your brand’s boundaries, you need to figure out which issue voice is solving. Be strategic about where voice fits in the consumer journey and how it impacts your brand’s perception and esteem.

How your brand sounds. You’re probably already thinking about sonic branding in terms of sound effects, music, or tonality, but voice technology takes this to another level. What will your brand’s literal voice sound like? What languages does it speak? How’s its vocabulary? What industry jargon does it use? Does it speak in slang or a particular dialect? Accent? Does it speak fast or slow? And how does it want you to speak to it?

The sonic of your brand is soon going to be a variable of success and a key element to loyalty, the basis on which the user relationship is built. You almost need to think like a music director of a film and figure out the sound system of your brand’s soul.

How it integrates into the path to purchase. Virtual voice assistants (VVAs) make it ultra-convenient for customers to not only interact with your brand, but also, make purchases. So how do you ensure it’s your products they’re purchasing? For example, since devices like Alexa, Echo, and Google Home make their own recommendations, it presents a new challenge for brands to maneuver into their algorithm and find ways to strategically fit it into the brand experience and purchase journey.

How to make it accessible. The next generation of global Internet users doesn’t necessarily enjoy 4G speeds or the latest phones. A little bit of thinking through issues like how your technology works on a 2G network can go a long way toward greater accessibility. If voice makes the Internet more accessible, what impact does that have on your brand? What can you do to make sure you speak to everyone who wants to speak to you?

What’s next?

Voice is still relatively new and the way we interact with it isn’t yet seamless. Technology needs to advance for voice to become an everyday utility.

However, the potential for brands across industries to connect with consumers in novel ways—especially in markets like India—is astounding.

“We build the tools and the tools build us” – Marshall McLuhan

Social media shifted the fabric of society and impacted almost everything it touched—politics, business, healthcare, education, and who we are as a species. It has changed human psychology. Voice can have that same ability.

It takes just one company to build a UI/UX that sticks and when people get habituated to it, there is no going back to typing. Combine this with AI and Machine Learning to make things personalized and more nuanced, and the rate of adoption and the degree of dependency will be much higher. We are in for a big change.

My goal with this piece was to get you thinking about the possibilities—and, prepare you for what’s next. It will, I hope, let you sit back and think.

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