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The Influencers

Navigating a Brand Through the Human Interface Era: Some Insights from SXSW

INFLUENCER: Munise Can, Brand Strategist at CODE D’AZUR considers the future of voice technologies and anthropomorphising machines

Navigating a Brand Through the Human Interface Era: Some Insights from SXSW

Managing a brand in this day and age, with the insanely fast technology developments, is a hard job. When brain modification is considered the next frontier and the augmented robot man is no longer Arnold’s exclusive schtick, the question rises: how do you deal with it?
 
Confession. I come back from SXSW somewhat depressed after Amy Webb’s tech trend report, but mostly excited about what the future holds.
 
 
The human language interface

Voice technology is one of those things that generates excitement. Talking is just so easy - and I’m a very lazy person by nature. Also, I love the idea of software deriving meaning from speech and breaking it down in an actionable set of behaviours.
 
Our future is going to be full of human-machine interaction. Already nearly half of U.S. adults (46%) say they now use these applications to interact with smartphones and other devices, according to the Pew Research Center. An even more obvious sign that voice will be the interface of the near-future is the pace of the current adaption rate; voice is adopted at a steeper rate than that of the smartphone back in 2007, according to Christopher Farrel at The Richards Group. Woah.
 
The conversation between human and machine will become more ubiquitous as time goes by. And even though it isn't perfect right now, it soon will be. As the technology further develops, it will not only shape how we live our lives but also how brands will reach consumers. Even more interesting is how easy it becomes for customers to reach brands. As brand experts we better start thinking about voice as the next interface.
 
A state of art

Let’s pause the excitement for one sec. Even though the era of the next interface sounds super cool, the state of applications for this next era are at the same level as when we first started building apps for the smartphone. We’re just scratching the surface of its potential and nobody really knows what the implications on the brand can, or will, be.
 
That can be challenging if you are managing a brand. Because for one thing, talking is an intimate endeavour. It isn’t surprising that people refer to their voice assistants as a ‘she’ (sometimes ‘he,’ but mostly she). Intimacy implies emotion - or an emotional connection. Not to say people will care about the brand by talking to it.
 
However, interaction through voice can deepen or broaden desired association patterns in the same way it can build negative patterns - and be sure that people will blame the brand if the interaction fails. And it will probably fail now and then. The technology isn’t there yet to enable perfect interaction between human and machine. The difference between 95% and 100% accuracy in speech recognition is huge - and we’re not at 100% just yet.
 
As relationships become more intimate, the risk of messing up becomes more prevalent. Still, ignoring voice isn’t going to be an option. And even if the brand decides not to engage, people will.
 
Navigating the brand

What’s incredible about voice is that it isn’t a one-way street from brand to human but an interaction pattern where the human dictates the way a brand acts. In this interaction there are as many versions of the brand as there are human-brand interactions.
 
Now of course we don’t want the brand to go haywire - or to be completely different to all. There is power in coherency.
 
My most important insight

AI will evolve and APIs will become a standard, enabling the machine to talk to other machines. Most importantly though, as brands can’t control for all human input, brands need to let go to some degree.
 
So here’s a thought, maybe it isn't so much about protecting the brand as it is about enabling the brand to be the best version of itself. Teach it about the rules of the game without telling it how to play. Give it a voice without dictating what to say. Act like the best parents educate their kids and let the brand experience the world on its own. They will fall and hurt themselves, but they will learn and not make that same mistake twice.
 
I can see how I’m totally anthropomorphising the machine at this point. But that’s essential if you’re willing to believe in AI as a real future scenario and voice as a technology that is taking off right now. It will have a huge impact in a few years, and you should be willing to follow this line of reasoning.
 
Brand management

The brands that will win this game are going to be the brands that have a clear understanding of who they are, what they want to be known for and the type of personality the brand has and the associated set of behaviours. The good news is that this is something that this isn’t something new. This is something we are already doing.
 
The only thing that will change is how The Machine deals with it.
 
Fun Fact

Google dedicated their entire fun house to showcase various voice enabled applications on their Google home products. One of the services on display was KLM Pack Assistent, built by CODE D’AZUR. Hit me up if you want more information on voice enabled technologies or services.
 


Munise Can is Brand Strategist at CODE D’AZUR
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