The inside track from Unbound London 2018: 3 brands leading the way with voice and the challenges it poses

With consumer uptake of smart speakers, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, superseding the rate of smartphone adoption, it’s no surprise brands are eager to build their own voice-enabled experiences.

Recently at the Unbound event in London, we heard from early adopters working with LEGO, Channel 4 and Patrón as they shared their experiences with voice assistant devices. The general sentiment crystal clear: ‘voice is no fad’, but it’s a hard art to master.

So how have these early adopters harnessed voice? And what challenges have they observed along the way?

LEGO DUPLO STORIES

Voice & LEGO

Having seen a growing trend from kids and adults alike towards voice-and-audio-assisted brand engagement, LEGO developed Duplo Stories. As one of the first Amazon Alexa skills of its kind, Duplo Stories combines interactive storytelling with real, physical play. Alexa walks children (aged 2-5) and their parents through customizable stories, whilst encouraging children to play along with Duplo blocks. The stories are designed to “advance children’s constructive, exploratory and roleplay skills with tasks”.

THE HUMAN TEST

To promote the return of its widely popular series Humans, Channel 4 launched ‘The Human Test’. The bespoke app uses Google assistant and Amazon Alexa to bring to life the drama’s storyline by deciphering whether a user is a ‘synth’ (robot) or a human through a series of questions. The stunt marks the first time a UK broadcaster has used voice assistant devices for marketing purposes. Channel 4 also recently announced that they are integrating their on-demand TV service with Google Assistant – another first for a UK broadcaster.

THE PATRÓN COCKTAIL LAB

Voice & Patron

The Patrón Cocktail Lab is a tailored, immersive voice experience on Amazon Echo that serves up the perfect cocktail for the tequila brand’s consumers. Acting as an at-home cocktail concierge, users simply “Ask Patrón” for cocktail recommendations, recipes and expert drink-mixing techniques. Whilst users receive hands-free, 24/7, expertly curated content, Patrón gets to know its consumers, their drinking habits and preferences better. A win-win situation.

VOICING CONCERNS

All three brands illustrate innovative cases of voice technology. And sure, voice is great – it’s intuitive, hands-free, widely accessible, addresses consumers directly and has a low learning curve. Yet despite its appeal, it is still in its infancy stage and poses numerous challenges for marketers.

At Unbound, panellist James Poulter, head of emerging platforms & partnerships at LEGO, pointed out that existing platforms like Google Home and Amazon Alexa are constrained to point-to-point conversations around specific, predefined tasks. Poulter described their current degree of ability very simply: “ask for something, get the response” – with very limited interactivity.

BRANDING FACELESS TECHNOLOGIES

From a brand perspective, voice technology raises its own set of questions. How do marketers create a brand identity and build awareness without logos, fonts and imagery? And how do consumers distinguish between brands – especially if they’re tied to the same, limited selection of voices on third-party platforms? In the faceless world of voice, marketers will need to address these roadblocks and create their ‘own brand’ voice. But by no means, is that an easy feat. Jim Cridlin, global head of innovation, Mindshare, sums it up: “voice as a thing, rather than an abstract concept of a brand’s ‘voice’, is a daunting thing to define. It’s conceivable that the brand voice for you is different to how it is for me. Then there is the politics of gender, personality and accents – you have to get it right.” Brands may therefore struggle to define a distinctive voice that resonates with consumers.

LOOKING AHEAD

It’s easy for brands to get swept up in the hype of voice-enabled experiences. Especially with the adoption of smart speakers becoming more and more widespread. But we are still very much in the early phases of the voice era. Whilst brands like LEGO, Channel 4 and Patrón are already experimenting with the technology, it’s still uncharted territory for many marketers. Voice assistants need to mature to account for numerous challenges. However, here-in also lies an opportunity for brands to seize an early-mover advantage. Brands that invest and leverage in the technology early, will be able to define voice as a marketing channel and differentiate themselves in the eyes of consumers.

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