Interacting through existing human behaviour is the next wave of 'smart' where the technology becomes seamlessly integrated into the background, no longer requiring us to input information manually. This evolution, enabled by advancements in natural language processing and artificial intelligence, is at the very beginning or what I refer to as the Atari stage of development.
The question for brands is whether to engage with this technology now, or wait until a later stage of maturity when the audience has reached a critical mass. To answer this, we first need to look at consumer behavior, starting with pain points in the current consumer journey and assessing the role voice can play.
A common mistake with any new technology is taking a technology first approach – it's not about the medium itself it's what you do with it that counts. The real value lies in addressing the problem to be solved, and whether voice technology can create a better experience than what went before.
Whilst most of the use cases to date have focused on the home environment, thinking about voice as a broader part of the digital ecosystem, integrated into multiple environments both physical and digital is the future trajectory. Integration in its cars, fridges and even sofas are just a few examples how voice interfaces will become part of our everyday lives.
At Cannes Lions this year I created an initiative in partnership with Diageo to explore the possibilities of voice within an outdoor physical environment, utilising the Dentsu Aegis Network beach house to develop a voice activated bar, addressing pain points of having to hail waiters or standing in a queue, all of which take customers away from their social experience.
The objective was not only to understand if this was a better experience, and how it flavour notes could aid product discovery and influence choice, but also to understand how human staff interaction with technology in this context could create efficiencies in staff deployment, and potential supply chain efficiencies – if gin orders were running high then the supplier could send another case to the bar using the real-time data to help manage stock control.
The experiment ran seamlessly and one of the most interesting insights was not about the customer experience per se, but actually the human interaction with the technology. As people, we know we are on the cusp of an era where machines and people are becoming more interdependent.
We don't yet fully understand our relationship with machines and our natural instinct is to prove that we are still in control or smarter, establishing superiority. We have to design for this transitional period until we reach the point where this is a normalised behavior, which may take five or even ten years.
So what should brands do and how should they approach voice interfaces? Firstly, I would suggest brands need to experiment. Whilst the longer-term focus should be revenue growth, the real value now is in learning through data, so that when the technology is fully scaled and robust enough brands will to be ready to capitalise.
Secondly, does the brand have the authenticity to engage consumers? Thinking about the context in which a product is used should give pointers to where the brand can extend through voice services.
Also, think utility first not advertising first. Trust is a key component of a voice interaction and if consumers feel they are being sold to, particularly within a personal home environment then a brand can create more harm than good.
Finally, how do we translate our tone of voice into an actual voice, what do we want people to feel and how should we respond. All new territories but ones where we can leverage our existing knowledge and craft to address this.
Extending the brand experience into voice and connecting more operational aspects of the business through data is an incredibly exciting space. Getting to the right services requires a test, learn and iterate approach where a launch should be seen as the start of a journey that will continue to evolve and one in which those brands brave enough to start the journey now will have significant competitive advantage which will bear rich fruit.
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