Research Shows That Having a Strong Social Media Presence Pays Off

Research Shows That Having a Strong Social Media Presence Pays Off

Facebook

Having a strong social media presence pays off for your brand – literally. That’s what research from Sprout Social shows. Sprout Social surveyed consumers and social marketers between February 28 and March 4. As reported in Mobile Marketer, the survey reveals:

  • Nine out of 10 people purchase from brands they follow on social media.
  • Seventy-five percent of people have increased their spend on companies they follow on social. That’s a 12 percent increase from 2019, a leap that’s particularly noteworthy given the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moving Forward

These findings validate what we wrote in a recent post: brands advertising on social media can connect with people who are willing to spend money even during the coronavirus era. Knowing this, how does a company move forward during such an unprecedented time? Here’s what we suggest you do:

  • Make sure you have a strong social media presence. As we’ve noted, use of social media has surged in the first quarter, with engagement on platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram spiking 40 percent or more — this despite, or even because of, the pandemic. In short, not only are people willing to spend on brands, there are more people on social, period. Brands that advertise on social will reach that larger audience.
  • Make sure your content is engaging, and that you engage with the audience. According to the Sprout Social report, 61 percent of consumers say that engagement with the audience is the brand characteristic that is most meaningful to them.
  • Complement your advertising with strong customer service. What does strong customer support look like now? Per Sprout Social, responding to people quickly is a strong barometer of customer service. As noted in Mobile Marketer, 40 percent of consumers expect brands to respond within the first hour of connecting through social media; and 79 percent expect a response in the first 24 hours.
  • Reach out to younger consumers in a way that matters most to them; that means a strong presence on YouTube and Instagram. Gen Z is the largest age cohort in the United States, and Millennials remain sizeable. It’s important that brands understand where Gen Zers spend their time. Right now, visual content is the key to Gen Zers’ hearts. The Sprout Social report reveals that social sharing platforms highlighting videos and photos, such as Google’s YouTube and Facebook’s Instagram, are becoming more and more popular with younger consumers. As reported in Mobile Marketer, “Almost three quarters (73%) of Generation Z said they plan to use Instagram more often, while 65% said they plan to spend more time on YouTube.” So it’s no surprise that Facebook just purchased Giphy and will integrate the business with Instagram.

Finally, make sure that you stay abreast of the various tools that are constantly made available to businesses to maximize the value of their social media spend. For instance, Google has adapted the YouTube masthead ad format for the era of connected TV.

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How Brands Are Succeeding with Social Media Advertising

How Brands Are Succeeding with Social Media Advertising

Advertising

There’s a disconnect between how businesses and consumers are behaving on social media during the coronavirus pandemic. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, people are spending more time on social apps such as Facebook, but businesses have scaled back their advertising during the first quarter (although in its latest earnings announcement, Facebook said that ad revenue had stabilized at the beginning of the second quarter in April). Companies that go dark on social create an opportunity for their competitors to engage with a growing audience. If you are one of those brands thinking of scaling back, perhaps you should reconsider. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on.

Consumers Are Online. And They Are Receptive to Ads.

Life under lockdown has resulted in a spike of internet usage. The latest report from App Annie indicates that worldwide, average weekly time spent in games and apps on Android devices increased 20 percent year-over-year in Q1 2020. Significantly, consumer spending also ticked up: “In Q1 2020 consumers spent over $23.4B through the app stores, the largest quarter ever in terms of consumer spend.”

Increased time online also means an uptick in social media usage. According to TechCrunch, an April 2020 Kantar report reveals the extent of this uptick during the pandemic: Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram experienced a 40 percent+ increase in usage. Facebook usage has increased by 37 percent overall.

Not only are consumers online more, and still spending, but they are open to seeing ads. GlobalWebIndex research reveals that globally, approximately 50 percent of respondents approve of brands running “normal” advertising campaigns not linked to COVID-19. Strongest approval was reserved for businesses offering practical and informative tips to deal with the current circumstances.

As reported in Social Media Today, a recent Twitter survey provides some context as to this consumer openness to ads. One interesting finding: 52 percent of respondents said that seeing/hearing ads provides a sense of normalcy, even comfort. In other words, regular promotions are familiar. Anything familiar right now is welcome.

