Do androids dream of electric sheep?

Today, at least half of all Google searches are done by voice. With Siri, Alexa, and the host of other voice assistants we now already live with, brands are increasingly talking back.

Amazon Alexa

As we move from screen interaction to voice communication, we’re entering what is potentially the most significant moment in brand design, motion and interface since the invention of the logo. To remain relevant and differentiated, it is critical that brand personality is brought alive through voice, or else we face a future of robotic interactions that leave consumers cold.

Sound and vision

From cavemen paintings and religious iconography, to tribal team colors and national flags, for centuries we’ve communicated visually. In this new era of voice and dialogue, the way we relate to brands will be radically changed, resulting in relationships that are even more intimate and personal.

Scientists are already working on emotional chatbots, which produce factually coherent answers while also infusing the conversation with feelings like happiness or disgust. Three in five (61 percent) people who tested the machine preferred these emotional interactions compared with a neutral chatbot.

Virgin Atlantic in flight experience

Just as the experience of flying with Virgin Atlantic should be distinct from flying with easyJet, so should the experience of interacting with the different brands. Like the charismatic crew in red uniforms, the personality of Virgin Atlantic through voice needs to stand apart from competitors. It should continue the fun and cheeky persona of the rest of the brand, while also creating trust and reliability—key for any brand, but especially one transporting you at 35,000 feet and with ambitions to take you even further.

The imitation game

While the tech catches up, some brands are taking the ‘Wizard of Oz’ approach in which a human types responses while masquerading as advanced AI. Expensify was forced to admit it uses humans to complete many of the more difficult tasks in scanning and extracting data from user-submitted documents, and Facebook’s M chatbot was more human-powered than software-powered. The reputational risk in misleading consumers is all too apparent.

Yet, with 5G set to increase the power of machines exponentially, it is not difficult to believe that soon AI will indeed be clever enough to imbue genuine human feelings into its interactions. Perhaps then it will become the robots masquerading as humans.

Landor’s brand take-outs:

Brands are entering a new world of consumer interaction and the rules and playbooks required for success are as-yet-unwritten. Here’s what we do know:

1. It’s not what you say, but how you say it

The voice will become the embodiment of a brand and businesses need to make conscious choices on gender, accent and the use of colloquialisms to create appropriate impressions and relationships.

2. AI needs EQ

Functionality is important, but so is brand personality. Robotic interactions leave consumers cold. Personality needs to be delivered though voice and chatbots need to display empathy to create brand connections.

3. Transparency and trust remain paramount

Any consumer interaction is a brand moment, even one that is automated. Until we can trust robots to manage that interaction, human oversight is needed. But misrepresentation will cost you too – especially where consumers are sharing private information.