There’s a fire in voice interfaces right now — that’s clear to anyone in the tech space as voice-first devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home pique collective interest.
Brands scramble to consider how to approach voice, and it’s certainly "here" in a more realized way than ever before.
On paper, creating compelling and impactful voice experiences seems straightforward. Principles like top-of-mind awareness, task-oriented utility, simple interaction and hands-free usability serve as strong starting points.
But many brands forget something. In addition to crafting a rewarding voice experience, you have to put voice in social context. Not just the ‘why’ or the ‘how’ of voice — but the where.
According to a recent paper in the Journal of Consumer Research, being busy is the new status symbol and it’s hard to deny the role that technology plays in that. But while users choose to engage with their devices, voice acts differently.
As a brand on voice — like Uber or Capital One — you are no longer only competing for users’ attention among other brands, or even the medium itself. You are also competing with your users’ actual, real-life and real-time lives.
While the future of voice may be a ubiquitous, sentient companion, today’s reality isn’t there yet. Voice platforms may have found a space in our homes, but they are still working their way into our brains and hearts. The music you ask Alexa to play is the backdrop to dancing with your toddler, the weather forecast or even helping you select the right outfit to wear to your cousin’s wedding.
So, while the aspiration of voice may be a 20 minute conversation, the current reality of voice interaction is much more limited. The physical device may be in the room during life’s important moments, but it’s not currently the creator or owner of those moments.
Whether on Alexa or Google Home, brands may play a supporting role in the backdrop of an experience. But this doesn’t mean they can’t shine, stay memorable and meet goals.
For brands entering the space, here are a few key ways to stand out in your supporting role on an in-home device:
Answer the ask as quickly as possible.
Prove your value quickly before trying to extend the interaction or drive to an additional platform. If you have around 10 seconds to convey value on a web page when your audience is sitting in front of a screen, imagine the window you have when someone is actively going about their lives? Your chance to connect decreases with each second that passes after the initial invocation. Your user might get a phone call or wander into another room, so take advantage of the moment they are focused on you.
Craft a voice and use language that’s recognizable.
Make those precious seconds of user attention that you do have count. Using audio files or familiar sound marks to increase the fidelity of the experience and brand recognition. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon Skill on Alexa does a great job of this. Beyond sound design, pay attention to your voice over — web copy read aloud probably won’t cut it. Consistent brand voice does not necessarily mean the same word choice each time.
Focus on what you do best.
Your brand may do many things, but it doesn’t need to do them all on voice right now. There will be a future time when your eponymous voice presence will represent your entire brand promise, just as your website or mobile app do today. But for now, focus on your highest utility offering and make it as easy as possible for users to complete.
Aspire to build repeatable habits.
The holy grail of voice design? It’s behavior change. So far, it feels like the native functionality of the voice assistants have much of this market covered, whether it be weather forecasts, timers and turning on lights when you get home. Lean into that. Amazon has done some of the heavy lifting for brands with daily editorial content with their Flash Briefing Skill API, and so for many this is a good place to start. Or, look at what your users already do on your other platforms and explore which of those paths translate well to voice. This way, you are taking an existing experience and shifting to a new context, rather than building from the ground up.
So, while we all watch the voice platform arms-race unfold, and place bets on which virtual assistant we’ll be palling around with in a few years, take this time to get comfortable with being outside of the spotlight, and figure out how to just be available.
It’s new to all of us, but as voice interaction changes, we can continue to refine how to engage with audience. Keep working, see what internal barriers exist to creating voice-first content and processes. And of course, don’t be afraid to fail.
Scott Cullum is Director of Creative Technology and Susannah Fogarty is Content Strategy Director at AKQA.