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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Apple Offers a Glimpse of an Augmented Reality Future

Apple Offers a Glimpse of an Augmented Reality Future

Branding

Apple’s September 12 special event was mostly about hardware product launches, as it usually is. But Apple also reminded us of the company’s commitment to building an augmented reality future.

First, let’s recap a few of the big announcements:

  • Pushing into healthcare: Apple also revealed the latest version of the Apple Watch 4, which features a slew of personal wellness features such as the ability to monitor and report when the wearer experiences a fall and better heart monitoring/reporting. The Apple Watch is one essential element of Apple’s growth as a healthcare player, with the development of wellness apps being another essential element. In coming months, watch for Apple to make more announcements about healthcare as part of a broader strategy to develop its services.

The above announcements have dominated the news. In addition, two developments caught my eye:

  • Augmented reality for learning: the launch of a new iPhone app, HomeCourt, which uses augmented reality (AR) for basketball training. As reported in GeekWire, HomeCourt uses AR to track basketball shots. According to GeekWire, “AR tech built into the iPhone — including the newA12 Bionic chip— and artificial intelligence technology developed by HomeCourt maker Nex Team can detect a hoop and basketball to measure kinematics, trajectory, release times, and number of shots made.”
  • Augmented reality for play: the announcement about a new real-time augmented reality game, Galaga AR. As VentureBeat reported, “This AR adaptation of Galaga comes from Directive Games. When you look at your iPhone screen, you can see a bunch of alien-bug spaceships that you have to shoot down. You’re not only trying to survive, but you’re also trying to beat the other players. It was a pretty cool demo, with a lot of blasting onscreen and loud sounds.”

These launches are not so much about sports and gaming – they are signs of Apple’s continued growth as an AR leader. CEO Tim Cook has made no secret of his passion for AR. It’s telling that Apple demoed two very different forms of AR – one for training and one for entertainment. Both learning and entertainment comprise the sweet spot for AR.

As I noted earlier this year, various AR apps and games are currently being introduced into the App Store and Google Play, and many more are in the process of being developed using Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore. Consequently, incorporating AR technology into new tools or games for phones, tablets, and laptops will become the new norm.

You can take it to the bank: AR is going to continue growing for both business and pleasure – and Apple will have a leadership role in that growth. For more insight into how businesses can use AR to build their brands, contact True Interactive.

Two Surprising Ways Google Creates Great Content

Two Surprising Ways Google Creates Great Content

Branding

One of the essential attributes of successful content marketing is usefulness. Great content marketers create a win-win for themselves and their audience by sharing branded content that educates and sometimes entertains. Recently, we blogged about how one business, the NFL, provides useful content by acting as a news service about football. Now let’s take a look at two lesser-known ways one of the world’s most valuable brands, Google, makes itself useful.

For context: as we’ve stated before, a business practices content marketing by publishing useful information that supports its own brand. The definition breaks down this way:

  • Content marketing builds the credibility of a brand (hence the “marketing” part of content marketing) . . .
  • . . . by sharing useful information (content), such as how-to tips, news, commentary, and visual stories.

Through content marketing, brands act as publishers, sharing news, editorial commentary, and other forms of insight you typically associate with a third-party information source. Content marketing is not “look at me” advertising or PR. Both those forms of marketing are valuable and have their place, but they are not content marketing.

Google has a vested interest in giving people reasons to stay on Google. More eyeballs on Google means more businesses will pay Google to help them reach those eyeballs through advertising. Google does its own share of advertising to promote its brand. But the most powerful way Google maintains an audience is by offering free tools that will compel people to keep using Google to manage their lives.

I’m not talking about well-known utilities such as Google Analytics to measure how people interact with your own digital properties such as your website or Google Docs and Google Drive to collaborate on document creation, editing, and storing. I mean some of the ways Google helps you learn about the world around you, such as:

  • Think with Google. The Think with Google site is mandatory for anyone who wants free insights into marketing, technology, and consumer behavior. Think with Google offers downloadable white papers and short-form commentary on topics such as the impact of artificial intelligence on marketing and the influence of mobile devices on the customer experience journey. Think with Google elevates Google to the role of thought leader, publishing data-rich information that pushes forward our understanding of marketing. Of course, you’ll have to look elsewhere for insights critical of Google and for non-Google perspectives. Even still, Google is such a large, influential brand that even Google-centric points of view have gravitas.
  • Google Arts & Culture is a site dedicated to enriching our understanding of art. Here is an experience devoted to pure learning and personal growth. Whereas Think with Google educates you, Google Arts & Culture engages you on topics such as a visual celebration of the Lunar New Year. The site features an ongoing set of topics on rotation. One of its current featured sections, Latino Arts & Culture, provides an immersive look at the contributions of Latino artists in the United States. A featured artist section gives you a chance to take a deep dive into the works of famous names such as Vincent van Gogh. Through Google Street View, you can explore cultural landmarks around the world such as Machu Piccu.