Brands That Are Doing It Right 

As we’ve already blogged, companies like Ford, Hanes, and Budweiser have all managed to strike the right tone in their coronavirus-era advertising. Brands that are specifically advertising on social media, and doing it well, include:

  • TOMS: in a recent Instagram ad, the shoe manufacturer acknowledges the fact that one’s workplace might look a little different right now. “Working from home?” the ad asks, over an image of cozy slippers from TOMS. The implication here is that times may be different, but TOMS shoes, familiar and comfortable, can help make these unfamiliar times better.

  • Dial: at a time when the CDC is recommending handwashing as a safety measure, antibacterial soap manufacturer Dial has created a 10-second spot for Facebook and Instagram that focuses on how to wash hands thoroughly. Dial’s name bookends the ad at beginning and end, but the focus is on customer safety. That’s a sound approach, given GlobalWebIndex research revealing 80 percent of respondents approve of brands running campaigns which demonstrate how they are helping their customers.

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The CDC recommends washing your hands as one of the best ways to help prevent you and your family from getting sick. Follow these 5 steps to wash your hands the right way every time:⁣ ⁣ Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.⁣ ⁣ Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.⁣ ⁣ Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.⁣ ⁣ Rinse your hands under clean, running water. ⁣ ⁣ Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.⁣ ⁣ #Dial⁣ ⁣ #WashYourHands⁣ ⁣ #DialUpProtection

A post shared by @ dial on

  • Bones Coffee Company: in an Instagram spot that includes a coupon code, Bones Coffee Company encourages consumer engagement while speaking to our current quarantine situation head on. “How to self-quarantine,” the coffee company muses. “1. Stay Home. 2. Get Coffee.” The message is short, sweet, and to the point: small pleasures are still in our reach. They’re just enjoyed at home right now.

Tone Is Key

Brands do need to tread carefully to build trust. As reported in eMarketer, a March 2020 Kantar survey finds 75 percent of respondents saying businesses “should not exploit [the] coronavirus situation to promote the brand,” and that brands need to be careful with their tone. The Dial ad works because Dial is sharing useful information. The TOMS and Bones Coffee Company ads work because they discuss products that people would naturally want to use at home. Although the TOMS and Bones Coffee Company ads strike a lighter tone, they fall short of outright humor, which would have made them potentially tone deaf.

In short, not all ads work in a COVID-19 world. It’s also important to remember who your audience is: age group and quarantine status are bound to shape what that audience wants to hear.

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Why Brands Are Flocking to TikTok

Why Brands Are Flocking to TikTok

Social media

Brands used to creating awareness via social networks like Instagram and Facebook now have a new option to consider: TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance. Read on to learn more about a platform that is gaining currency through a blueprint involving music, quirk, and innovation.

What Is TikTok?

A free video-sharing social networking app that launched in the international market in 2017, TikTok was once predominantly dedicated to lip-synching. But now the platform, which features short looping videos of three to 60 seconds, and music and lip-sync videos of three to 15 seconds, has evolved into a short-form video content hub. And it’s becoming something of a powerhouse: in 2019, TikTok was declared the seventh most downloaded mobile app of the decade spanning the years 2010 to 2019.

Mobile-first 18- to 34-year-olds are the dominant market for TikTok, and one need only take a look at user numbers to recognize the platform’s significance—even beyond that primary market. According to Search Engine Journal, the app boasts more than 1.5 billion users. Adweek reports that “[i]n the U.S., Messenger was the top app of 2019 by downloads . . . followed by TikTok and Instagram.” Those users are engaged, too: on average, they spend 52 minutes per day on TikTok.

Brands Getting in on the Action

Brands, particularly those catering to younger consumers, are taking an interest in TikTok. The platform is an ideal place to engage audiences and demonstrate a lighter side through funny videos or challenges. Examples of the wildly diverse brands who have already invested in a TikTok presence include:

  • Guess: the clothing brand and retailer worked with TikTok to promote its Fall ’18 Denim Fit Collection during the back-to-school shopping season. The #InMyDenim Hashtag Challenge on TikTok, which invited users to show their fashion style in Guess denim with an overlay of Bebe Rexha’s “I’m a Mess,” exhorted consumers to “Transform your outfit from a mess to best-dressed! All you need is denim!” The six-day campaign was the first branded challenge on TikTok to go viral.
  • NBA: the NBA uses TikTok to show off a lighter side, posting videos of players working out to music, for example, or the adventures of team mascots. The app’s musical features help the organization lighten up its branding—and make the athletes seem more relatable. The videos still promote basketball, even as they fit in well with other quirky or musical posts on TikTok.
  • The Washington Post: the newspaper was one of the earliest brands to adopt TikTok, and uses its account to post comedic behind-the-scenes videos and newsroom skits. Serious in other arenas, on TikTok The Washington Post demonstrates its quirky side, taking advantage of TikTok’s weirdest special effects to create funny, musical videos. The cheeky installments, meant to entertain TikTok’s young viewers, present The Washington Post’s journalists as real—and trustworthy.
  • San Diego Zoo: capitalizing on the fact that many people love cute animals, the San Diego Zoo’s TikTok account posts videos of adorable animals with fun music. It’s a simple strategy that has earned the account more than 50,000 fans. And the zoo has “dueted” with other animal-friendly accounts, like the Monterey Aquarium, to cross-promote using TikTok features, thus introducing zoo followers to the aquarium, and vice versa.

