For years, people have associated voice assistants with the likes of 80’s sci-fi shows like Knight Rider, yet few would have predicted that consumers would get to impersonate David Hasselhoff by having a “KITT” style voice assistant in their own home.

At the tail end of 2017, we saw the popularity of these voice assistants really take off. Amazon Devices also had the best holiday season yet, with tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices sold worldwide, with the Google Home assistant not far behind.

We’re clearly seeing a transition from what was once a fun idea for science-fiction entertainment to a product that people interact with every day. Unsurprisingly, this seismic shift presents a significant marketing opportunity for brands.

Facebook enters the game

Any form of technology that allows brands to connect with their customers in new and exciting ways will capture most companies’ attention, which is why we’re already seeing some big players enter the market. This month it was reported that Facebook plans to unveil a device to rival the likes of Alexa and Google Home later this year. Not only will it be boosted by artificial intelligence (AI), but it will also be geared for communal use in the living room.

The entrance of Facebook into this market reinforces the fact that consumers want to interact with this kind of technology. Plus, as a social networking platform that is already used widely for digital advertising, Facebook’s move into the home assistant market could create new opportunities for brands to extend their customer reach.

What is my brand’s voice?

Along with the convenience it provides for consumers, voice technology presents an exciting opportunity for brands to experiment with new ideas. When we think of our favourite brands, we all know what colours and images we associate with them. For example, everyone knows that Coca-Cola is embodied by the red and white Christmas truck that we all know and love. Similarly, when we think of Apple, we instantly envision the clean, crisp and modern stores that showcase its high-end tech products.

But have we ever thought about what a brand might sound like? There are many voice variations that brands can explore, from regional dialects and accents to different genders and speech patterns. Just as we’ve seen with visual cues, customers will associate a particular voice with a certain brand, so choosing the right one will be an important decision – and will probably require some experimentation to get right.

Is voice marketing right for my brand?

As with the digital advertising revolution, a lot of marketers will be tempted to go full steam ahead with voice marketing, but it’s important to lay out a proper strategy first.

We’ve already seen some backlash aimed at brands that have used voice assistants for marketing. For example, Burger King famously activated the Google Home device by saying: “OK, Google, what is the Whopper burger,” which triggered any Google Home device to start reading aloud from the Whopper Wikipedia page. The trigger essentially turned what should have been a 15 second TV advertising spot into one double the length, just by activating a device in people’s living rooms. TV spots like this are some of the most expensive in advertising, so you can see the genius in using voice technology to pretty much double your air time.

However, there was a substantial backlash to the campaign, with many users criticising the advert as an invasion of privacy by hijacking their personal devices. While this campaign had both fans and critics, it is just a one-off example from a global powerhouse; many brands won’t be able to pull off a voice strategy to the same effect. Before marketers get excited and start playing around with what their brand might sound like, they need to decide if a voice strategy really fits the brand. And this, as with most marketing tactics, will come down to knowing who your core audience is.

Know your audience

Brands need to be asking themselves: will my target audience be willing to interact with this technology, or would they find the use of this technology invasive and un-engaging?

In part, the answer will be determined by demographics. The so-called “generation Z”, made up of the young people who followed the millennials, are a good example. This audience has been brought up with this kind of technology, so they’ve become accustomed to touching and talking to high-tech tools on a daily basis. Millennials, too, typically enjoy interacting with this kind of technology, mainly because of the ease and simplicity of its use. This makes both of these cohorts a perfect target for a voice marketing strategy.

However, there are definitely audiences who couldn’t think of anything worse than having a virtual assistant tell them when they need to order some more groceries, or suggest somewhere to go out to eat. Again, the decision to pursue a voice-driven marketing campaign will depend on a brand’s target audience, and will require the same thought and consideration as any other customer-facing activity. If brands are prepared to do this legwork as part of their planning, voice technology could provide an exciting and powerful new way to engage with their core market.

Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith


Daniel Smith, Managing Director of Fireworx, a challenger creative digital agency.