“Voice first” as the new brand culture


There has been no greater sugar rush in business recently than the tsunami of voice-enabled devices appearing both at the consumer and B2B level. Those who bought in early thought the Alexa “skill” of requesting that top news stories be read to you was groundbreaking. Now, just a year later, we look back and are seeing it as the voice-enablement equivalent of Pong in an age of World of Warcraft.

Just like with augmented and virtual reality, the maturity model takes voice enablement from “ear candy” to utility. Most early AR and VR iterations were so thin that many engagements tended to be one and done. How many VR roller coaster rides or AR apps where you see the name of a restaurant as you walk by would people tolerate? And oh, did I mention that I had to monetize these applications through word of mouth to make money?

But the libraries of voice-enabled “skills” or applications have grown exponentially over the last year. Amazon’s Alexa system has more than 20,000 skills in its library, with a predicted growth of about 1,000 per month.

Gartner predicts that “by the end of 2018, 30% of our interactions with technology will be through ‘conversations’ with smart devices. The digital voice-activated devices market is expected to double every year by 2020.”

People are clearly gabbing with their voice-activated devices more than ever. And because of this, skills in conversational interfaces and conversational AI are becoming the hot jobs of the future.

But as with AR and VR, there is still some debate about the numbers related to whether many of these skills are “low quality” or just “low usage” because they serve very tight niches of users.

Regardless, the point is that voice will increasingly become an integral part of a company’s brand image, and enterprise IT will increasingly be brought into question as to whether they are contributing technologically to a voice brand image — in much the same way they are summoned to explain bugs in mobile apps and website design.

Despite the outward appearance, delivering digital content is never easy.with even the most rudimentary user’s information expectations. Delivering voice-enabled content and services raises the bar considerably.

All we need to ask ourselves is if we ever screamed or scolded Alexa or Siri.  Have you ever barked Alexa!!! as if your child just talked back to you in front of strangers?

There is a certain intimacy with all digital and mobile engagements, and volumes have been written about live conversational communication that may apply. Is there perhaps is a Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus aspect to voice-enabled communications?  And in that spirit, could it be possible that sometimes women only want Alexa to listen, and not try to fix their problems? Is there an “I only listen” Alexa skill in our future?

Brands like Starbucks and Nordstrom are hinged on the in-person customer experience. We all know The Nordstrom Way of service is part of the retailer’s corporate conversational culture. Now these conversational brand cultures are increasingly living on our credenzas or desks as devices, as opposed to residing in the retail setting with real people.

But how do technology and marketing professionals combine forces to develop a new form of virtual verbal communication interfaces where the device takes on characteristics (and nuances) of human conversation?

Even more, how does one compete in a market that is now defined as a “voice-first” strategy in much the same way that “mobile first” or “cloud first” became trendy five years ago ?

How is your enterprise addressing or resisting the voice-first hype curve ?



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