There’s still an opportunity to get in on the ground floor with TikTok: as noted in the 2019 Sprout Social Index, 89 percent of marketers are adding Facebook to their social media marketing plans for 2020, while only four percent are adding TikTok. But those numbers are likely to change. As Search Engine Journal opines, “Getting your brand or business on TikTok does not have to be difficult. But at some point, it is going to become a must.”

Advertising Options on TikTok

So how does one become part of the TikTok revolution? The platform offers a variety of advertising options, but in terms of a quick overview, note that:

  • Costs start at an average of $10 per CPM, and can go up to $300,000 total budget for larger campaigns.
  • TikTok campaigns require a minimum investment of $500.
  • TikTok ads are still in beta so you must fill out a form to set up an account.
  • The platform offers video creation tools.
  • A couple different ad formats/types, audience targeting tools, and placements and optimization objectives/goals are available.

In addition, this article from Social Media Examiner contains more insight on getting set up.

TikTok and Influencer/Brand Collaborations

As for what’s next, look for TikTok to increasingly help brands find influencers to work with. In the TikTok Creator Marketplace, brands can already search through the app’s top creators, a list of more than 1,000 TikTok stars including Zach King and CJ OperAmericano. The marketplace, launched last year and still in beta testing mode, allows interested brands to search using filters like topic, the number of followers a creator has, and location by state.

A Caveat

There is a dark cloud on TikTok’s horizon, as the platform faces security concerns. Last fall, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Tom Cotton asked U.S. intelligence officials to investigate the security risks posed by TikTok. In a letter addressed to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, the senators wrote, “With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore.” The concern that the app could be used for intelligence-gathering and foreign influence campaigns by the Chinese Communist Party was also voiced.

To date, however, the negative coverage has not appeared to deter brands.

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Why Super Bowl 2020 Ads Humanized Voice Assistants

Why Super Bowl 2020 Ads Humanized Voice Assistants

Advertising Amazon Google

Last month on this blog I predicted that in 2020 we’d see companies such as Amazon and Google inject more personality in the way people interact with voice assistants. During the Super Bowl LIV advertising derby, I definitely saw some personality shining through with ads for Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Assistant. As businesses embrace voice-first approaches in their advertising and organic content, they can learn lessons from Amazon and Google. People crave a human touch with voice technology.

Amazon: “Before Alexa” 

Amazon relied on humor to make Alexa seem funnier and cuddlier, a tactic that Amazon has been using in recent Super Bowl ads. During Amazon’s Super Bowl 2020 ad, Ellen DeGeneres asked, ““What do you think people did before Alexa?” which triggered a bunch of vignettes of people throughout history asking other people to answer everyday questions, resulting in hilarious outcomes. We saw the Queen of England demand that a hapless jester named Alexi tell her a joke. A man in Dickinsonian England asked a newsboy named Alex, “What’s today’s news?” to which the kid replied, “Doesn’t matter. It’s all fake.” The ad circled back with Ellen DeGeneres asking Alexa to play her favorite song.

With this ad, Amazon wanted to remind us that talking with a machine is as natural as, well, two washerwomen in Medieval days passing the time. We’re just having a conversation, as natural as can be.

Google: “Loretta”

 

Google won over the internet with a touching ad in which an elderly widower asked Google Assistant to call up photos and memories of his late wife, Loretta. Through the man’s gentle instructions, we learned of his life with Loretta, including the favorite movie they shared (Casablanca) and a memorable trip they took to Alaska. At the end of the ad, the man said, “I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

This ad was emotionally powerful without being sentimental, and it turns out that it was based on the experiences of the grandfather of a Google employee; and the grandfather actually narrated the ad. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s going to be hard to find an ad in 2020 that tops this one for making voice assistants approachable and human. Here, Google Assistant acted as a friendly utility, helping a man remember a loved one.

