16 Oct Getting Your Message Across Using Voice User Interfaces
Are you going to be heard in the era of Voice User Interfaces (VUI)?
You cannot have failed to notice that voice technology has become increasingly popular in a progressively broad spectrum of our lives. The Amazon Alexa is even a sponsor on the Great British Bake Off now! It has truly reached the heart of the nation’s consciousness now that it bookends soggy bottoms and Hollywood handshakes.
Many of us are now comfortable barking at machines to get them to do our bidding. Whether it’s Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google Assistant or Bixby we are getting more and more used to controlling things with our voice.
Whilst the voice industry is growing rapidly — there were an estimated billion voice searches per month as of January 2018 — many marketers and brands are still in the dark about how voice could be applied, how it works and how to capitalise on this innovation. By the end of this blog, you will hopefully have a clearer view of how this technology works, how it can be used and maybe even where it’s headed. Are we close to having AI assistants like Jarvis in Iron Man, or having systems as sophisticated as Westworld, or this?
To paraphrase Lewis Carrol, the beginning is the best place to start. So let’s answer the most basic question when it comes to VUI: what the hell is it?
By definition, a voice user interface makes human interaction with computers possible through a speech recognition platform, whereby voice commands initiate an automated service or process. Our voices essentially replace buttons, keyboards and touchscreens. A skilled VUI design focuses on the process of interaction design for the user and the voice application system. It needs to meet the requirements of the user as it is by definition a user-facing (or listening?) interface.
One of the main challenges facing VUI developers is understanding and programming around the intricacies of human speech. A traditional UI featuring buttons, keyboards and icons to click forces the user to follow a set journey and with specific commands i.e. clicks, buttons and specific commands. This is very black and white. Speech, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. Not only do you have to contend with a vast array of regional accents (from deepest, darkest Devon to the Scottish Highlands, via Liverpool), but also different languages with their different syllable stresses, rhythms and grammatical structures. This is before you even consider all the synonyms in each language.
What can voice do for your brand?
At h2o, we are always looking at new innovations and thinking ‘so what? What does this mean for our clients?” That’s just the kind of caring agency we are. Just because a technology exists, doesn’t mean you need to rush out and employ the first VUI developer you find on the street.
Here are 2 key benefits that adding a VUI to your marketing mix can bring:
Make you more accessible
Here are 2 facts for you:
- Nearly 20% of the UK has a voice-activated speaker or smart assistant in their homes now. This number of only likely to increase over the next couple of years.
- It doesn’t take a lot of effort to speak.
These facts mean that a VUI can make your brand accessible to a large audience, who don’t need to expend a vast amount of energy to engage with you. Arguably a winning combination if you can get it right.
A VUI skill that matches the lifestyle or interests of your target audience and your brand’s industry, or at least your brand’s personality can be a great touchpoint for you to stay in contact with your audience. It does, however, have to be:
- Vaguely (however tenuously) linked to your brand.
- Useful or interesting to the consumer.
VUI is a great opportunity for you to show a bit of personality. As your brand is essentially having a conversation with the audience. As we’re still used to having conversations with other humans, we expect the other side of the chat to have a bit of personality, humour, sass — whatever you want to call it.
If your marketing is typically a bit stuffy and traditional, VUI offers the chance to be a bit cheeky and quirky. Users love an Easter Egg and a bit of irreverence in apps. It’s a great opportunity to build some brand affinity.
Understanding the Limitations of VUI… and your audience
AI learning is an incredibly exciting field of research. Google’s AlphaGo Zero system has the capability to teach itself and learn and adapt from its experiences. This is absolutely phenomenal and represents a huge step in artificial intelligence (and perhaps the downfall of the human race?). Commercial VUI is unsurprisingly slightly behind this technology. Meaning that Alexa and Google Home don’t adapt, or learn. The user experience of the device and branded skills and apps depends on the sophistication of the development team. Have they made allowances that ‘Nope’ means ‘No’ or ‘Aye’ means ‘Yes’ for example?
The user experience of these devices is limited only by the breadth of the process flows. If this is too limited, it will frustrate the user and result in a bad experience and, as a result, reflection on the brand. Users can accept that they can’t have full conversations with their VUI, however, they will not accept being restricted to an unnatural verbal coding language
For anyone that has watched a Donald Trump press conference, it’s abundantly obvious that Humans aren’t used to communicating in the formulaic manner that is crucial for current VUI technology. Equally, the VUI technology isn’t yet nuanced enough to understand sarcasm, slag on a global scale, or in many cases a conversation. The Google Home is more advanced in this regard than Alexa who struggles to have a continuous conversation rather than a series of separate commands.
There are new innovations occurring rapidly, with AI and VUI becoming more sophisticated almost by the day. It may only be a matter of time before our virtual assistants have personalities and are as sophisticated as our real-life assistants, only without the attitude or coffee-making expertise (jk I don’t have an assistant).
It’s important to note that it’s not just the technology that is limited. We puny humans also have our limitations.
The human brain absorbs sound as short-term memory. This means that anything particularly long and complex cannot be retained. Not ideal for marketers, whose sole purpose is to stand out from the competition.
As a result, when designing your VUI, the old adage of keeping it short and sweet is vital here if you want your audience to remember your content. Snippets are key.
Make sure your VUI is useful, or at least funny
There is a risk with adopting VUI into your marketing mix, as currently, only 31% of the 7,000 Alexa skills have more than one review. This suggests that there are low uptake and usage of these skills. We would expect this to grow as the technology continues to mature.
To give your VUI the best chance of succeeding, we recommend that you promote it across your other marketing avenues. Installing voice skills on smart home devices is incredibly easy and doesn’t require a lot of input from the user, meaning that once awareness is raised and curiosity is piqued, Installation is hardly a barrier.
Your next problem is making sure that your VUI is actually useful in order to secure repeat usage which will allow you to get your message across. You need to provide some kind of value, whether its expertise, information, or entertainment. Give your target audience a reason to use your VUI. If you’re not sure what your aim and value proposition is, our advice is to not rush into this until you can answer that question definitively.
Adding voice into your marketing mix is novel (for now) and puts you on the early adopter curve. This is only going to get more popular and congested though. Our advice: act quickly.
We hope these tips that we’ve picked up from our experience creating VUIs for a number of our clients have been useful and can guide you through this exciting new marketing avenue.