• Transform magazine
  • September 20, 2019

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Insights: Branding in the screenless age

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The 2019 Transform Awards Europe will celebrate excellence in rebranding and brand development for the 10th year. MassiveMusic is nominated for the awards

The screenless age of smart speakers is almost upon us and it’s going to hit brands like an invisible tidal wave unless they start preparing for it. But how can brands cut through in a hands-free, screenless environment – one that is currently dominated by just a few key players who happen to be raising their voice the loudest?  

When navigating the minefield that is the current voice tech emergence, there are a few key points to be aware of.

First, it’s important to separate ‘native’ voices (the AI-driven voices that are currently on platforms such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa) from real, human ‘recorded’ voices that a brand can record in a studio and then add to their voice platform. Both routes have their pros and cons when it comes to brand experience. If a brand is creating a voice experience and using one of the platform’s native voices, the options range from a choice of only one voice type (on Google Home) to up to 27 different voice options (on Amazon Alexa), all with varying factors like pitch, speech rate and volume. With Alexa, this gives you up to 162 possible outcomes to play with. Consequently there is a job to be done to make sure that the native voice style aligns with your brand personality, and that the conversational design of the experience mirrors your tone of voice.

Going beyond this, both platforms do allow you to record your own original human voice, an option one would assume to be more beneficial to a brand as it allows for differentiation as well as a more uniquely human experience.

While this might provide much-needed brand differentiation, on the flipside, it also ring fences the level of interaction a user can have. The reason for this is that a real human voice on an AI-system cannot learn and iterate as well as a native voice. Although your brand’s voice experience may seem to differentiate itself from the landscape, it can also become more limited, with content updates needing further recording sessions in the studio.

The real, human, recorded voice in question also throws up another consideration for brands. Should this voice be the same as the voice that the brand has become known for? For example, let’s take a certain, husky-toned, celebrity voice, full of authenticity and northern grit. Do I want that same gregarious, bellowing voice onboarding me for my new mobile phone tariff? No I don't, because it would be weird and it would tire extremely quickly.

Brands need to be aware of the limitations and benefits of all options. They need to start thinking about how to differentiate on these platforms and how to keep aligned with their entire brand experience. Look no further than the sonic branding developments from the likes of Visa and Mastercard over the last year, and you will see brands that are future-proofing themselves for this coming of age.

Both brands have sounds that have been designed with screenless products in mind. These are short, sharp, slightly digital-sounding identities designed to cut-through on a smart device’s speaker. MasterCard have recently seen the big picture and are using branded sound as the nucleus from which to create all their sonic assets in multiple styles and genres, designed for an array of brand touchpoints and product functions and adapted for multiple geographical territories.

We know ‘earconography’ (a term used to describe the translation of visual icons into sound) will play a key part in this new age. The combination of strategically designed music, sound, and voice will be essential in order for consumers to be able fully recognise, understand and navigate brand experiences in the rapidly approaching screenless age.

Roscoe Williamson is the head of branding at MassiveMusic