Mainstream adoption of voice technology will be all about what consumers are learning not to do says Ash Mustchin, and brands are in an ideal place to help.

Voice technology is piquing interest with both consumers and brands but in order to go mainstream, there’s a major hurdle that needs to be jumped. Before consumers embrace voice and its potential for brand interaction, how do they unlearn behaviour technology has been teaching them for decades?

Take the example of the Apple iPhone X. When Apple unveiled the handset, the main point of contention was the lack of a home button. As with any change that Apple implements, it was met with the inevitable tsunami of outrage. People wanted a damn home button on their phone!

I recognise what Apple was doing. It was boldly saying the tech is good enough to not need a home button. Face ID scans your mug when you look at the phone and it’s unlocked. Hey presto! However, the cognitive dissonance people faced came from trying to unlearn a behaviour built up over 10 years of iPhone ownership.

We’re fast approaching the same juncture with voice and technology. Designer Golden Krishna, author of The Best Interface Is No Interface, speaks about our obsession with screens and visual artefacts as the representation of brands. He proposes that we can build a technologically-advanced world without digital interfaces. Is it that much of a stretch to imagine a time when we naturally converse with brands?

Once upon a time, there were no such things as interfaces. People just talked to each other. And that still happens for a number of brand touchpoints. When you call your bank, for example, there’s no interface involved and, in that moment, the voice on the end of the line is the brand. Still, for a marketer who has spent millions on advertising on screens or in print, to have their brand represented in a little white box that speaks to you is a new challenge.

The cognitive dissonance people faced came from trying to unlearn a behaviour built up over 10 years of iPhone ownership

The way I see it, brands can actually help consumers to make the jump to embrace voice technology. A genuinely useful experience will have you forgetting about that home button in no time.

Case in point is washing brand Tide. With the help of Amazon’s Alexa, Tide offers a “skill” that solves a genuine problem of needing step-by-step instructions when removing a stain without fumbling around with a phone. It’s a useful, natural use of voice technology and on-brand for Tide.

Another example is Purina which is helping potential dog owners find the breed that suits them through the Ask Purina skill. Users can ask Alexa questions such as what dog breeds suit children, don’t shed or can live in apartments.

As with any emerging technology, the success of brands using voice will depend entirely on the seamlessness of the technology to blend with our everyday lives. It must have a legitimate purpose and a low error rate. The thing has to work.

Voice isn’t about to drastically change the way we search or shop, nor will it change the landscape for media and marketing. What it will do is provide opportunities for genuine usefulness to people’s lives if brands do it right and not as a gimmick. But the uncomfortable reality for marketers is that brand preference isn’t and won’t be at the forefront of people’s minds when using voice. It’s utility they want. Weather, traffic, meetings, bank account balance.

If you want to be a brand that really stands out, wrap this usefulness in a voice that customers understand, can engage with and maybe even get some joy from. Forget what the brand looks like and focus for once on what it sounds like.

The brands that can master this combination will be the ones that succeed. And the ones that do it well are going to be credited with taking voice to the masses.

Ash Mustchin is the Director of Digital and Experience at Principals.