Voice should align with a brand’s existing identity and experiences
Ladies and gentleman, we have a bonafide "new" channel. From assistants on our phones to virtual assistants in our cars to smart speakers in our home, Voice technology is here to stay.
The rise of Voice is bringing back the power of spoken word and storytelling. However, we need to be sure someone will want to listen to that story. We also need to make sure that the story we are telling via our Voice apps aligns with the story we are telling in all our other channels. Otherwise, we will miss out on the power of Voice and work against ourselves.
Content strategy is the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, useable, effective content.1
Content strategy successfully unifies traditional and online channels while allowing for the differences of those channels. It creates the connective tissue that connects a Voice experience to a brand while giving priority to delivering the right information at the right time to the user.
If there is one thing we have learned with the evolution of the digital world, it’s that a user's information needs don't change because of the interface or device. The nature of their interaction, however, does change and that is amplified with Voice.
In addition, to quote Heidi Culbertson, most brands already have a brand experience its customers recognize so Voice experiences are really a matter of extending that same experience into another venue using Voice.
In the context of the content strategy for Voice, there are two areas of opportunity for where it can help facilitate the meeting of user needs and the consistent extension of a brand's identity and experience:
1) The methods and strategies by which we deliver instructions and information important to our user while reinforcing a specific personality or brand
2) The guidelines and rules we follow to ensure consistency, clarity, and usability for a user to engage with a Voice skill.
Regardless of delivery channel, our goal is always to deliver useful and usable information. Useful is what gives our content value to a user because it either meets a need or helps complete a task. Usable refers to being easily understood and navigated. Both are critical for a successful Voice skill.
Voice enables us to directly and efficiently answer an audience's top tasks and need and customer journey questions.
Content mapping and top task exercises help identify what questions and information needs our audience has. In turn, that helps us identify the most compelling use cases for Voice. This also aligns skills to the phases of an audience's journey which can help an organization prioritize its efforts.
Using content inventories we can catalog all of the available content. When we go a step further and move into a content audit, the quality of the content is evaluated. Both are incredibly helpful during the planning and design of a Voice experience because they can provide the baseline information needed to begin the process.
Language audits and ontology studies can help inform how a skill's instructions and commands should be worded. We can weave our story into the cloth of a skill using language as our thread. How we answer the questions our audience has should always be guided by our overarching content strategy.
Much of the existing brand experience and audits help inform the guidelines which then lead into the important topic of governance. Governance is the system that enables repeatable and consistent content. This is key when multiple content creators are involved. It also identifies decision makers when there is a question so they can be resolved quickly and confidently.
Governance and guidelines empower teams because they take away ambiguity, leaving them to focus on delivering clear content for their users. Style guides not only establish personality and word choice, they also set standards (like how to handle accessibility or inclusive language). This is the backbone of a content creation process because it ensures the consistency audiences expect from a brand across channels. Voice content is not an exception.
Branding is a key part of today’s customer experiences. Branding guides many aspects of voice and tone and even how something is delivered. Voice brings a new dimension to a brand because it evolves voice and tone from figurative terms to literal ones. However, how strongly a brand or brand icon is tied to a Voice experience depends on many considerations.
Tread carefully when considering adding voice to a long-established brand icon. If Voice is a new, unexpected space for your icon or perhaps the first time your icon will have an actual voice, it may make more sense to take a complementary approach that co-exists with that icon. Regardless of the direction you choose, make sure your branding doesn’t get in the way of a user being able to accomplish their task or getting the information they need
Our audiences live in a multi-channel world but expect a unified customer experience. Content strategy makes that unity possible. Tools content strategists already use can inform and guide Voice professionals as they create Voice experiences. Brand plays a role in Voice but it’s critical that in any valuable experience, brand does not get in the way of the user.
Susan Westwater is the CEO and co-founder of Pragmatic and an expert in advising innovative brands on Voice and conversational AI. With 20+ years of experience in top tier agencies and corporate, she helps clients expand their brands into conversational experiences. She is an expert on Voice, conversational AI, and emerging technologies in marketing and business strategy and has published works on the topic. She is an Ambassador of the Open Voice Network, an instructor at the AI Academy for Marketers, and co-author of "Voice Strategy" and "Voice Marketing" (2023).