In 2017, it’s perfectly normal to talk to your phone, your car or the speaker sat in your living room. In fact, VoiceLabs predicts a total of 33 million voice-first devices will be in circulation worldwide by the end of this year ‒ enough to have one in every household in the UK.
So why is this exciting news for brands? Well, for one, we’re no longer simply shouting one-word voice commands. We’re having conversations. According to Google, nearly 70% of voice requests use conversational language and many are follow-ups that continue an ongoing conversation.
Consumers are adopting. The technology is smarter. It has the wings to fly out of the ‘PR gimmick’ pigeonhole. It presents brands a genuine opportunity to expand the way they interact with their audience. A chance to do something useful or entertaining.
Before you summon Siri to speed dial your favourite creative digital agency (ahem, that’s us right?), it’s important to take a step back. Here at Toaster, we have just completed the process of launching a voice app of our own for Google Home (more on that later). We wanted to share some of the considerations that came up along the way. Here’s the abridged version…
What should brands think about?
Let’s get this out of the way first. In the short term, it might make sense to launch a Skill on Amazon Echo due to their dominant market share, but let’s not forget that the penetration of voice-first devices is still pretty low overall. It could be worth focusing your efforts on voice assistants that have greater penetration across other devices. Google Assistant, for example, is not only available to Google Home users, but also to most Android and even iOS smartphone owners. Apple’s HomePod, powered by Siri, will be another strong contender later this year.
An all too obvious point, but do consider whether this interface is right for your audience. Voice assistants have the highest adoption rate amongst Millennials. Less so amongst Gen X and Baby Boomers. Brands targeting non English speaking markets will struggle in the short term. Right now, Alexa only supports English and German. Google supports English, Hindi, and Brazilian Portuguese, with more languages later this year.
Think about your audience as they go about their daily routine ‒ at what points are you most relevant? Don’t stop there. In which of these moments is a type or swipe-centric interface unimportant or cumbersome? Driving or cooking for example. What problems could you solve or how could you improve their lifestyle with a voice app.
I know, voice assistants still sound pretty flat and emotionless (for now), but there’s still plenty to play with. Is your brand best represented by a man, a woman, some androgynous middleground? Are they cheeky, motherly, motivational? Are they straightlaced and rule bound like HAL 9000 from 2001? Or disarmingly inquisitive like Samantha from Her?
Developing their tone of voice is crucial when your brand is experienced purely through conversation. So who should write their scripts? And what name should you give it? Let’s say you successfully deploy to Google ‒ the name you choose will be uniquely associated with your brand (reminiscent of the Internet domain name landgrab of the 90s), so it’s important to get it right.
When it comes to voice interface, in most instances, there won’t be a visual aid to prompt people to engage with you. It’s important to consider the role of other channels to raise awareness for your voice app, educate users about how to use it and most importantly encourage continued use - especially if the app does not cater for a commonplace daily habit (e.g. checking the news or weather). Many voice apps struggle with retention, so it’s only worth pursuing if you’re willing to follow through with a rigorous comms plan to support it.
Okay, so what now?
Go forth and experiment. That’s what we did. Our voice app is now available with Google Assistant in the U.S and is in the process of being rolled out worldwide. We call it Toaster ScoreKeeper. A simple tool to keep score on anything. We started with a purposefully simple concept to explore the abilities and limitations of voice technology, without the added nuances of a brand identity.
In doing so, we were able to test and learn different ways to express personality through conversation. Now, we’re ready and raring to collaborate with partners that are willing to let their brand talk.