• Transform magazine
  • April 21, 2018

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Opinion: Your brand and voice

Marcel Kornblum.jpg

As the trend for voice-activated purchasing grows, brands must prepare for change. Marcel Kornblum examines the opportunity voice technology lends to brand managers, across all sectors

Over a third of consumers in the US and the UK use digital assistants weekly, with 50% of all search forecast to be voice based by 2020. By 2021 there are forecast to be 7.5 billion installed assistants globally, exceeding the world’s population. As voice adoption grows it will be important to see which human behaviours become common. Will most users simply stream music and search for news and weather? Will purchasing become common? If so, what sort of products – and how will they affect our relationship with brands?

Each of these questions will have a profound effect on different brands, but it’s clear that if nothing else all electronic products are going to be connected sooner rather than later.

For FMCG brands and retailers, it’s tempting to think that voice-based shopping won’t take off as anything other than a fad or an occasional one-off purchase. But research by Walker Sands in March last year showed 37% of 26-35-year olds regularly use voice for their online purchasing, indicating that this trend is taking off very fast in some segments, and shouldn’t be ignored.

If a brand makes relatively cheap consumables, it’s likely they are already thinking about the possible impact of users buying products via Alexa. There are some hefty implications to the idea that the entire purchase process takes place without users ever seeing the merchandise, packaging or logo, often without even being presented with a choice of products.

Brands are used to paying distributors for preferential display position but because of the limitations of conversational interfaces any given query may only return two results, making the competition for ‘eye level shelf space’ more cutthroat than in bricks and mortar retail.

The other route for brands to think about is increasing the emphasis on salience as opposed to recognition across all advertising, perhaps at the expense of other brand assets.

The other sector that is already being affected by this is supermarket retail. Amazon’s growth, and the Prime moat that Alexa contributes to, is already a concern for these companies, but there are opportunities here too. The ambient availability of the voice interface makes a big difference to the chances of forgetting to buy specific items. It’s a safe bet that basket sizes will increase for any retailers able to position themselves as distributors on a voice platform.

For service brands the obvious response is to provide an ‘Alexa Skill’ or ‘Action on Google’ to access whichever parts of service are appropriate for a voice-based conversational interface.  Right now, there’s a rapidly diminishing opportunity for this to be a differentiator; the ease of integration with the main platforms means that soon this will simply be another channel, albeit with interesting brand potential.

What is for certain is that voice is an important consideration for all brands, even for companies that have no direct cause for concern or service to offer. It is simply a new channel for interaction with customers.

On the one hand, the voice channel has several drawbacks for brands – there’s currently no advertising, no visuals and it’s largely owned by Google and Amazon. However, on the other hand, voice as a medium gives an unprecedented sense of personal connection for consumers. As a straight branding opportunity, it should be high in every marketer’s list of things to investigate.

The potential for new forms of entertainment and editorial content has only just begun to be tapped. Perhaps this is the biggest opportunity for most brand managers today.

Marcel Kornblum is head of creative technology at advertising agency BBH London

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