Wake words contribute to sonic branding
Mar 30, 2021
7 MIN READ

How Custom Wake Words are Key to Sonic Branding and Omnichannel Voice Experiences

Controlling the voice experience, offering a consistent experience, and improving customer satisfaction are top of mind for all business leaders. No longer in its infancy, voice AI is entering a new phase of implementation as a key factor in the omnichannel customer experience. 

According to a recent report by Opus Research, a majority of business leaders identify having a consistent customer experience across product lines and channels as the number one descriptor of their future outlook for voice AI. These same executives stated that custom, branded wake words are key to supporting omnichannel voice strategies and rated a consistent brand experience as the top benefit of a wake word.

With accuracy and speed topping the list of metrics for measuring the success of voice implementations (97%), wake words will continue to gain in importance as the doorway to those interactions. If the first voice invocation is ignored or if the voice assistant wakes up to interrupt conversations, success metrics will suffer.

Business leaders stated that custom, branded wake words are key to supporting omnichannel voice strategies and rated a consistent brand experience as the top benefit of a wake word.

The goal of providing a consistent experience isn’t new and it doesn’t only pertain to voice assistants. Companies have always protected their brand logos, colors, typeface, and imagery as core elements of differentiation and brand association. 

Besides visual components, sonic branding features—including sound effects and jingles—have long been part of the corporate identity. Now, custom wake words and voice assistants join the other branding elements to help companies communicate their values and deliver a consistent experience.

Here are 3 ways custom wake words are helping brands to raise awareness and create consistent user experiences, while elevating their sonic branding efforts.

1. Brand recall and recognition 

Sonic branding experts have already proven the power of sound on memory and emotion and companies are responding with comprehensive sonic branding strategies. As organizations expand from one or two sonic touch points to multiple opportunities for customer interaction, attention to the sound of the brand has become as important as the look and feel of visual elements. Together visual and audio elements remind customers and prospects who they are dealing with and the value the company brings to their lives.

Now, voice assistants are becoming part of the sonic brand and are playing a key role in amplifying the brand message. When drivers say, “Hey, Mercedes” several times in a day, it’s impossible for them or their passengers to forget which car brand they’re driving. For other companies, providing customer experiences that include sound cues, visual elements, and a consistent voice experience will create lasting memories of the brand and its product or service.

Repeatedly uttering the brand name and talking to a voice assistant with a distinctive voice and tone builds on those memories and creates habits. Once the transition has taken place and new habits are formed, users are unlikely to want to switch.

Given our human nature, it’s logical to assume that the next time those customers are looking to buy a product, they’ll be less likely to want to give up the relationship they’ve built with the older model and will choose the same brand again.

Now, voice assistants are becoming part of the sonic brand and are amplifying the brand message.

Whether conscious or unconscious, customers will start recognizing brands by the sound of their voice as much as by the sight of their logos. An easy-to-use and accurate wake word or wake phrase will help create better brand recall and positive associations—as long as it’s the doorway to an accurate and speedy voice user interface.

While it may be tempting to subjugate your brand to a well-known voice assistant, creating a consistent experience across channels becomes a near impossibility without a wholly-owned voice AI. A good example of this approach is illustrated in a Buick commercial from Fall 2020 when a driver and passenger argue over whether the car is a Buick or an Alexa. While the commercial itself is entertaining and engaging, Buick is taking a big risk by making their car just another speaker and not creating a branded experience that will build loyalty and affinity over time.

Whether conscious or unconscious, customers will start recognizing brands by the sound of their voice as much as by the sight of their logos. 

If the Opus Survey is any prediction of the future, companies that obfuscate their brand values will be struggling to compete with those who have amplified their brand name through an identifiable voice interface that begins with a customized wake word and is used across all owned channels, products, and services.

2. Communicate brand values and personality

Once their favorite voice assistants have proven their worth through accuracy and speed, people will naturally begin to use them more often—and for more use cases. As the voice assistant becomes someone they want to talk to, a bond will begin to form,  emotional attachments will be made, and brand dependency will naturally follow. 

It’s not hard to imagine a world where people are loyal to a brand because they’ve become accustomed to the sound and functionality of its user interface. Evoking the name of the brand through a custom wake word further cements this emotional bond.

As a key element of a sonic branding strategy, the voice assistant must clearly communicate the brand values. A wake word serves as the conversation starter between the brand and its customers and must be as carefully chosen as the sound, tone, and personality of the voice assistant itself.