Google offers several other resources for learning and self-development. The above two might be lesser known to you.

Google’s motives are not entirely altruistic. The more Google influences our thinking and worldview, the more Google becomes an essential part of our lives. I get it. But what Google does it does very, very well. By providing useful content that educates and enriches our lives, Google masters the art of content marketing. Contact True Interactive for help with your content marketing needs.

How the NFL.com Handles a Controversial Issue: the NFL

How the NFL.com Handles a Controversial Issue: the NFL

Branding

How do you report on a controversy that strikes your own organization?

In recent days, the NFL has found itself at the eye of a storm with the #TakeaKnee player protests erupting in stadiums across the country. But on its NFL.com website, the league has not shied away from reporting on the sensitive issue, with stories reporting the protests and player reactions. The NFL’s reaction to #TakeaKnee is an interesting example of how a business uses the discipline of content marketing to address a controversy too big to ignore.

What Exactly Is Content Marketing?

A business practices content marketing by publishing useful information that supports its own brand. The definition breaks down this way:

  • Content marketing builds the credibility of a brand (hence the “marketing” part of content marketing) . . .
  • . . . by sharing useful information (content), such as how-to tips, news, commentary, and visual stories.

Through content marketing, brands act as publishers, sharing news, editorial commentary, and other forms of insight you typically associate with a third-party information source. Content marketing is not “look at me” advertising or PR. Both those forms of marketing are valuable and have their place, but they are not content marketing.

When True Interactive publishes blogs commenting on digital marketing, we practice content marketing because we are building our brand by publishing information we believe to be useful to our clients. When we issue a press release announcing a new hire or a client win, we are not practicing content marketing but rather PR, which is why we post press releases elsewhere.

Controversy Hits the NFL

When the #TakeaKnee protests escalated rapidly over the weekend of September 22-24, the league was faced with a challenge: how to deal with the issue. The news section of NFL.com was the natural place to report on the topic. Like other brands serious about content marketing, the NFL acts as a news publisher on its own website. NFL writers cover football topics just like newspaper sports writers do. For instance, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey ravaging Texas, Houston Texans Quarterback JJ. Watt discussed his commitment to helping Houston recover from the storm – and the NFL was there to report his comments.

The NFL is a news-reporting machine, as it must be to cover a league with 32 teams. News coverages ranges from scores to injuries to topical events such as the example with J.J. Watt. The league also covers college football, wisely understanding that devout NFL fans likely care about college football, the source of most NFL talent.

The NFL has been known to cover news that casts the league in a less-than-flattering light, such as the Miami Dolphins’ suspension of linebacker Lawrence Timmons. But the #TakeaKnee protests have been something different: an issue that thrusts the NFL into the center of a political and social maelstrom, resulting in calls of boycotts and support at the same time.

The league’s handling of the issue on its website has been measured:

  • The league reported a perspective from Commissioner Roger Goodell.
  • The NFL also let pictures do the talking via a photo essay of various team protests and shows of unity.

On the other hand, the NFL complemented the #TakeaKnee coverage with many other articles discussing league news, including, of course, the most obvious: game results. For the period September 24-28, most of the news coverage centered on developments affecting on-the-field play, such as the struggles of the Baltimore Ravens offense.

By balancing coverage of the controversy with news about the game itself, the NFL showed that the contests between the teams do not exist in a vacuum while keeping the focus of its coverage on the reason why people watch football in the first place: to find which team will win or lose. To be sure, you can find more complete, hard-hitting perspectives on the #TakeaKnee controversy elsewhere, including criticisms of owners’ participation. That said, the website’s news section passes the test for being useful – one of the principles of content marketing – while also supporting the NFL by being credible.  Contact True Interactive to learn how to build your brand with content marketing. We’re here to help.

Image source: NFL.com

Apple Event Underscores Popularity of Emoji

Apple Event Underscores Popularity of Emoji

Branding

One of the more interesting announcements from Apple’s September 12 special event was the unveiling of the animoji. The animoji is a new type of emoji in which your facial expressions animate an emoji. The iPhone X, when available in November, will track your facial expressions and make your favorite emoji, whether unicorns or aliens, become even more dynamic through your personality.

According to Apple Vice President of Software Craig Federighi, who demonstrated animoji onstage, animoji will make it possible for you to record an audio message, resulting in your animoji becoming synced with sound. He said that with animoji, users can “breathe our own personality” into your favorite emoji, which evoked reactions such as “fun and maybe a little creepy” from Anthony Ha at TechCrunch.

My take: the unveiling of animoji is another sign of how emoji have rapidly taken hold as a legitimate way for people and businesses to communicate. Consider these usage statistics, aggregated by DMR:

  • Nearly eight out of ten women online consider themselves frequent emoji users, and 60 percent of men online do as well.
  • About half of Instagram comments contain emoji.
  • Nearly six out of 10 of the top 500 brands have tweeted an emoji.

