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Intelligence Briefs

Smart speakers: The rise of voice is FMCG brands' greatest challenge

Industry Contributor

Graeme Wood, National Head of Product & Futures

18 November 2019 3min read

As the accelerated adoption of smart speakers in Australia closes in on US household penetration levels, marketers here will naturally look to the US experience. Recent research by the industry body for ad agencies in the US, the 4A’s, outlines how we are at the cusp of the age of sonic branding. The article focuses on taking a strategic approach to the mass adoption of a wide range of audio-only media; from Alexa skills, to podcasts and streaming playlists. Given the breadth of channels available, achieving brand consistency creates a new set of challenges for marketers used to working predominantly with visual elements.


Key points:

  • Sonic branding, more commonly known as audio logos, uses audio cues to trigger immediate brand recall, and can have a subconscious effect on purchasing behaviour.
  • Many brands have created audio logos over the years, primarily established through long-term use in advertising. Some of the most successful audio logos have come from Intel with its iconic Intel “bong” and McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” campaign.
  • The article offers a set of best practice guidelines for initiating a sonic branding project.
  • Even in the more established voice landscape in North America, sonic branding is still in its early stage of development, providing an opportunity for savvy marketers to get ahead.


My Takeout

The increasing role of audio in the customer experience of many advertiser categories makes it a key focus for 2020. However, creating a consistency of experience across all audio advertising would seem like the wrong place to start.

Many brands are starting to develop tactics to address the accelerated adoption of smart speakers, ahead of creating a strategic approach to ‘how the brand sounds’ across all audio-only channels, precisely because voice is different:

  • In the fully-connected smart home of the future, people will expect the intelligent agent (within connected devices) to make recommendations tailored to their needs.
  • As people increasingly interact with the intuitive agents in their home, the smart home will start to develop a personality, with householders talking to the home as though they’re talking to a ‘butler’ or ‘assistant’.
  • People will trust these recommendations both because of their trust in intelligent agents, and because voice is an inherently more human way to receive information.

Hence, for brands approaching the smart speaker as another audio medium to deliver radio-like advertising will miss the disruptive potential of the intuitive agent. Creating services for intelligent agents requires brands to think of experience design and conversational frameworks before traditional advertising.

The rise of voice is perhaps the greatest challenge for FMCG brands, which have been built over decades through distinctive visual equities that are easy to see and reach for on a busy shelf, without having to engage the rational brain.

Voice-enabled shopping for low-value and easily substitutable brands removes this need to see. Unless a shopper asks for a brand by name, the intelligent agent will make a decision about how to satisfy the need for say, milk or dishwasher tablets, based on their previous order history and the budget rules that it have been set.

However, having a strong sonic brand alone is not enough at the key moment in the decision, because the shopper is talking, not listening at this point. The key to success in this type of shopper experience is associated more to search than radio i.e. to become so strongly associated to the category need that the brand keyword then replaces the generic. That comes as a result of consistent, integrated branding across channels, building strong links to relevant category entry points. It’s about being ‘tip of tongue’ rather than top of mind; being verbally available, as well as physically available.


Let’s go. What do you think?

Industry Contributor

Graeme Wood, National Head of Product & Futures

Graeme Wood leads the Futures practice at Starcom Australia, focused on bringing insight, ideas and innovation to clients and partners. Over the course of 2019, Starcom Futures created The Future of Connected Living, a world-first ethnographic experiment in which four Australian households were transformed into some of the smartest homes in the country. By working with the families who live there, Graeme has established new principles for service and interaction design in the home of 2023.