Krish Velkar
Guest Article

Alexa, how would brands fit in a voice-first world?

Our guest author believes that we will transcend to a voice-first world once we have surpassed barriers like computers understanding the tone of voice and context, and voice applications become compatible with everyday tasks.

It’s only in science fiction (sci-fi) movies where you see robots like ’R2-D2’ providing valuable advice and having a relationship with the lead character. Well, a man in Japan officially got married to a virtual assistant (Huffingtonpost.co.uk, 2018).

Professor Mark Ritson (2015) suggests that very often, marketers tend to have the ’shiny object syndrome’, where they tend to get swayed by the most upcoming technologies, like augmented and virtual reality (Baratali et al., 2016).

While there are several statistics to show the emergence and importance of voice technology, it is also important to analyse this using the technology acceptance model (TAM), as it helps one understand the likeliness of the technology being adopted by consumers (Davis, 1989; Davis, Bagozzi, & Warshaw, 1989).

Figure 1
Figure 1

As seen above (Figure 1), the opportunity is truly immense, and one could say that eventually, we will transcend to a (digital) voice-first world once we have surpassed these barriers. The evolution of voice, as seen below (Figure 2), also showcases how technology is getting even more accessible with time.

Figure 2
Figure 2

But really, the question is what would this mean for brands?

Well, my research paper that was published into an article called ’Alexa, Are you a Salesman’, clearly showcases three ways in which a voice assistant could impact a purchase decision for FMCG products. However, that is largely industry-specific.

Currently, there are few brands in other industries which have created voice applications (Alexa Skills/Google Actions) that only a small fraction of consumers are using (Figure 3).

Voice Industry applications (Figure 3)
Voice Industry applications (Figure 3)

While it is beneficial to get into the voice space early, I feel that there are a lot of aspects brands can work on improving at their core currently in order to seamlessly integrate into the voice-first future, once it does arrive.

This COVID period for most has probably made them reassess their brand by taking a step back and analysing where they see their brand in the foreseeable future.

Therefore, my goal for this article is to give you a sneak peek into the future of voice, how I see it, and provide insights that could help build your long-term strategy as a brand. But before I do any of that, please allow me to set some context by transcending you out of this dull COVID phase that you are experiencing currently, and take you to my future.

The future, as I see it

You are woken up in the morning by a Red Bull voice application that energises you with contextually relevant words, which boost you to get up and start your day, in spite of your lack of sleep.

Red Bull: “Krish, get up! Today is your favourite technology show Consumer Electronic Show (CES) streaming online in the evening. You need to get up so that you can finish your work earlier and watch that (at peace) later.”

Then, you get up and head to the bathroom.

Here, Amul’s voice application (the girl), in a very cute and playful voice, provides the news snippets in a very satirical tone, which leaves a smile on your face.

While on the pot, you realise that your toilet roll is over.

Krish: “Alexa, can you please order toilet paper?” (I don’t know any brand of toilet paper.)

Alexa: “Sure, would you like me to order AmazonBasics toilet paper?”

Krish: “Yeah, sure! Anything.”

As you get out of the bathroom, Money Control analyses your stocks and recommends what you could buy based on the recent developments. It has a very authoritative and intellectual tone while speaking.

Money Control: “Jio just announced that it bought its previously sold equity back from Facebook. Krish, would you like to buy some more equity at Rs 3,213 per share?”

Then, (a sleepy) you go to the kitchen to make your breakfast.

Here, a Gordon Ramsay’s voice application assists you with the cooking, while abusing you.

Gordon: “Krish, if you leave that egg boiling for any more time on the gas, you’re going to have a fucking overcooked egg.”

Then, while getting ready, Mentos sees your boss’s LinkedIn activity and suggests topics that your boss liked on the platform. It is looking to help you with a conversation starter to impress your boss. Mentos speaks in a very witty and upbeat tone of voice.

Mentos: “Ganapathy recently liked Rory Sutherland’s post on behavioural science.”

“You should initiate a conversation on this topic as I can see this is a common interest for both of you.”

You get in the car. (Volvo, in a really deep and slow voice.)

Volvo: “Good morning Mr Krish, while I safely drive you to work, I highly recommend you wear your seatbelt today as we are running late to work and your safety is of paramount importance to me.”

You look outside your window and then WhatsApp’s voice application reads out a message you have recently received from your mum (mother).

Mum: “Have you taken your vitamins this morning?“

(WhatsApp, in a very frank tone, says the following.)

WhatsApp: “Krish, should I ghost this message, or give her our standard reply?“

Krish: “Give her our standard reply!“

Pidilite: “Dear Krish, we recommend you read Gary Chapman’s book ’5 love languages’, which will help you understand your mum and make your bond with your mother even stronger.“

Then, Google Maps, in Mr Amitabh Bachchan's voice.

AB: “You will reach your destination in 10 minutes. I hope you have an extremely fulfilling day at work.“

This is when Microsoft’s Cortana reminds you of all the meetings and work that you have lined up for that day. You are suddenly overwhelmed and get extremely anxious. It is that time where Mr Gaur Gopal Das’ voice application, in a very soothing voice, tells you something that immediately calms you down.

On your walk from the car to your office, Spotify also recognises that you were anxious, and to boost your emotions even further, it just randomly starts (plays) the song, 'I got a feeling'.

Even though we might be far behind from experiencing a world like this, which could have been exaggerated in certain areas, it can be hard to ignore its possibility.

However, there are several steps brands can take in order to organically transition to a voice-first world (Figure 4).

Figure 4
Figure 4

This piece of advice might come across as generic branding advice, but in this (digital) VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world, we sometimes tend to ignore the basics. However, it just showcases the importance laid to getting the fundamentals right in order to succeed in an even more digital-first world.

(The author is a planner at Ogilvy.)