Luxury brands have recognised the opportunity in voice technology to make exclusivity more accessible to their consumers. But the real challenge lies in inspiring new customer behaviour.

Voice is the new interface into the world. From Amazon Echos to Apple HomePods and the Essential Home, there’s no question as to whether voice is applicable to the luxury world: it is. We know that we will be increasingly interacting with content via voice. Not in all situations, but in quite a few. Amazon have already reported a 10% growth between 2014-16 across total search and by 2023 the market is expected to grow five-fold.

Fashion and luxury sectors have long been grappling with the dissonance between exclusivity and accessibility, with the digital revolution forcing brands to reassess their position thanks to the levelling effect of social media. With the adoption of voice command inevitable for luxury, the focus for brands should shift from avoidance, to creativity – how should we be thinking about utilising this new channel to encourage consumers to undertake the behaviours that we, as brands, want?

 

Engaging in a new ecosystem

We know that voice is set to be huge. L’Oreal expects 20% of total search to be done vocally in the next 18 months. Yet, when voice is part of an ecosystem where we get easier access to the things we want to know, we must not think about it in isolation. We must be part of this ecosystem of new customer behaviours, and carve out a set of behaviours appropriate for luxury; just like Amazon has done with encouraging users to use Alexa to search for music. There’s an opportunity to train people as to what they can ask of luxury.

Taking a step back, in essence, voice is about accessing information you want using your voice. Currently, people are primarily using voice to either search or activate. It is used to ‘find’ and to ‘do’; very functional. Voice is really powerful for simple actions e.g. tell me the headline news story, set a timer, play a song. For the things that are part of our routine, voice is a wonderful innovation. It makes it easy to access things, and it gives you back very tangible and useful advice.

Part of the change needed for luxury is to use voice in a way that provokes behaviours that we want luxury brands to be associated with – more discover, inspire, imagine, create, than open, find, get, locate. We haven’t yet reached the point where voice can reflect what the luxury sector is really about. Currently, if you ask Google to inspire you in the key passion areas the luxury sector relies on, it’s not very good at aggregating that in real time. Therefore, in its current state, Google won’t be able to reflect what luxury voice might need. This is an issue.

For the luxury sector, we can lead. Luxury is the most emotive sector. It’s not just about access to information or adopting the newest fad. It’s about anything to do with self-expression, and not just a traditional sense of news. That’s where there is an opportunity. We need to help people find new value around self-expression, and move away from actions such as “Siri, do this for me”.  

The question for marketers is how do we use voice to allow people to express themselves and find value for brands to express all the new creative things they are doing? We are at the dawn of an age where we can inspire people in more fascinating and dynamic ways again. Content became all about listicles and ‘how tos’; we need to stop creating meaningless content and think about the actions and behaviours we are trying to provoke.

 

The challenge in programming new behaviours

The challenge now is to keep on top of customer behaviours. As we see voice emerge as a valuable behaviour, we have to ask ourselves, what are people asking Alexa? Where do we see new behaviours emerging? How can we add value to the experiences of these customers? What does the luxury sector train customers to do, sing, say, in order to add more value to those customers?

Whilst this may mean something different for every single brand, what is certain is that the technology will keep getting better, so the behaviours we are going to be able to inspire are only set to get more accurate. Put simply, it is likely that voice is going to be the next generation of search. We are going to have to construct search strategies so that people are not only getting what they are looking for - visually and aurally, but more importantly for luxury and fashion, that people get what they aren’t looking for. You often don’t know what you are searching for until you see it. Editorial has always operated in this way, and even now, it’s status is under threat. People are crying out for creativity and inspiration instead of over-synthesised popularity pieces.

 

The voice of the future

In terms of the future, voice will only get bigger and simpler. For luxury, the biggest untapped opportunity is in a command that allows you to be inspired. There is not a voice command for ‘inspire’ at the moment; for things that are inspiring and interesting in real time. This is where luxury brands can play. Current news feeds, search, and messaging don’t satisfy the desire to be inspired that aspirational audiences crave. Likewise, we don’t just want another content idea for Instagram or for Twitter, we want one for how we just naturally think. How we speak. How we act. How we live. If we can create new behaviours for voice that adds to people’s experience, then we will be onto something quite exciting. 

For now, brands must focus on identifying what behaviours they want their consumers to have with voice, so that when the technology develops, luxury will be poised to inspire audiences in a way that is currently unimaginable. From here, the future has never looked louder.

 

 


About the author

Neil Cunningham

Managing Director , Cream UK

Neil is responsible for the agency’s day-to-day running and overall strategy. He joined in 2012 to revitalise Cream’s digital and social arm after his success as head of online at Dentsu Aegis, Vizeum. Made MD in January 2015, Neil has overseen a period of rapid development, integrating traditional media with data driven strategies. He graduated from Queen’s College, Oxford with a MA in Experimental Psychology.


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