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Voice Technology Is Older Than You Think

by | Nov 29, 2018

Voice is the newest technology platform on the block. And like all seemingly new things, it’s actually much older than you think. In the early 1960s, IBM introduced the Shoebox, an early effort at mastering voice recognition. This bulky little machine could recognize 16 words spoken into its microphone and convert those sounds into electrical impulses. Basically, it was a voice-operated calculator. Dressed in a tuxedo at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, developer William C. Dersch performed the miracle of turning your voice into a search engine. Since those formative days, voice technology has advanced exponentially – and so has demand. By 2019, the voice recognition market will be worth $601 million. And by the end of 2022, voice commerce will be a $40 billion industry, while 55% of American homes will own at least one smart speaker.

Finding Our Voice

And while there is an undeniable demand for voice technology, it still feels like people and businesses are discovering the best way to tackle the vocal landscape. On this blog, we’ve written about how voice will alter the future of SEO, and it’s a great place to start if you’re new to the technology. But beyond the nitty-gritty of formatting for mobile, creating rich snippets, and writing long-tail keywords that mirror natural speech, we’re interested in something bigger. How do you make your brand stick out in the world of voice? How do you provide unique experiences that fit the medium? And is there a role for voice in the world of B2B?

How to Stand Out in the Chorus

Something to consider right off the bat is how much more emotive a voice is than a block of text. As outlined in their article “To Read Emotions, Listen,” Psychology Today explains how an isolated voice may be the truest signal of a person’s inner experience. As opposed to visual cues, “the most reliable way to read someone may simply be to listen to their voice.” And it makes sense. How many arguments have you been in that started not because of what you said, but how you said it? This same space of heightened emotion can be leveraged to create a stronger connection between brands and people. When crafting text for voice, brands should aim for something conversational, human, and warm. If you have a technical or lengthy offering, consider making an alternate script for voice that is more succinct and approachable.
As Ilker Koksal writes, “Voice shouldn’t just be about making a sale. It’s about being useful to your customers and being ready to help when they need you. Brands using Alexa and other voice-first experiences both create opportunities for customers to engage – and then help those customers become used to engaging on a regular basis, perhaps in a daily routine.”
Usefulness is where voice currently excels. Things like directions and recipes are thriving with voice search because it’s the perfect combination of needing an answer in a hands-free environment. The challenge for other brands is figuring out exactly how you can be useful.
  • Start with a persona and a question. In this customer journey, what search queries are your customers using early and late in the purchase process?
  • What content is helping them answer these queries or informing their opinion?
  • In a conversational way, what would these questions sound like through voice?
  • How could short-form audio content answer these questions succinctly?
  • Consider creating an “audio logo” or noise that’s instantly recognizable by ear, so customers have an aural way to know they are interacting with you.

How Can B2B Companies Sing Along?

When it comes to voice, the path for B2C companies is much clearer. In the U.S., Domino’s has already seen promising results since making its one-click Easy Orders option available through Alexa. Two months after launching, 20% of customers signed up for the service. I mean, what’s easier than saying, “Alexa, I want a pizza” and it magically arriving at your door? Similarly, PayPal now supports transactions via Siri, allowing users to send and request money in 30 countries around the world with voice. As easy as saying, “Send $30 to my brother,” Siri pulls up a custom sheet with details of your transaction for authorization. Identifying opportunities for “one-click” interactions in your sales cycle is key, as voice search is all about immediacy. Perhaps a more interesting use-case for B2B companies is that of Saint Louis University. Earlier this year, they announced they would be the first college or university in the country to put Amazon Alexa-enabled devices – prepped with university-specific information – in every student living space. So, all the questions a student might have – What’s happening on campus tonight? Where is the student center? When does the library open? — are easily accessed and organized in an interactive way.

Voice Lends Itself to Employer Brands

Think of how this technology could be used for an employer brand, or even onboarding a new employee. In one device or app, a business could have an interactive way to educate their staff on upcoming events, benefits, meetings, opportunities, or even storytelling from team members. Missed the last all-hands? Listen to a recording of the meeting. Curious about the vision of the company? Listen to the CEO explain the upcoming acquisition strategy. Looking to engage with the mental health benefits? Listen to stories from people who have taken advantage of the free therapy program. The role of voice in brand is still being defined, but that’s the most exciting part. The immediacy and emotion of voice is yet another tool in our arsenal to transform the way people reach out to brands and the way brands respond back. To learn more about voice or our partnership with Voicify, contact Tracy Lloyd at tracyl@emotivebrand.com. Emotive Brand is a brand strategy and design firm in San Francisco.

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