Voice Assistants Get Personality

As I wrote last month, although voice assistants are growing in popularity, we’re not quite at a place where people are willingly using voice to manage the really important tasks such as making purchases and getting directions to the hospital. We need to trust voice assistants completely in order for voice to make that kind of breakthrough. Journalist Judith Shulevitz wrote in a recent Atlantic article, “Is Alexa Dangerous?”:

Within our lifetimes, these devices will likely become much more adroit conversationalists. By the time they do, they will have fully insinuated themselves into our lives. With their perfect cloud-based memories, they will be omniscient; with their occupation of our most intimate spaces, they’ll be omnipresent. And with their eerie ability to elicit confessions, they could acquire a remarkable power over our emotional lives. What will that be like?

But during Super Bowl LIV, Amazon and Google showed us that we have nothing to fear from voice assistants. They are as natural and human as we are.

The takeaway for businesses: as voice-based advertising and customer experiences take hold, showing personality and humanity in your content (paid and organic) will resonate.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising in 2020, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

Why the Popularity of Amazon Alexa at CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

Why the Popularity of Amazon Alexa at CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

Amazon

The Amazon Alexa voice assistant cast a big shadow over CES 2020, the premier annual event for showcasing new consumer technology. Amazon demonstrated a number of product integrations with Alexa. They matter because they point to a possible way that Amazon could lead online advertising.

The Battle for a Voice-First Future

Amazon is fighting a fierce battle with Apple and Google to lead the uptake of voice-based products among consumers and businesses (with Microsoft and Samsung also stepping up their own efforts). More than one quarter of Americans own voice-activated smart speakers, according to Voicebot.ai and Voicify. Amazon’s Echo leads the pack, but Google is catching up, as reported in The Motley Fool.

To win the war for voice, Amazon, Apple, and Google need to collaborate with product manufacturers to incorporate their voice assistants into product design (or through aftermarket upgrades).  And CES is where those integrations are demonstrated. For example, Bosch, the maker of smart home appliances such as dishwashers, announced an integration with the Apple Siri voice assistant. And a number of manufacturers ranging from Belk to GE announced integrations with Google Assistant, Google’s voice assistant.

But Amazon outflanked everyone. A wide variety of manufacturers ranging from bed maker Dux to helmet maker Jarvis demonstrated how they’re relying on Alexa to make it possible to use their products with our voices.  But it wasn’t just the sheer number of integrations with manufacturers that mattered – what really caught my eye was how Amazon is making it easier for people to actually purchase things.

Making Purchases Is the Holy Grail of Voice

As I wrote in a recent blog post, people still use voice to do more mundane tasks such as checking the weather. Making purchases, though, is the Holy Grail of voice. Voice commerce is a far more complicated undertaking. And at CES 2020, Amazon showed that it is up for the challenge. Amazon announced that in 2020, automobile drivers will be able to use Alexa to purchase gasoline. As Amazon said, “Later this year, customers will be able to say, “Alexa, pay for gas” to easily purchase fuel at all 11,500 Exxon and Mobil stations. The transactions for this new Alexa feature are made through Amazon Pay and powered by Fiserv, a global financial services technology provider.

The ability to pull off voice-activated purchases requires Amazon to work closely with ExxonMobil – an example of the collaboration required to make voice a reality. If Amazon and ExxonMobil can make the purchase of gasoline as easy as making a voice command, then manufacturers and retailers will be encouraged to adopt voice for purchases, too. (Think of appliance makers turning the Amazon Dash device for order replenishment into a consistently reliable voice-first experience.)

Why CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

Why do these announcements matter to businesses that advertise online? Well, here is a telling statistic: even though Amazon leads voice, Google pretty much owns online advertising. Google commands 37 percent of digital ad spend. The next largest competitor, Facebook, has 22 percent of the market. Amazon lags behind with 8.8 percent. But – Amazon is still very new to online advertising. It did not start dipping its toes into online advertising until 2008. Within 10 years, Amazon had become one of the big three of online advertising.

Amazon is rapidly threatening Google’s and Facebook’s leadership by offering new tools that help businesses advertise on Amazon – and off Amazon. We’ve written about some of those tools, such as my colleague Samantha Coconato’s posts on Amazon Video Ads, Amazon Display Ads, and Amazon Sponsored Ads. Those ad services capitalize on the reality that Amazon has become an increasingly popular way for people to search for products – even more popular than Google.

