As the world embraces voice-based interfaces, how will you define the voice of your business?

This was an intriguing question raised in a recent report by Forrester Research Analyst Dipanjan Chatterjee. In “Give Your Brand a Voice — Literally,” he urges businesses to start defining how they want to create voice-based customer experiences as people become more accustomed to using their voices to interact with phones and other devices to accomplish everyday tasks. (Forrester predicts that half of U.S. households will have smart speakers by 2022, accounting for 68 percent of smart home devices.)

At Moonshot we read his report closely, having recently published a white paper on designing voice-based experiences. One point that resonated especially for me was how brands need to get a handle on the nuances of designing voice-based interfaces. He noted that “A high-energy, high-performance brand drives outcomes like preference, purchase, and advocacy by activating emotion-rich experiences. Voice provides the perfect opportunity: Asking a question that involves a brand results in a more emotional response than typing the same question.”

He also stressed that “Your metaphorical brand voice is the best guide for your literal brand voice. To do this right, you should get a clear read on your brand’s personality and what your core essence is (or ought to be). Once locked in, the voice is a sonic manifestation of your essence.”

He’s not the only one urging businesses to develop their sonic brands. Earlier this year, David Isbitski, chief evangelist for Alexa and Echo at Amazon, touched on the same topic  in a blog post.  He wrote:

Now is the time to take a step back and reflect on how you interact with your customers. Let’s use the retail industry as an example: when you walk into a brick and mortar store, you notice how the staff greet and interact with their customers. With the web and mobile, you immediately lose direct human interaction. Voice creates many opportunities for brands to engage with customers in more delightful and personal ways.

After you’ve figured out how your brand will interact with your customers, you need to decide how you will interact with your customers via voice. For example, will you use Alexa’s voice to represent your brand, or will you use a different spokesperson?

These considerations are significant. Businesses such as Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft, which are shaping the future of conversational commerce, think about them all the time. There is a reason (and not always a good one) why voice assistants such as Alexa typically use a female voice: as Chandra Steele wrote in PC Magazine, voice assistants “embody what we think of when we picture a personal assistant: a competent, efficient, and reliable woman. She gets you to meetings on time with reminders and directions, serves up reading material for the commute, and delivers relevant information on the way, like weather and traffic.”

For brands, how you design your voice interface goes well beyond your choice of gender. A conversational bot may represent a customer’s first interaction with your brand, just as a conversation with a customer service representative on the telephone can be. How do you want your conversational assistant to literally sound? What kind of tone works best? A deferential one or a cheeky, playful one?

These can be intimidating questions for a business that is just getting its feet wet with voice-based experiences. But they must be asked and acted upon. In fact, tools exist to help you figure out your voice. Moonshot employs design sprints to help clients manage the risk and cost of designing emerging experiences such as voice interfaces. I provided a taste of how we work in a recent article for Mind the Product. In the article, I discussed how a team might go about identifying a customer problem to solve and build a prototype for a product that solves that problem with a voice interface. A design sprint is where issues such as tone, gender, and other nuances are addressed and tested against customers before you develop a prototype.

The worst decision a business can make is to avoid taking action. Voice is only going to get hotter as an interface. Businesses need to figure out how voice supports their brand and dive in – managing the cost and risk with the right approach.

Watch our blog in coming weeks for more insight inspired by Dipanjan Chatterjee’s report. Meanwhile, his recently published blog post provides a summary of the report. If you have questions about how to get started creating voice-based experiences, contact Moonshot. We understand how to change businesses with technology.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product