LOUD & CLEAR

Voice activation is set to become a dominant interface between ourselves and brands and experiences. Crowd DNA’s Andy Crysell gathers up notes from our recent work in the field, exploring the barriers to overcome and the opportunities ahead…


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It isn’t so much a new thing, but voice activation – or voice computing – is certainly a fast gaining momentum thing. We know this because of the sales and media coverage of devices like Amazon Echo. But, as a business, we also know this as it’s a topic we’ve been asked to explore in several client briefs recently (that’s not something that would have happened much over a year ago).

Clearly there’s a huge opportunity here to create more frictionless and empathetic experiences – particularly in-home, at-work and in-(smart)car. Many of the experts we’ve been speaking to see it as a paradigm shift, something as revolutionary to our relationship with digital utility and entertainment as the rapid advancement of our mobiles was five to ten years ago.

As with most innovations of this kind, there’s a certain clunky-ness to it in its formative stages. Barriers stand in the way of true adoption. Recent data suggests 69% of Alexa’s 7,000 skills either have no reviews or just one review – this implies very low levels of adoption. Of those who enable a voice app on Google Assistant or Alexa, only three-per-cent are still active the week after. Moreover, we’re still to ascertain what kind of relationship we really want with a voice assistant – should it have a name; a gender; where does voice activation intersect with mood recognition and a deeper understanding of what’s on our mind?

Google Home
Google Home

Plenty of challenges, then. But the experts we’ve met believe that, once good use cases become popularised and eulogised, once the recognition process takes the necessary and inevitable steps forward, voice activation will gather pace quickly. They’ve spoken to us about how crazy it will soon look to be swiping away at a mobile. How we need to start comprehending the notion of invisible apps and invisible actions – the invisible interface, ultimately. That we should be ‘viewing’ voice computing as the next great platform.

What’s in it for media and for brands? A lot of our interviewees have spoken about untapping latent intent – all of the new things we will do, or things we currently do but will now do more abundantly – if we don’t have to reach for our phones, and if the cognitive load is reduced. The opportunity is there, they enthuse, for media and brands to be with us more often and more relevantly; to work towards seamless narratives that flow across devices and day parts.

So Nike tell us to ‘Just Do It’, and McDonald’s affirm ‘I’m Lovin’ It’, but how will they deliver against these messages on this emergent interface? Also fascinating is how a lot of the heavily used marketing maxims of recent times – the requisite for brands to have an authentic voice of their own; the need for brands to have a two-way conversation with consumers – will suddenly take on new and more direct meaning in the age of voice activation. Lots to think about – even more to talk about.

Part of InterFace, a series exploring – across digital and physical – how our touchpoints with brands are changing…