The popularity of emoji has certainly increased since the data was reported in 2015. In fact, according to a report published by platform provider Emogi, in 2016 people sent to each other 2.3 trillion mobile messages that incorporate emoji.

Brands have taken notice and are incorporating emoji into their digital marketing. For example, Toyota recently launched an ad campaign that incorporates users’ tweeted emoji into short-form video content. General Electric famously created an #EmojiScience campaign consisting of a website, emojiscience.com, which contains emoji as a periodic table of the elements. By clicking on each emoji, site visitors learn more about science, a topic that is at the core of the GE brand.

Meanwhile, Emogi is among the companies developing tools to help businesses incorporate emoji into their branding. For instance, Emogi introduced a way for businesses to embed branded emoji into text messages, which is important because texting is a huge vehicle for emoji sharing.

Our advice to you is to first know how emoji-centric your audience is. Use tools such as social monitoring to understand how your audience uses emoji, when, and why. Then start experimenting with emoji. Test ads and organic content with and without emoji and determine which are most effective. But don’t ignore emoji. As the Apple special event demonstrated, emoji are not going away. They’re becoming more and more sophisticated and common. Contact True Interactive to understand how to incorporate content such as emoji into your marketing. 😀

Lead image source: REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Three Recreational Brands That Rock Visual Storytelling

Three Recreational Brands That Rock Visual Storytelling

Branding

Recreational brands such as Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, and REI sell more than fishing tackle and hiking boots. They sell lifestyles. When you visit a Bass Pro Shop, for instance, you become immersed in an experience that celebrates the joys of fishing, hunting, and camping, which is evident from the woodsy decor, wildlife displays, and workshops and demos. These brands also celebrate outdoor living through visual storytelling. The following examples demonstrate how they do it — and build brand love at the same time:

Cabela’s

When you visit any retailer website, you expect to find a lot of product images and specs on display. Cabela’s delivers on the table stakes but also uses visuals selectively to remind you that Cabela’s products are meant to be used outdoors, as this image of two campers rushing to a tent demonstrates:

There is more than meets the eye in the above image. The two women in the image are obviously excited to be camping as they rush to a tent with their rolled up sleeping bags. But you don’t see their faces. And Cabela’s branding is subtle — you have to look closely for the Cabela’s logo. Cabela’s demonstrates trust in its audience. Cabela’s doesn’t want to distract us with a predictable image of two smiling models. Instead, Cabela’s evokes curiosity and mystery. Where are the two women? How do they know each other? What’s next for their camping trip? Cabela’s trusts us to figure out our own answers. Also, Cabela’s knows it does not need to hit us over the head with branding. The above photo is used on the Cabela’s website; thus, Cabela’s knows it already has our attention. Cabela’s does an excellent job creating mystique with a single image.

Bass Pro Shops

As noted, Bass Pro Shops (which recently agreed to buy Cabela’s) are noted for using the power of visual storytelling to create immersive offline worlds. As these images from different Bass Pro Shops illustrate, Bass Pro Shops really creates Outdoor Worlds, not just stores:

In addition, Bass Pro Shops encourage engagement with frequent product demonstrations and seminars on topics related to fishing and hunting. Clearly, Bass Pro Shops are places to hang out, which is a smart strategy. Creating a welcoming environment for people who hunt and fish encourages them to engage with your products. You might come into a Bass Pro Shop to buy some tackle — and after you get immersed for awhile, you’ll probably walk out with a new rod and reel. And creating the right environment visually is key.

REI

Just about all the major outdoor retailers support their social spaces well with effective visuals. But REI gets a shout-out for really rocking its Facebook page. Like many retailers, the company relies on Facebook to announce product deals. But REI also lets pictures do the talking, as this dramatic Facebook banner photo shows:

REI also gets its Facebook visitors involved in visual storytelling. The company recently invited the REI Facebook community to share a photo of someone in their lives who introduced them to the great outdoors, resulting in charming submissions like this one:

Note also the story that the user submitted with the photo — makes you wonder about that old blue REI ice ax that once saved someone’s life.

REI does not foist its products upon you with these images. Rather, REI celebrates outdoor life through the people who use its products.

What You Can Learn

These outdoor retailers clearly know how to play to the emotional value of lifestyle branding. When you sell a lifestyle, you appeal to human desire. We might want to buy a new pair of hiking boots, a kayak or a tent, but we really desire time away. Time away to explore a new trail, river or just camp in the woods. These brands create desire in their own ways — Cabela’s through the power of mystique and suggestion, Bass Pro Shops by creating immersive worlds, and REI by giving you a slice of life outdoors while online.

Incorporating visual storytelling into your branding and media efforts is paramount. Driving traffic to an experience that isn’t everything it can be is just that . . . driving traffic. Make sure you connect emotionally and get the most out of every interaction you have with your customer or prospect.

How do you apply visual storytelling? What lessons have you learned?