Do CPGs need their own voice for Alexa?

Sources: Amazon; Kelloggs
Aug 21, 2018

In the internet age, the term “brand voice” has come to represent a company’s look, feel and attitude, but with the advent of voice-based commerce, CPG brands find they need a literal voice — one distinctive enough to separate them from the pack. 

The challenge of branding audio in a way that sticks out as clearly as attractive packaging on the shelf was one that came up at this year’s Voice Summit, reported GeoMarketing. In order to differentiate in the world of voice commerce, the article foresees CPG brands having to take steps such as:

  • Creating an audio branding element that is consistent with other aspects of a product’s branding, like its colors and logo;
  • Having an owned voice that differs significantly from Alexa (which may be seen as the “default” personality of voice commerce) à la Geico’s current use of its iconic Gecko voice to introduce its Alexa skill;
  • Creating unique audio logos;
  • Using brand-appropriate regional dialects and accents.

Such moves may be comparatively rare at this stage in voice commerce’s evolution. They evoke a memory of the bygone days of advertising. Quick, catchy, unforgettable commercial jingles, like the Rice-a-Roni song or the three-tone sound signatures that once accompanied “Nabisco” or “By Mennen” commercials, seem ready-made for introducing an Alexa skill. 

And branded character voices, as the GeoMarketing article notes, are already out there in the commercial world, especially in the cereal aisle. 

It’s not hard to imagine the Echo device subbing in a different voice than Alexa’s each time it mentions a specific branded product. Such a variation in voices could not only help brands stand out, but make for a more engaging user experience. 

Some might see such a conversation as jumping the gun, given that voice assistants have not yet demonstrated a high rate of adoption for shopping, as a report earlier this month revealed. By the same token, the introduction of new branded voices could represent one of the improvements in sophistication required to bring the technology into its next stage of evolution.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How seriously should CPGs take the idea of creating distinct voice presences to help them stand on Alexa and other voice assistants? How should brands go about “finding their voice”?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Once brands find a voice, knowing how to use it will be key."
"Think of iconic voices of celebrities that when heard trigger both immediate recognition and an emotional response."
"Brand marketers — and the voice platforms themselves — may want to tread carefully in this area, as I can imagine a consumer backlash materializing."

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17 Comments on "Do CPGs need their own voice for Alexa?"

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Dave Bruno
I have mixed feelings about voice branding on the Alexa platform. On the one hand, it appeals to the brand marketer in me as another channel to reinforce your brand’s personality and to give you a chance to differentiate from others on the platform. It also allows brands to leverage long-term investments in brand as they try to pay catch-up with Amazon on the platform. However, while few brands are doing so, what seems like a good idea today could potentially become a cacophony of distractions in the near future. In either case, the most important investments brands can make are to 1.) Take voice seriously and 2.) make it as easy as possible to remember how to engage via voice. The single biggest problem with voice — especially on Alexa — is the requirement for rigid adherence to syntax protocols. Make your skills helpful — give users hints and options and give them ways to execute their tasks without having to memorize such specific phrases. Then we can revisit the conversation about brand voices… Read more »
Chris Petersen, PhD.

The issue right now is separating “branding” from selling. So far, the sales conversion stats on voice assistants are abysmal. However, people do like the novelty of using voice for search and automating tasks. Audio, music and even notes are very powerful branding differentiators. Brand voices seem like the logical next step for differentiation in this media. If in doubt, test; it is highly measurable.

Jon Polin

Creating a brand voice is a cute idea, but it is only one small piece of the necessary brand strategy when it comes to voice assistants. Until brands have a clear reason for consumers to buy their brand via voice AND make it economically and logistically feasible for consumers to do so, brand voice is nothing more than a cute marketing gimmick.

Michael La Kier

Brand markers have spoken about brand voice and personality for decades — now this can be brought to life with Alexa and other voice assistants, but should it? The answer is … maybe. Voice marketing is in its infancy and there is much testing and learning needed to figure out how best to manage it. Many of the brands on Alexa now are uninspiring and (dare I say) boring. Bringing a little personality to the table (or speaker as it were) certainly can’t hurt. And brands thinking about this question before rushing to add a skill and content certainly will help.

Zel Bianco

Ad agencies have seen their reason for being questioned in the face of advertising becoming more about data science as opposed to brand building and creativity. This is an opportunity to get back in the game of using good creative to build their clients’ brands. This is a good opportunity to stop complaining about how the agency business has changed and get back to good hardworking creative.

Sunny Kumar

The sound of a brand will become increasingly important though, as this article states, the current slew of assistants will need to become much better at integrating any form of advertising for it to have the desired impact.

One thing is for sure, if they are simply placed or auto-replaced into existing assistant conversations then the resulting mash up of voices and sounds will more likely serve to annoy than to increase brand affinity.

Once brands find a voice, knowing how to use it will be key.

Neil Saunders

Voice is a critical aspect of branding; this is not necessarily new as the voices used to advertise on radio and television are carefully chosen by companies to represent their brand essence. As such, it seems logical that this should transfer over to voice assistants.

That said, I think every mention of a brand in its own voice would just be annoying and would disrupt the flow of speech if it were part of a sentence being uttered in the standard Alexa (or equivalent) voice. Care needs to be taken over how and when such voices are used.

