If I say the name, “Alexa,” and activate an Amazon Echo device, a pretty revolutionary thing happens in terms of branding. However, it may not be exactly what you’re thinking.
Yes, you interact with a machine as if it was a real person. That’s pretty cool. And, yes the natural-language processing is a remarkable achievement. But the truly pivotal thing that Amazon has done is they’ve given their brand a voice – an actual voice – and I can’t possibly over-state how important that is for them. Nor can I over-state what a missed opportunity it is for the rest of us.
Consider for a moment what a voice can mean in terms of building and deriving value from a relationship. Walk up behind your best friend and say, “It’s me!” In most cases the familiarity associated with the tone, pitch, and cadence of your voice will result in immediate recognition. Your voice says, This is a friend. I can trust this person. A voice is a kind of relationship fingerprint. If your voice is familiar and associated with positive experiences, it unlocks your friend’s immediate acceptance of you, sight unseen.
Now think about what Amazon and Google and Apple and all the rest of the voice-activated platform players are doing from an identity perspective. They aren’t just creating functional experiences of ordering diapers or checking sports scores. They are also crafting countless consumer interactions with each of their distinctive voices – voices that are rapidly becoming, dare I say, the “human” connection to theibrands. And with each interaction, they are building the bedrock of branding: Trust.
I could wax poetic on this point, but the key takeaway is they each, whether intentionally or not, are creating new emotional hooks of comfort, connection, and familiarity with their respective brands. And my question is, Why isn’t every brand manager on the planet trying to create their own, literal, honest-to-god, recognizable voice as well?
Very few marketers dispute the importance of voice platforms. The press is awash with the enthusiasm. Yet every initiative I see in the space winds up focusing on adding more functionality to an existing sea of functionality. Meanwhile, marketers are ceding all the attributable brand value of this functionality to the platform itself. After all, do you really credit that recipe skill to the brand that created it, or to Alexa herself?
And of course, I certainly understand the fact that Amazon owns the platform and thus makes the rules about their own interface. To a certain extent our hands are tied by the realities of business and the limitations of the technology. But it’s still frustrating to not see recognition by brands that there’s even a problem.
The worst part is that Amazon, Google, et al, aren’t even dominating with well thought-out voices. Alexa has the personality of a 1960s phone operator. Google and Siri aren’t much better. They are ignoring the opportunity to create a meaningful identity in favor of the cold comfort of an emotionless voice that’s somewhere on the autism spectrum.
There is inestimable opportunity being left on the table here! Imagine if Campbell’s Soup spoke to you in its own, motherly voice as it read cooking instructions. What if Tide talked you concisely through a cleaning issue in a powerful, self-confident tone? The first few times it might be a novelty. But after a few more positive interactions, you would begin to trust the advice it offers implicitly. You would recognize the voice and immediately feel a sense of comfort. And in turn, your trust in the brand itself would skyrocket. The marketing and relationship-building opportunities become endless from there.
Yet, none of this value and trust is achievable for brands on a voice platform without establishing voices of their own. In many ways the current situation is as if television networks only sold time for ads that didn’t allow brands to display logos. What would be the point? So I ask you: If you aren’t pushing to associate a unique brand voice and identity with all those voice skills, what exactly are you achieving? I mean, besides making Jeff Bezos even richer?