Ready or not, your business is being disrupted, impacting all aspects of your brand. We identified four innovations in our book, Future-Proof Your Brand, that will both challenge and inspire your business. The rise of 5G, AI/ML, the Internet of Things and VR/AR/MR is enabling brands to access new audiences, but they also bring their own challenges.

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Zooming-in on AI and voice-controlled devices

Let’s take a closer look at the implications of Artificial Intelligence and voice-controlled devices. Computers are now able to lip-read better than humans. Think about the consequences of this. Devices with digital assistants such as Alexa and Siri, which were already listening to us 24/7, will now have the potential to lip-read at the same time.

Since we began writing our book, we have seen services like Apple Home, Alexa and Google Assistant arrive on the market and become very successful. When Siri was first introduced by Apple in 2011, the technology was a bit clumsy and at times quite discomforting, especially when it would wake up your device and talk back to you when you weren’t using it. But like all technology, Siri and other digital assistants have grown and matured, and now we’re bringing this voice-control technology into our homes.

“The customer is no longer making an active choice to purchase your brand. The device will be choosing brands.”

As a brand-owner, the rise in voice-control technology can have massive implications. Any product or service that can now be purchased through these in-home devices will be facing a radical shift when it comes to the customer journey. When someone runs out of batteries or groceries, they can now just ask their device to order it. Where does this leave you as a brand owner? The customer is no longer making an active choice to purchase your brand. The device will be choosing brands, most likely based on previous orders or pre-set preferences, leaving less opportunities for competition. As a brand owner, you will need to find new ways to insert yourself into that customer journey.

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My four recommendations for brand-owners

While considering the impact of voice-control technology, I began to develop a list of consequences that I would expect to see in the not so distant future and then wondered how best we, as brand owners, can tackle them head-on.

1. Assess how likely voice-branding will impact your products or services and the customer journey. Is it a threat or an opportunity?

If impact is likely, then it’s time to take a closer look at your customer journey and accept that changes will need to be made. Some of your key customer point-of-sale conversion opportunities will likely disappear and my prediction is that only brands with the highest level of (positive) brand awareness will survive – all others will become a commodity. Ultimately, the importance of branding will increase and the role of point-of-sale will diminish. An interesting development is that Amazon has already launched over 40 private label brands, indicating that the game has begun.

“Only brands with the highest level of (positive) brand awareness will survive - all others will become a commodity.”

2. Identify whether it would be useful to develop your own brand voice

If having a ‘brand voice’ would be an asset for your products or services, then you need to define the right voice for your brand. Use your brand’s purpose, values and characteristics to develop the right voice for your product or service. You will need to consider the style, tonality and languages to develop and, by extension, any cultural variations based on location.

Voice branding is a whole new design challenge and finding the right party to develop your brand voice is a key step in getting it right. A classic design or branding agency would be the obvious choice, based on skill-sets and DNA, but you could also decide to go with a digital agency or sound-production agency. With the rise of voice-control technology, I would expect that design agencies are working to stay on-top of the trend, although I have yet to see this happening in our global practice. Most agencies appear to still be consumed with the migration of design from print to screen, even though the next big shift – brand voice – has already arrived.

3. Start assessing and ultimately adapt your SEO and organic search strategy

This is likely to be one of your biggest challenges. Only those that appear at the top of these lists will win. It’s very much a “winner takes all” game. As voice search starts to make up a solid percentage of all search volume (it grew from zero to 10% in 2016), businesses will need to work on adapting their organic and paid search strategies to match how consumers are changing the way they look for information, products and services online.

4. Focus on the right keywords and phrases and consider how your consumers will be talking to their devices

In theory, voice search works the same way as typed search, but it is more complex. It goes a bit further than just keywords by having a level of understanding of context, meaning, and the way that people speak. It takes the whole phrase into consideration, as well as the user’s location, past searches and preferences and will then come up with completely tailor-made, natural sounding responses. This means that any content should include key ‘natural’ phrases” to be considered by voice search engines.

Are the big tech companies changing the rules of the game?

In recent years, we have worked hard to build a solid understanding of design for websites and apps, resulting in a much improved UX and UI knowledge throughout the industry. But, all of this knowledge is based on using a screen to interact with human beings. Now, it’s all about discovering the best ways to use voice to interact with consumers – and the race is on. The big tech companies are already present in our homes and their devices are increasingly becoming a more mainstream part of life. So, how do brands use these existing devices, and play along with the “rules” set by the big tech companies, to reach their target consumers?

What does all this mean?

There’s no doubt that voice-controlled devices will radically change customer journeys. As a brand owner, my recommendation would be to begin assessing your brand journey for the impact of voice-controlled devices as soon as possible. For some brand owners it could already be too late. My prediction is that, while it’s still relatively early days, we will see the following developments:

– Increased importance of branding to create awareness and influence consumer preferences
– Decreased importance of point-of-sale conversion
– Increased importance in the delivery process, packaging and customer experience to create truly memorable experiences

Lastly, if my initial observations in this space are correct, I would predict that there is a promising future for the best-branded products and services and for the best-priced. Any brand positioned in-between will struggle to survive!

I’d like to hear your thoughts about this subject, as I don’t see many brand owners that are ahead of the game in this space – yet. Well, except for the big tech companies, of course.