We can all agree that the future will be governed by Artificial Intelligence and Non Interface. Even today, every fifth search query on Google is submitted by voice command. And Amazon employs over 1000 people just to further develop voice control. But if products and services are primarily controlled by language, how can brands code them and make themselves recognisable?
Even if most brands – if any – could “speak Alexa” or use the Google Assistant infrastructure, it will become increasingly possible to individualise and ‘brand’ voices. It all starts with Google Assistant’s new voice options, which even includes that of John Legend. With technical possibilities such as that of Lyrebird, it is already possible to emulate voices with minimum effort. In the near future, for example, users might find themselves being assisted by Donald Trump or Scarlett Johansson.
And even if these developments are progressing rapidly, the question of branding possibilities has so far been answered insufficiently. For now, the focus is mainly on being able to offer voice control and chatbots, creating interfaces, and offering relevant skills for Alexa and Co. But it is not so much the question of “what?” as it is “how?”. What should my brand sound like, what should it say or write, how should it react and what attitude should it embody? When this question is answered, others quickly follow, such as those involving a contextual and user-specific translation of “how?”. For example, does it need to have a brand voice, or better still, a brand voice family with different selections or contextual adjustments? And what is the relevance of a brand voice when users want to personalise their voice and prefer to talk to their partner or Ryan Gosling instead of Volkswagen?
The last question in particular seems to suggest that the end is nigh for brands. If everything is geared towards the user who sees content tailored only to them, then what remains for brands? Despite this, we don’t believe that digital standardization à la Amazon, which relies solely on individualised content, is the future. Inspiration, differentiation, commitment, experience and trust are equally as important.We wouldn’t want to walk through a shopping centre in which every shop window targeted us in particular and presented only those goods which suited us, otherwise every shop window would eventually start to look the same. Clearly, a functioning product and a competitive infrastructure that always offers everything immediately and remains competitively priced is now the norm when it comes to being able to assert oneself in the increasingly transparent internet. But in the end, the brand makes the decisive difference. Only they can break through the online mishmash by offering individual brand experiences that go beyond the technical possibilities. A finding that is confirmed, for example, by the fact that established brands which are successfully digitizing are growing faster on the internet than brands with a purely online DNA.**
The brand is, and remains, an area of identification and inspiration for individuals who want to use the brand to differentiate themselves and who wish to buy more than one product from that brand.
We’re dealing with new technical possibilities to satisfy user needs – not with new user needs.
DIGITAL FIRST is the now. When this idea has run its course, it will be important to highlight differences in comparable ways.
But the future will still be BRAND FIRST!
Lisa Krick is Executive Director of Brand Innovation at MetaDesign Berlin.
For comparison: Study on Shopper Behaviour 2025 – Our Shopping Behaviour in the Future, GS1 Germany
** IFH Cologne, Handel Digital Online Monitor 2018