Sometimes, the name of the brand works well as the wake phrase, as in “Hey Mercedes”, “Hey Pandora”, or “Ok Honda”. In other instances, a nickname is required like, “Erica” for Bank of America or “Beeb” for the BBC. 

It’s not hard to imagine a world where people are loyal to a brand because they’ve become accustomed to the sound and functionality of its user interface.

These human or human-like names feel friendly and approachable. Importantly, they don’t easily rhyme with a lot of other words, are under four syllables, and are easily pronounceable—important aspects of a good wake word. Once they are invoked, these voice assistants deliver on their promise of a frictionless user experience and create an auditory link between the company and its customers.

3. Building a brand for the future

Just as sound has become a part of the company brand, so has voice become an element of the multiple modalities customers have to communicate with them. The wake word is an essential first step for those interactions. In the future, people will be starting conversations with voice assistants just as they do with other people. Beginning with a wave, a nod, a gaze, or by standing in close proximity to the voice-enabled device, customers will simply ask for what they want. In some cases, they may still begin the interaction with a touch. 

Regardless of how many other ways a voice assistant can be awakened, the wake word will continue to be essential to creating a branded experience. Even if we don’t say another person’s name every time we speak to them, we know their name and may use it during the conversation, or refer to that person by name when we are talking to others about them.

In the future, people will be starting conversations with voice assistants just as they do with other people.

The same will be true of voice assistants in the future. If all those assistants have the same name, we’ll never know who we’re talking to or what we can ask. If you can’t tell the difference between your doctor and a chef, you may ask about how to make finger sandwiches and get advice for applying bandages. Inaccurate and confusing interactions lead to less trust and lower the likelihood a customer will return to the voice assistant for help in the future.

As humans, we’ve created a society of specialists and professionals with specific knowledge. Voice assistants that deliver accurate information are becoming our trusted specialists. We know them by name and their names are associated with a brand. The company behind that brand is building a reputation based on the usefulness and ease of its customer experiences. 

For those brands not already delivering a custom voice experience with a branded wake word, the time to start is now.

Getting started with a custom, branded wake word

Start with data. If you’ve already been through a sonic audit, you’re familiar with the process of compiling your messaging and comparing that to what your customers and prospects are saying about you.

During a voice audit, you’ll want to discover details about your customers that you may not have considered before. Gathering data for a voice assistant includes geographic and regional information, languages spoken, accents used, and the slang terms commonly spoken. Other information may include which product functions users would like to have voice-enabled and which functions don’t exist that would be helpful.

User data is critical to developing a custom voice assistant and will be helpful when determining a wake word. For instance, if your product or service is designed for children, you’ll want your voice assistant to understand imprecise speech and the tenor of tiny voices. If, on the other hand, it’s designed for gamers, you’ll want to include any slang terms they’ll use when asking for what they need. All of these insights can be gained through research and used as training data for the voice assistant.

User data is critical to developing a custom voice assistant and will be helpful when determining a wake word.

As with any long-term strategy, implementing a voice assistant isn’t easy and it isn’t fast. It takes time. Be patient. If you take the time required to build a custom voice assistant designed with your unique users in mind and then deliver an accurate and fast user interface, you’ll see the rewards in measurable increases in customer satisfaction—according to Opus Research respondents.

If you’re frustrated with the time it takes, you’re in good company. Your peers in every industry surveyed by Opus Research agreed that a “quick start and rapid deployment” of a custom voice assistant was the number one challenge in the implementation phase of their voice AI solutions. 

In spite of these challenges, the majority of respondents still prefer a full-service, custom solution including voice strategy assistance and ongoing support from a voice AI technology vendor. In addition, 73% rated a custom wake word as an important element of the custom voice solution.

Recently, Opus Research published a research report based on a global survey of 320 business leaders in 8 industries conducted to get the pulse of the state of voice assistant implementation and the trends toward custom voice AI solutions. You can read the report in its entirety and see the on-demand webinar to learn, “The Business Value of Customized Voice Assistants”.

73% rated a custom wake word as an important element of the custom voice solution.

Interested in learning more insights from the report? Visit our blog to read:

At SoundHound Inc., we have all the tools and expertise needed to create custom voice assistants and a consistent brand voice. Explore Houndify’s independent voice AI platform at Houndify.com and register for a free account. Want to learn more? Talk to us about how we can help bring your voice strategy to life.

Karen Scates is a storyteller with a passion for helping others through content. Argentine tango, good books and great wine round out Karen’s interests.

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