The Threat of Disappearing Brands in the Age of Voice Assistants

When you see a red and white can of soda or a Peter Pan silhouette on a jar, you see a brand. You know the product. But what happens when you don’t have those visual cues to draw you to certain items when you shop?

Brands used to rely on traditional advertising to embed their brand imagery in our minds and remain visible and relevant to their audience. But in today’s digital-first world, consumer attention is more fragmented. Television screen time is declining, while time spent on smartphones and other mediums is increasing. This has created challenges for brands trying to stay in front of consumers.

Voice assistants add an additional layer of uncertainty to the traditional means of keeping us brand loyal. With devices like Siri, Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa-enabled options, consumers are relying more and more on browserless interactions. In fact, comScore predicts that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. That’s not that far away.

But while performing informational searches is one thing, the idea of searching for products and actually buying them via browserless commerce is quite another. This begs the question, if consumers are searching and buying via voice, will this erode the value of brands as we know them?

The Age of Voice Is Upon Us

Amazon claims it sold millions of Alexa devices over the Black Friday weekend and that the Echo Dot was the top-selling item on the website worldwide during the holiday season. That equates to a lot of people saying, “Hey Alexa, order me batteries.” In this scenario, the first result you get is for Amazon private-label batteries. So how do Duracell and Energizer compete with this? How do their branding efforts influence a consumer’s purchasing decision when those visual brand cues are no longer available? Are either of these two brands stronger than Amazon? Battery sales figures from Amazon indicate they’re not.

And what about those instances when Alexa fails to deliver the brand name you’re looking for and suggests you open a browser to find it? With convenience so in demand, you may opt to purchase the suggested non-branded product just to avoid spending one more second shopping for batteries. If you’re willing to take the extra step to switch devices just to make the purchase, you must really love the brand.

What Do Voice-Assisted Consumers Want?

There is no doubt the post-Gen Z generation, often referred to as Generation Alpha, will have voice assistants as a part of their everyday life. Gen Z is coming of consumer age during this evolutionary period, and they have the spending power and skills to navigate technology. And what about millennials? According to eMarketer, thirty million were expected to use voice assistants monthly in 2017. So, what do these consumers want from the experience, and how can brands provide it?

Millennials are loyal to strong brands. And they’re drawn to both value and hyper-convenience. What does this have to do with browserless commerce? In a recent conversation with millennial marketing expert Jeff Fromm, he said this age group is loyal to brands when the brand is strong but will trade down when it is weak. If you pair that idea with the millennial interest in value and convenience, you understand the magnitude of the challenge brands are facing. Voice assistants are the definition of hyper-convenience.

Millennials also appreciate value, which doesn’t always mean the cheapest price. Think bang for the buck. It’s one reason millennials often mix brand names and private labels. If we use the Amazon battery example, Amazon hits the trifecta: a strong brand, value and convenience. How can brand name battery makers compete?

But millennials are just one example. Other generational groups share many of the same values. In a browserless era, brand-name paper towels, peanut butter, ketchup, underwear, mouthwash or any other branded basic runs the risk of fading away without those visual cues that advertising built and in-person shopping enhanced.

What Can Marketers Do?

Focus on communicating your value in a way that gives consumers a reason to verbally request your brand. For example. I love Utz’s old-fashioned hard sourdough pretzels. Not pretzel rods, or small twists, but the big ones that crack my teeth! I need to convey to my wife, who does the majority of shopping, why she should specifically request that product and not settle for the recommended sourdough rods.

The same goes for when the household’s usual shopper isn’t the one ordering from the voice assistant. In the store, I might be able to recognize the laundry detergent we use by its color and logo. Without that visual, how do I choose the right one? My instinct might be to order the recommended product or the cheapest one. How you differentiate your product from generic brands is critical.

Voice assistants also change the SEO game. How we speak will become more important than the words we tap into a search engine. As a non-SEO expert, I would optimize for voice by writing and producing web content in a conversational style. Consider what consumers might ask when searching for your product and how your product or content might help solve their need. For example, I might ask, “Hey Google, what’s the best way to keep my toes warm in cold weather?” Would the content you produce or the way you write your sock’s product description be relevant enough to return a query result?

In an age of voice, the potential for brand erosion certainly exists. How far will it go? Frankly, we don’t know yet. This evolution should force existing brands to rethink how they target and interact with their audience. Staying top of mind at a time when consumers are constantly connected, value is weighted, price comparison is commonplace and convenience is essential is difficult. And it’s especially true when the actual device returning the consumer’s request may be a direct competitor. Will brands as we currently know them be forever changed by this evolution?

In the age of voice, a familiar logo is no longer enough.

Greg Zakowicz is a Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst at Bronto Software

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