In 2018, 56.3 million smart speakers will ship, according to Canalys estimates and forecasts. By 2020, it is estimated that 75% of U.S. households will own a smart speaker, if you believe Garner/Edison research from 2017.
This data is significant for your brand not only because this is probably the largest colonization of the home since television, but because all those smart speakers are doing more than turning people’s lights on and off. They’re also collecting reams of data on habits and preferences. They’re using AI to create predictive models of virtually everything you do. It doesn’t stop with smart speakers; smart televisions are capturing viewing habits and yes, conversations and modeling that data as well.
It’s kind of weird that the omni-channel world that we’ve all been scrambling to figure out starts to become a single channel world owned by smart devices (an exaggeration, but you get the drift).
Why Voice Marketing Matters
This is not said to scare you or—as a lot of people are doing—to creep you out, but because it will affect brands and more specifically branding more than anything that’s ever happened.
People will use Alexa, Cortana, Siri (or whatever platform wins the AI race) to do everything from manage their groceries and shopping to do their banking and buy insurance. The predictive analytics and the ability for AI to find disparate connections will greatly affect how people view and consume brands. Bottom line: in many cases they will trust their smart speaker more than they trust a brand or even their own judgement.
But as it stands right now, there’s another issue. Voice is the first point-of-contact in a search. Because Alexa now owns voice search, Amazon is in control of the process.
But a lot of brands aren’t thinking about voice marketing yet. The brand loses that first touchpoint, the data and becomes separated from the audience.
If brands exist to create preference and simplify choice, isn’t that exactly what Alexa is doing?
So as a marketer, how do you win?
Here are three things you can do to maximize your chances:
ONE. Simplify your brand story and connect it to universal emotional needs.
We’ve all heard this before, but it becomes more and more relevant. Brand stories that are complicated and hard to understand will get shuffled to the side by consumers. Brands simplify choice so brands whose story is simple, distinctive and have emotional meaning will succeed.
At LSB we strive for a brand story to be as unequivocal as possible. Equivocation creates brands indistinguishable from every other brand in your category. Equivocation won’t work, it never has.
The simpler the brand story the easier it is to tell in many different ways to many different audiences and the easier it will be for AI to figure out what it is your brand is about.
TWO: Don’t wait for people to form a brand impression.
If the first brand impression is Alexa, you’re sunk—especially if you’re not even thinking about voice marketing yet. You need to think about the end-to-end brand experience.
How do you get people to form a strong enough emotional impression of your brand so any search or buying experience is purely rationalization?
It’s important to figure out when you can make an impression on customers at every point in the purchase funnel. And, by the way, that funnel isn’t a funnel, and it’s not a straight line as it’s often drawn. It’s more like a squiggly, wandering, non-linear process. That means your brand needs to be prepared to create interesting experiences at as many points as possible. Even before people are even thinking of it.
Given this, customer acquisition becomes even more important. People will still go on the internet to discover products and they will still consume content. Acquisition strategies like SEO, story driven branded content and customer reviews give you data about who your consumer is. This will help you discover and tune the most effective messages.
Knowing your customers and tuning your offers and messaging to different segments will become key because once people start buying a brand, Alexa could more or less takes over and habituate the choice.
Customer retention also becomes key. Reinforcing the brand decision should never stop. The brand experience needs to continue well after purchase.
How do you do it? Maybe you create random rewards to keep the brand in people’s minds. As the guy in Finding Forrester said, “An unexpected gift at an unexpected time.” The customer service experience needs to be optimized and treated as a key touchpoint with your customer.
Creating interesting customer experiences and content inserted into the conversation create loyalty and ensure there’s always an ongoing conversation between you and your customer—not just between Alexa and your customer.
Things that create an enchanting brand experience all the way through the post purchase buying process will not only create loyal customers but boost peer-to-peer recommendations.
THREE. Design matters.
Brands are a means of communicating who we are and are used as a prop in the theatre of our lives. They define the character we play and signal through meta-messages what group we belong to and our social status. Heck, they even help us tell ourselves who we are and provide a great deal of self-actualization. People will still use brands to display the tribe they belong to.
These things will never go away because our brains are largely emotional. What this means is everything from product design and the design of the customer experience all the way to package design and the design of all your brand materials has to provide a consistent brand experience.
And let’s stop thinking about design as a graphic system and typeface. Design extends to experiences that encourage the consumer to participate with your brand through Alexa. Voice marketing, Alexa Skills, useful content … design thinking should drive all of these experiences.
Right now, you can create a brand touchpoint with Alexa Skills and build content that’s relevant, creates a fun experience and engages customers on a platform that’s relevant to them. It’s also a great way to iterate a number of customer experiences and find out what’s really turning people’s crank. As time goes on, more and more ways to create experiences outside the store or web will become available. Embrace them.
Package design should be a continuation of your brand story. Yet so many brands ignore this and disconnect the synergies between their content, their advertising and their packaging. Why not make it consistent? People should open the Amazon box and find a beautiful brand experience that connects with the brand story, not an ugly-ass package. People react emotionally to good design and I’m constantly amazed at how many brands ignore this.
Take dish soap for instance. Even with this fairly mundane product there is a world of difference between a product I can display on my counter vs. one I keep hidden. This is the power of design and it can overcome price and even product efficacy.
In other words, don’t let the Amazon box be your brand.
Voice Marketing: Make simplicity memorable
In the end, voice marketing is an awful lot like any marketing. Brands whose stories are distinctive and simple will win.
Distinctive because when consumers know what you stand for it creates affinity for your brand and the bots will recognize that affinity.
Simple because a simple story is easier to understand — especially when experienced through voice technology — and makes it simpler to create enchanting brand experiences and simpler for Alexa to find.