In this year’s Super Bowl commercials, Amazon’s Alexa lost her voice. In the real world, she’s louder than ever. The Amazon Echo, and other voice-activated home assistants like Apple’s iPod Home, are enjoying a surge in sales: there are a reported 50 million Echo devices in use. Mass adoption looks likely, if not inevitable.
The impact of voice interaction will be enormous. It’s particularly important for consumer brands: aside from information and entertainment, a main use of voice assistants is shopping. Alexa is happy to shop for you and happy to recommend. Early adopters, at least, are taking full advantage. New research from InfoScout suggests that the ease of voice shopping means a higher purchase frequency with barely any drop in average spend. That adds up to more money for Amazon. And if you’re in the basket, more money for your brand.
How do you get into that basket? We put our heads together to apply what we already know about successful branding and predict how interactive AI will affect that.
1. VOICE BRANDING WILL BE SYSTEM 1 ON STEROIDS
We already know that most brand choice decisions are guided by System 1 – they are fast, intuitive and low-effort. But brands have always had some power to influence the environment decisions were made in – hoping to nudge buyers one way or another. Voice takes a lot of that away. Shopper choice in a Voice-driven world will be lower-effort than ever, and strongly reliant on habit (past repeat behaviour) and on which brands come readily to mind. More than ever, marketers will need to put these System 1 factors at the centre of their brand strategy.
2. GOODBYE PURCHASE CONTEXT, HELLO USE CONTEXT
In a Voice-driven world, building Fame will be just as important for brands. Fame involves mental availability – a brand that comes readily to mind. It also involves physical availability – which has traditionally meant prominence at shelf or in e-commerce results.
With Voice, physical availability is still really important. But it means something different. Now it’s the use context that matters – the brands you see around your house, or that catch your eye when it’s time to ask for an order.
It’s no coincidence that (according to InfoScout) the sectors where Alexa users over-index on purchases are things like pet food, cooking and baking ingredients, and personal care. These are strongly home-based categories and when you run out you really notice. That gives a huge Fame advantage to brands which are already there. Expect to see free samples and mailouts return as a tactic to build attention.
3. AUDIO ASSETS: THE NEW FLUENCY WINNERS
What’s in a name? In a Voice AI world, a hell of a lot. Brand names have always had to be memorable. But with Voice-based shopping, names also need to be aurally distinct – easy to pronounce, easy for an AI to recognise. In our branding studies we’ve already seen a small name length effect – shorter names, like Asda or EON, are slightly more easily and quickly remembered than longer ones. We’d expect Voice to magnify that. The same goes for Alexa skill names - think how many of the apps on your phone you can remember without looking, and you'll realise how crucial skill naming and branding will be.
Focus and simplicity will also become more important for brands – if you’ve asked your AI assistant for Tide or Colgate, you don’t necessarily want it to come back with a complex list of SKUs. It’s an inversion of the physical or e-commerce norm, where more varieties meant more shelf or screen space.
4. FEELING WILL GET PHYSICAL
Where does this leave emotional communications and building Feeling for a brand to ensure long-term growth? At least at first, the rise of Voice may lead to an even greater shift to short-termist campaigns – since all ads seen in the home will now, by definition, be activation ads that could lead to an immediate purchase.
At the same time, visual assets and emotional campaigns will still be crucial. They will do what they have always done - help grow audience reach and build positive brand associations. But it’ll be more important to tie creative work back into the brand’s physical presence in consumers’ lives – packs, promotional items, apps, and more.
5. A CONSUMER GOODS DIGITAL DIVIDE
Finally, what about innovation? In a consumer world driven by habit and memory, it’ll be harder than ever for a new brand to get through the AI customer gatekeepers. Maybe we’ll see a commercial “digital divide” develop. On the one side will be established brands and those with the budget to invest in major new Fame-building launches. On the other side will be a constant turnover of new brands whose novelty and individuality is a selling point and whose life cycle is expected to be short – like craft beers, limited run cosmetics, or subscription-exclusive consumer goods. Brands in the middle will feel the squeeze.
The subject of Voice AI is a huge one - we've not even touched on activation issues, like the influence of Alexa on promotions or replacements, and we've plenty of ideas for future posts. What are your predictions for a Voice-activated future? Get in touch with your thoughts or questions!