Brands are always trying to increase their market share, often looking to traditional advertising and media opportunities to do so. But as voice technologies and mediums gain traction, such as the rise of smart speakers or the dominance of podcasts, now is the time to truly embrace voice as a content strategy.
It can be difficult to understand the importance of voice in your brand marketing and how it can fit into your digital or bricks-and-mortar operation. Brand marketers whose comfort zone is the logo, vision, mission, values, and origin story are often challenged when translating these brand assets into their sonic equivalents. Exacerbating the issue, brand marketers lack a common language for describing their brand sonically. What is the audio equivalent of blue? And just what does a circle sound like? What is needed is a shared lexicon for describing sound, and specifically voice, beyond the overused terms of “professional” and “friendly” — a colour wheel for voice if you will.
But once you’ve gotten over that initial hurdle of deciding to use voice in your brand marketing, the next step is conducting a sonic branding audit to figure out your brand’s current position in the broader market when it comes to sonic branding. From there, your brand needs to be clear on how you sound, creating a brand sound that is both artistically and technically consistent. Then the next challenge becomes leveraging the variety of channels available to implement your brand voice.
Choosing the Right Channel for Your Sonic Branding
From the simple phone system greeting to widely adopted podcasts and, more recently, voice apps made available in the intimacy of people’s homes, selecting which channels are right for your brand is a critical next step in using voice in your brand marketing. You want to think about every place a customer interacts with your brand, being realistic about where those touch points really are. Figuring out what is right for your specific brand will help you create audio content that makes a lasting impact.
The best place for many businesses to start incorporating voice into brand marketing is with a phone system. Businesses, from the small to the global enterprise, usually have a phone system that fields inbound phone calls. Callers navigating through a menu of pressing “one” for sales and “two” for customer service is an early example of a voice user interface. These call trees are really flows that allow a caller to evaluate options and proceed further through the branches. To be effective, helpful information should be provided along each branch, prompting callers to continue with their call.
It’s inevitable that callers will sometimes be waiting on hold to speak with a customer service rep. Research shows that on average, 15% of callers will hang up after being on hold for only 40 seconds. Instead of lamenting that short amount of idle wait time, you could turn that into selling time. Consider introducing a new product or service, or make an announcement about an upcoming event in those seconds where you have a customer’s attention. To keep this interesting, mixing up promotional messages with service-oriented messages balances out the on-hold programming. Just remember to update your on-hold messaging every three to six months, or record evergreen content, so that those messages that will never go stale and the call will always feel fresh.
Done right, automated phone systems, known as auto-attendants, can be effective at routing the caller to an answer or at least to the right department to answer those challenging questions. And if the caller finds themselves on hold, they’ll hear an audio program alternating between sales, service, and support messaging. Done poorly, customers become frustrated and credibility is lost. In the 2020s, it’s expected that a programmatic voice experience on a phone should rival those you can find on smart speakers.
Podcasts are kind of a big deal. Over 100 million Americans listen to podcasts for information and entertainment every month. Intellectual institutions like Harvard (HBR Ideacast) to McKinsey and Company (The McKinsey Podcast) and even the World Economic Forum (The Great Reset) are all putting forth their proclamations and projections for a brighter future through their podcasts. Likewise, brands should be following suit by leveraging content and prominent spokespeople to inspire their employees, customers, and investors with content that creates a passion for their cause, whatever it may be.
What’s unique about podcasts from a branding perspective is that they are long form. According to Nielson, “light” podcasts users listen to podcasts for an average of 10 hours and 13 minutes per week. That’s about an hour and a half every day, or about the length of an average two-way commute. This is not a coincidence; content always follows the consumer.
If you’re looking to make an authentic connection with your audience, a podcast is a great vehicle to do so. A podcast host or thought leader can almost personify a brand. Should your brand choose to offer a podcast for your customers, the host will quickly gain name recognition and be instinctively associated with the brand itself. Even if it’s not the founder or CEO of your company, your podcast host can turn listeners from mere consumers of product to an audience of engaged fans.
If planning, launching, and publishing your own podcast is too much to tackle (at least initially), being a guest speaker on someone else’s podcast is a great foray into the world of podcasting. This gives your spokesperson, again could be the founder, CEO, or another authority figure from your organization, the opportunity to tell the story of your company, give a behind the scenes look at your brand, and generate excitement for what you’re rolling out next.
According to the latest “Smart Audio Report” from NPR, around 60 million Americans own a smart speaker. When we find ourselves in situations where we cannot leave the comfort of our homes to venture out into the world for work, play, or otherwise, smart speakers are the bridge that allows us to continue communicating verbally, as if we’re asking a friend or colleague for a recommendation or to keep us updated on current issues.
In search engine optimization terms, what we hear from these smart speakers is what’s known as “position zero.” It’s the one response given by Alexa, Siri, and their kin to each question. Achieving position zero is the holy grail of SEO and it helps you reach those 60 million smart speakers in people’s homes. In short, you want your brand to be read aloud in response to a voice search related to the market you serve.
Ad hoc voice searches and their subsequent answers is the easiest way to incorporate smart speakers into your brand’s audio content strategy. Let’s call that “level one.” If you achieve this, then you have permission to proceed to “level two.”
Level two goes beyond voice searches and into daily or weekly updates on an Amazon Alexa, more commonly known as Flash Briefings. Enabled through the Alexa Skills store, these regular alerts offer subscribers a one-to-two-minute update from your brand. Market research firm Futuresource reports that 32% of users are asking for news updates from their assistants, meaning there are millions of people asking for updates from their smart speaker on a daily or weekly basis.
While lifestyle brands and news outlets are best positioned to capitalize on this opportunity, any consumer brand could create a Flash Briefing. Popular formats for these briefings include a thought of the day or daily tips on any given subject. If there’s a topic that you’d like to be seen as an expert on, then you can likely turn that into a Flash Briefing. In doing so, you’ll be embedding your brand into the morning routine of thousands, if not millions of listeners, gaining the mindshare in the waking moments of your listeners’ days.
With so much content out there, it can be difficult to gain ground for your brand. A well planned audio content strategy is a rare opportunity to shape the way your brand is heard and to influence the way your brand is perceived. Whether you’re starting small with on-hold messaging or going all-in with daily Flash Briefings, defining your brand voice and using it in ways that remain true to your brand is the key to tapping into this ever-growing world of audio technology.