But Amazon knows the world is changing from text-based to voice-based search. Voice search is not “taking over.” But voice is becoming more common. Per a Microsoft study in 2019, 72 percent of people surveyed had used voice search the previous month. Amazon is preparing for the time when voice will reach a tipping point, and businesses will have no choice but to employ voice-based advertising and search engine optimization tactics into their game plans.

And that’s why the product integrations matter. By making Alexa the de facto voice assistant in everyday products, Amazon wants people to be more comfortable using their voices to use and buy things. Encouraging the uptake of voice among consumers helps Amazon position itself as the premier advertising partner for businesses.

Whether Amazon succeeds remains to be seen. But as Google and Apple compete with Amazon to integrate voice, it’s clear that advertisers need to be ready to adapt.

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The Big Trend in Voice for 2020: Voice Assistants Get Personality

The Big Trend in Voice for 2020: Voice Assistants Get Personality

Branding

Where is voice technology headed in 2020? That’s the question on the minds of businesses and technologists as the annual CES show gets under way in Las Vegas. I believe the answer is that voice-enabled devices will get more personality, making voice technology more approachable — and encouraging businesses to embrace sonic branding.

The Rise of Voice Search

I’ve written often about the rise of voice search. I continue to see more people using their voices to find things with their smart speakers, phones, and in-car devices. The fact that more consumers are adopting voice-enabled devices is beyond debate – but just to remind you how popular voice-based products have become, allow me to direct you to an insight from Statistica about the growth of smart speakers (which are just one type of voice-enabled product):

As consumers have become increasingly open to the idea of integrating smart technology into their households, smart speaker sales revenue has skyrocketed, growing from around 900 million in 2016 to nearly 12 billion in 2019. Growth in the smart speaker market is increasing at a faster rate than that of other smart home devices, which shows that people trust the technology and find it easy to adopt. As of 2019 an estimated 35 percent of U.S. households are equipped with at least one smart speaker and by 2025 forecast suggest that this penetration rate will increase to around 75 percent.

What fascinates me is not just the growth but how people are using their voices. This time last year, the news stories about voice tended to focus on increasing sales of products such as smart speakers that use the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice assistants (and, to a lesser degree, Apple’s Siri voice assistant).

Voice Gets Personality

But a sample of headlines for the week of January 6, 2020, shows a shift in the narrative. Voice sales still matter, but what matters even more is how people are using voice products as this headline sample shows:

Notice anything about the top three results? They all focus on how we communicate with devices, specifically the need for voice assistants and people to do a better job communicating with each other. The CNN headline about programming your voice assistant to sound like actor Samuel L. Jackson is telling. In 2019, Amazon announced that soon, an Alexa skill would make it possible for people to have their smart devices talk to them using Jackson’s distinctive, earthy speaking style. Now the capability has arrived.

Why does this particular Alexa skill matter? Because it shows that voice is moving on from an impersonal utility to an assistant with personality. Being able to inject one’s voice assistant with the warm, familiar voice of Samuel L. Jackson should help people overcome a natural aversion to communicating with voice-based products: using a device that listens to us and talks to us in the most private areas of our living spaces. As journalist Judith Shulevitz wrote in a recent Atlantic article, “Is Alexa Dangerous?”:

Within our lifetimes, these devices will likely become much more adroit conversationalists. By the time they do, they will have fully insinuated themselves into our lives. With their perfect cloud-based memories, they will be omniscient; with their occupation of our most intimate spaces, they’ll be omnipresent. And with their eerie ability to elicit confessions, they could acquire a remarkable power over our emotional lives. What will that be like?

Amazon is not the only company making voice more approachable and comfortable by incorporating familiar, iconic names in their products and services. In 2015, KFC teamed up with the navigation app Waze to give motorists a fresh voice option for their audio directions: Colonel Harland Sanders. Google actually beat Amazon to the punch with celebrity tie-ins by making it possible to incorporate the voice of singer John Legend in Google Assistant. In October, Google announced that Google Assistant would incorporate the voice of actress Issa Rae.

Why Voice with Personality Matters to Advertisers

These developments matter very much to advertisers. Although people are getting more comfortable performing complex tasks such as making purchases with their voice assistants, for the most part consumers rely on voice assistants to do simple, mundane things such as checking the weather. Many businesses confine their commitment to voice to making their content more findable through voice search. And voice-enabled SEO is crucial.

