How Brands Can Use Voice to Create Competitive Advantage

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If I were to ask why you favored one product or service over another, you’d likely reply with something related to branding. According to one of the most cited modern definitions (Gray and Balmer), branding is defined as encompassing ‘corporate identity, communication, image, and reputation’. In today’s business environment, this is what makes up the mental model by which consumers think of one company as more favorable than another; a concept called competitive advantage.

Creating competitive advantage

The design of the user journey and its accompanying visual language form essential components of the user experience — the end-to-end interaction a user has with a company’s product or service. For digital products or services, this is one key competitive advantage that brands can optimize to gain a larger market share than their competitors.

Imagine if all mobile apps used the same visual language and followed the same user journey. How would, for example, someone choose between one ride-sharing experience and another?

This problem is already a reality for voice: just adding functionality to Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant provides limited opportunities for classic brand differentiation. If you’re using the assistant’s voice, your opportunity is limited to the backend application of the action being performed on your behalf.

For hardware companies providing a smart-home experience, the physical end product can help surface that level of differentiation, but for digital products or services it becomes much harder. The view of voice as a concept or ‘layer’ within the touchpoints of a brand needs to be expanded, along with the customer relationship.

Similar to the visual language used in designing mobile apps or web pages, voice guidelines should form part of defining that end-to-end user experience. This is already happening in the real world, for example, the near perfect articulation of “Englishness” you expect to hear when boarding a British Airways flight.

Learning from past experiences

The challenge for some digital products or services transferring their brand from mobile or the web might be finding their voice, if they haven’t already defined it. Although most successful brands will have defined a personality, how that translates into voice, and sound, needs to be considered. However, we shouldn’t forget that one of the earliest brand experiences uses sound; radio advertising. As a result, there is a huge amount of research available through organizations such as the Radio Advertising Bureau (US) or the RadioCentre (UK) on using voice, accent, tone, people’s preferences and more.

Also, product designers designing for voice can learn much from the experiences of creating mobile apps. The adoption and, ultimately, huge success of mobile demonstrates how new constraints, coupled with new signals, provide new opportunities.

Mobile screen sizes introduced a scarcity challenge that wasn’t present on desktop experiences. It forced developers and designers to build experiences that took into account more experience factors such as location and time, or the camera, which were newly available on mobile devices. There’s no doubt voice could capitalize on some of these contexts to create new and innovative experiences.

But voice products or services could go even further. For example, voice printing technology can recognize if the person it’s interacting with is old enough to use a credit card (or other payment method) or indeed is the owner of it and some even more personal information than that. The same technology could tell if someone is feeling happy or down and react accordingly —  building a new paradigm for design in the user journey to react to the emotion of the end-user.

Adding or creating APIs that draw on all these technologies and capabilities will allow a more personalized experience, and it’s just the beginning.

Voice as a product touchpoint today

Tailoring the language of a voice application based on who you’re talking to might not be possible – right now – but that doesn’t limit the possibilities of integrating voice into a product offering today. The technology available to brands today has the potential to build memorable user experiences that serve new or existing needs in ways that a visual interface cannot.

Here’s a simplified process based on our experience at Potato, we have many questions for each stage of the process;

  1. Decide your strategy: start by defining how voice fits into your brand experience and what is the right platform for your user base.
  2. Define your brand’s voice: are you using an existing voice or creating one for your brand? What sort of voice is it? What makes it unique?
  3. Design the conversation: from the moment someone is onboarded until the end of the interaction. Role-play your copy and test it thoroughly, don’t fall into the trap of reading it and especially test that it feels natural and trustworthy.
  4. Build and iterate: Train your interaction model early and regularly. Track analytics and the user journey to discover how people interact and to avoid conversation-enders or improve the most frequently requested content.

The opportunity is now

Knowing your audience is essential to designing any digital product, but with voice, the implications are even more dramatic and significant. In pursuit of a voice experience that provides a direct exchange between brand and user, there are a number of challenges to address. Brands and organizations will create stronger bonds with people if they can learn to listen as effectively as humans do in communication, increasing the connection we can make between speaker and listener.

Organizations that are prepared to rise to the challenge of disruption using voice interfaces have an opportunity to build a transformative new type of user experience. And it could well lead to the next generation of billion-dollar businesses, built on a new channel of interaction between brands and consumers.

Nicolas Carey

Nicolas Carey

Design Lead at Potato USA
Nicolas leads the product design team at Potato, a digital product studio based in the US and the UK. Potato design, build and launch ground-breaking digital products and services. Their clients include Google and the BBC. Based in San Francisco, Nicolas has led voice projects for gaming clients. Prior to Potato, Nicolas worked at start-ups in both advertising and legal sectors on projects such as augmented reality and AI applications. He can be found on Twitter @nsdcarey
Nicolas Carey

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2 Comments
  1. Very interesting. This reads like a modern extension of Michael Porter’s books “Competitive Advantage” and “Competitive Strategy” from the 80s.

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