Why Brands Must Form an Identity to Retain Customers in the Voice Economy

Conversation and compassion are expected of marketers today

Conversation is becoming an ever-present part of the entire experience chain. Getty Images

Not so long ago, we’d only initiate a conversation with a brand if something had gone wrong, but we’re now starting to use conversation to do much more: to explore options, to make purchases and even to investigate medical issues.

Whether it’s in the form of instant messaging or voice-user interfaces, conversation is becoming an ever-present part of the entire experience chain. What impact will this conversation renaissance have on brands? And if artificial intelligence starts to express the nature and personality of a company by holding conversations with users, how should we build brand into that AI?

The new conversation

Already, we’re seeing a range of brands using conversation for different ends, leading the way for dialogue to become an integral part of the brand experience. U.S. insurance provider Lemonade has thoughtfully crafted a chatbot platform that enables an entirely digital experience, end to end, and results in a policy tailored to each user’s needs.

Bronwyn van der Merwe

In the U.K., Babylon Health offers an AI-enabled triage tool that answers patients’ questions and assesses the urgency of their situation before referring them to a doctor, easing pressure on already stretched health services.

At Fjord, we developed an HR chatbot for a client to deliver a best-in-class employee experience. It answers a small, concise number of queries that cover onboarding and benefits, freeing up HR experts for more complex or emotional matters.

Mirroring your customers

In a world where conversation is becoming a crucial interaction with consumers, brands need to turn their attention to the challenge of creating differentiation. It’s no longer enough to think of the brand as a logo, a typeface and a set of rules. Now, it’s all about how a brand behaves and how well it knows its users.

The existential quandary of brand personality communicated through conversation is a challenge marketers will be managing for years to come.

When we like someone or we want to impress them, we subconsciously do something psychologists call “mirroring,” where we mirror their body language and match the cadence of our speech to theirs. Technology available now enables brands to do the same: to get to know our behaviors, our language patterns and our tastes. Imagine that a chatbot or voice-user interface representing a brand could use what it knows about you in order to become more like you. Eventually, every brand will be able to differentiate itself for each of its customers.

This level of personalization won’t make sense for all brands, though. Those with strong and unique brand personalities may not see the benefit in diluting their established identity and tone of voice, but many organizations such as banks, utility firms, telcos, insurance providers and retailers could capitalize on this type of intelligence to help build rapport with consumers by speaking to each of them in exactly the way they want to be spoken to.

Branding in the age of AI

If brands use AI and machine learning to become the most popular or attractive services to each individual, marketers will have to work hard to find ways to maintain a strong brand personality that underpins those unique interactions. Quartz’s unconventional approach to delivering news through a chat-messaging interface is full of personality, amplified by the use of emojis, GIFs, charts and quizzes. Slack is also leading the way with multiple bots such as Workbot and Meekan, which help you get organized and have efficient and playful personalities to match.

When it comes to voice, things get even more challenging. If your AI becomes your brand and personality, then Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and Microsoft’s Cortana will increasingly become the ears and voice of your brand, further limiting brand expression.

There’s also the challenge of getting through to potential customers who have embraced the idea of making purchases through these voice-user interfaces. These users have their options narrowed by algorithms immune to conventional branding efforts, so marketers will have to determine how to get around them. You can read more about this in Fjord’s 2018 Trends.

The existential quandary of brand personality communicated through conversation is a challenge marketers will be managing for years to come. Companies not only have the opportunity to become more human and responsive in real time, but conversational and compassionate interactions will become an expected part of the customer journey.

Brands prepared to answer this challenge can weave brand voice and identity to create meaningful customer interactions; brands unprepared risk appearing robotic and tone-deaf and may be left out of the conversation entirely.

This story first appeared in the March 12, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Bronwyn van der Merwe of Fjord, Design and Innovation from Accenture Interactive, is based in Sydney, where she oversees teams and projects across the Asia-Pacific region. She is responsible for growing the businesses, finding and developing the best talent, and creating value for clients through design and innovation—as well as overseeing the work those teams deliver. Bronwyn is regularly sought out as a thought leader and spokesperson for Fjord at conferences and in the media.