But for businesses to do more sophisticated branding and advertising through voice, they need to feel confident that consumers will start responding by having rich dialogues with the brand, leading to commerce. As more businesses realize the ways voice technology can assume a personality, they will adopt more forms of sonic branding as KFC did with its Col. Sanders voice-based experience cited in this post.

Thanks to improvements in artificial intelligence, voice-enabled devices are in fact, getting smarter and more capable of managing purchases and product orders. Frankly, the market got flooded with smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home before AI was adequately advanced to make a voice-activated speaker as smart as we’d like them to be. Those days are rapidly drawing to a close, which is good for businesses and consumers.

The next big step in the evolution of a voice-first world is for voice to be more user friendly. And developments such as the Samuel L. Jackson skill are an important part of that evolution.

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Amazon and Samuel L. Jackson: The Future of TTS Technology?

Amazon and Samuel L. Jackson: The Future of TTS Technology?

Amazon

As Samuel L. Jackson character Ray Arnold said in Jurassic Park, “Hold onto your butts,” because the iconic actor’s voice is coming to Alexa. Later this year you can enable Jackson’s voice to respond in different capacities: fill you in on the weather or play your favorite music, for example. And given the colorful, expressive style of some of Jackson’s characters—FBI Agent Neville Flynn in Snakes on a Plane comes to mind—you’ll have a choice of either an “explicit” or “clean” version. (Note that Alexa won’t suddenly start speaking to you as Samuel L. Jackson across the board: he can’t help you with skills such as shopping or lists.) The new skill, which Amazon will offer at an introductory price of 99 cents (regular price will be $4.99), is an example of neural text-to-speech technology (TTS) in action. And it’s instructive for businesses examining how voice might play a role in their advertising going forward.

What Is TTS?

TTS, sometimes referred to as “read-aloud technology” or text to speech, essentially converts a digital text string to spoken word. Early on, TTS applications lacked nuance: the resulting speech, while accurate, sounded robotic. But with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), it’s becoming possible to render voices that sound more human, with all the cadences we associate with how real people speak. As a result, businesses are exploring TTS as a viable way to inject personality into voice-based interfaces such as bots, or content that requires voice-over narration. Parameters can be established, too: as noted, you can’t make Alexa talk like Samuel L. Jackson all the time. The skill is limited to whatever it’s been programmed to do as Jackson.

“Fill It With Gravy”

Common applications for TTS include educational ones, in which a tablet or computer reads words on a screen out loud to a student who might have difficulties reading or seeing. Sometimes they border on the wondrous, as when sound engineers from Scottish company CereProc made it possible for listeners to finally hear the 21-minute speech President John F. Kennedy never got to deliver on November 22, 1963: in his voice.

And there are the fun applications, as witnessed by Alexa’s sanctioned use of Samuel L. Jackson’s recognizable voice. Of course, Amazon is not the only business using TTS to make their brand more familiar and fun. In 2015, KFC teamed up with the navigation app Waze to give motorists a fresh voice option for their audio directions: Colonel Harland Sanders. Users who opted in to be directed by The Colonel got clear directions as well as humorous Colonel-isms such as, “Pothole on the road ahead. I’d fill it with gravy.” More recently, KFC celebrated National Fried Chicken Day by using speech recognition, AI, and TTS to playfully make drive-through operators sound like The Colonel, too.

Sonic Branding

TTS is in a position to create even greater impact as the technology continues to grow. Businesses are wise to recognize that potential, and to pursue voice personality as a way to differentiate themselves. Forrester Analyst Dipanjan Chatterjee notes:

Forrester predicts that 50% of US households will have smart speakers by 2022, accounting for 68% of all smart home devices. Voice will be much more than assistants and speakers. It will fundamentally alter how consumers and brands interact . . . If you don’t have a voice strategy in the making today, it’s time to move now or risk falling behind.

The big picture Chatterjee alludes to is the phenomenon of “sonic branding”—that is, anything that uses voice, music, or sound to express a brand. In some ways, sonic branding has been going on for years: think about the brands that have hired an actor for voiceover advertising, or jingles that long after the fact still resonate. TTS is just the latest example of how sonic branding can be used effectively.

What You Should Do

As Chatterjee points out, sonic branding—specifically, voice strategy—is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. Assess the role of voice in your marketing and advertising. No, you don’t need to worry about one-upping Amazon and hiring a famous movie star to narrate your online and voice bots. But consider how you can inject personality, and even humor, wherever people encounter the “voice of your brand.”

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