To Exist in the Voice Era, Brands Need to Stop Appealing to the Abstract

Items with tangible value will be the most successful

Voice AI has opened a new frontier in marketing, and we’re already seeing the emergence of winners and losers. Moving forward in an automated world where value is all there will be casualties, and brands that sell illusions will be the first to die.

Much has already been written about how Amazon, Google and others are using AI-powered voice to turn the world into a vast, voice-activated interface. The promise is a world where consumers do more of their shopping in-home and via voice rather than with screen—a world where voice-based ordering is increasingly powered by algorithm-driven suggested purchases, Amazon recommendations-style. A world that’s increasingly automated in which re-marketing and predictive are the norm.

Follow this idea through, and voice-based shopping eliminates the need for packaging, design and even branding if taken to the nth degree.

Expect a creeping automation of daily household item purchases like kitchen towels or toothpaste. With products such as these, people are less likely to ask for a specific product by brand name—requesting their voice-assisted device order a toilet paper roll rather than Charmin, for example—and they are more sensitive to price discounts.

Then, once this behavior is established, expect it to creep into additional product categories. This shift is then likely to extend to include other products used around the home like household appliances.

Premium products across a range of categories that have traditionally been marketed to consumers as an illusion or dream rather than with a tangible value will be particularly vulnerable. Consider an upmarket perfume brand, perhaps the ultimate product sold on an illusory promise, versus a cheaper product recommended by Alexa that will make you smell just as nice at half the price.

How should brand owners respond?

Follow this idea through, and voice-based shopping eliminates the need for packaging, design and even branding if taken to the nth degree.

An essential first step will be to ensure products are defined not by a brand owner’s business requirements, but by a users’ wants and needs. Products that add true value—to simplify the consumer’s life or be the most cost-effective, for example—and that are beautiful will be in the best position.

Agile brands that can flex and grow with consumers’ changing requirements and expectations and interact with consumers more on a one-to-one basis will also be needed. In short, brands that are more personally responsive.

Meanwhile, brand owners will need to understand the skills required for AI and voice-assisted service apps such as Alexa Skills to master how best to feed the algorithm.

Consider how an Alexa user can now ask, “Alexa, what are your deals?” and when they do, Alexa will name the deals that Amazon wants to push and that fit to that user’s profile. This is an Alexa skill that is unbranded, and Alexa’s response is what the algorithm considers is both a deal and relevant to a user.

A new mindset is needed. Forget the “There’s an app for that!” approach, and think, “There’s a command for that!” This has been demonstrated by Uber and Slack creating commands to work with Alexa that require users to say, “Order me an Uber” or “Post this to Slack.”

Brand owners should also carefully consider how to approach the user, especially when deciding which moment to do so during the purchase journey.

Building consumer trust in a brand is essential to justify a users’ commitment and a brands’ success. In this respect, it will be dictated by their ability to gather and combine data, translating that to relevance and focusing on narrow AI one useful task at a time. Brand owners will need to work out how best to prime out of home audiences through creative, external touchpoints driven by compelling stories about product value rather than brand value, too.

Finally, brand owners must be critical on pricing from the get-go, and if a brand owner is not the cheapest, then it must be confident enough to make another shareable value, like service, their weapon of choice instead.

Looked at one-way, voice-based ordering powered by algorithm-driven suggested purchases sounds like the death knell for brand marketing and advertising creativity as we know it. But looked at in another way, it heralds a new era in which the quality of a brand’s creativity combined with the quality of the data generated by every brand-consumer interaction is everything.

It’s not the demise of marketing then but rather a new beginning.