Lee Peterson

“Dave. I don’t think you should do that, Dave.” –HAL 3000. Yes, CPG companies need an actual brand voice. Anyone who’s ever been on TV has had one so why would we think otherwise? The problem is the hardware not theirs, so they’ll have to convince someone, ahem, to use their voice instead of the hardware’s voice. #marketing21stcentury.

Seth Nagle

Before CPGs start spending around their brand voice they need to fully understand the consumer’s path to purchase and if having a distinguished voice is really worth it. The Baby Boomers have seen this play out as brands used to implement chimes (NBC) when they were on the radio but only a few really succeeded and became noteworthy. As this tech is still being improved on I think this project needs to be put on the back burner for now.

Doug Garnett
3 years 10 months ago

My recommendation to CPGs is to wait. There’s no need to jump on this bandwagon right now. If more than 0.2 percent of Alexa owners start regularly ordering by voice, then it might be worth jumping in.

Once they do, of course, it’s valuable to have a unique voice — but at what cost and risk? There are a lot better places to spend big bucks than to dedicate them to what’s currently a tiny market.

Sterling Hawkins

I don’t think waiting is the answer — the pace of tech capability is only accelerating and doing nothing can leave brands without necessary know-how, ideas and skill-sets. I’m with you that brands shouldn’t be spending big bucks on voice commerce, but having some engagement with the tech will payoff in the long-run. Not to mention potentially bringing some fun and innovation culture into the organization.

Ken Lonyai

A unique brand voice is an absolute necessity for a voice-powered assistant/interface managed/operated/owned by a consumer brand. Otherwise, they are again ceding massive value to a third party like Amazon or Google.

Predating the public launch of Alexa I was developing a voice-powered personal assistant (Alexa is not a PA BTW) and having a unique voice was a critical roadmap element. Think of iconic voices of celebrities that when heard trigger both immediate recognition and an emotional response. It works even when a celebrity does a commercial voice-over or animated character in their real voice. Simulated human voices have the same potential and value, something a brand would be extremely remiss to forgo.

Susan O'Neal
3 years 10 months ago

The author and the study he references make a good point that audio elements are more important than they used to be given the rise of contexts that don’t allow for visual cues to trigger the emotional, perceptual or factual cues created by traditional video and print/display advertising. However, because “voice ordering” presumes a preference already (this is why it’s called “voice order” instead of “voice browsing”), it is not nearly enough and could be an expensive distraction from the real urgency of brand marketers. That real urgency is this, to use their advertising budgets (both creative & media) to cultivate *real* relationships, and *verified* brand preference such that their brand preference manifests in the form of a consumer either saying or typing *their preferred branded product name* when they “voice order” or “search” the infinite shelf.

Ralph Jacobson

I still remember catchy product jingles from more than fifty years ago. What does that say? Messaging matters! Those brands that create compelling, unique presences in every medium/channel are the ones that will be most top-of-mind with shoppers.

James Tenser

Unique brand voices might materialize as a kind of digital revival of radio jingles. Or it might lead to “cacophony of distractions” that Dave Bruno imagines.

The concept of “audio packaging” is worthy of exploration. Think of the three-tone “Intel Inside” chime, or the Old Spice eight-note whistle. Both are memorable, and could serve as “confirmation” signals when a brand app is opened by Alexa or Hey Google.

Brand marketers — and the voice platforms themselves — may want to tread carefully in this area, as I can imagine a consumer backlash materializing.

Stephen Kraus

I’m sure CPG brands would love to have distinctive voices – and by extension, personalities – for their brands. As the article points out, brands have aspired to this for decades.

I think the question is: What motivation does Amazon have to allow brands such a distinctive presence on their site?

Some brands have long complained that Amazon isn’t a good brand building platform, and certainly one possible application of Alexa is to steer customers toward Amazon-owned or sponsored brands.

I would imagine that eventually brands might have to pay a premium for the right to have a more distinctive branding voice within Amazon, and I imagine most brands would pay it – Amazon’s consumer reach has become so extensive, most brands can’t afford not to. (Note: This whole dynamic is not just specific Amazon – the same dynamic is true of other highly influential sites that have historically been “intermediaries,” such as online travel agents or Google’s shopping services.)

Jeff Miller

I love the idea of something old becoming new again. Radio and then TV jingles were so popular because they work — even the horrible ones. I have been thinking about this a lot in reference to Podcast marketing which mainly focuses on integrated content and reads by the talent.

In a day where brands need to do more to stand out, a unique voice can be a powerful way to do it and podcast and Alexa are another channel to reach our ears. Is a bit of a risk/reward thing too, because they can also rub people the wrong way. I don’t see a huge sense of urgency for CPGs in this space, but I can see a few brands testing and succeeding. When Amazon turns Alexa into part of it growing advertising business — who knows? Maybe we will see a new day and age of brand jingles.

"Once brands find a voice, knowing how to use it will be key."
"Think of iconic voices of celebrities that when heard trigger both immediate recognition and an emotional response."
"Brand marketers — and the voice platforms themselves — may want to tread carefully in this area, as I can imagine a consumer backlash materializing."

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