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Speak Easy: The Rise of Voice Technology

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Ahead of Cannes 2017, JWT's Elizabeth Cherian and Mindshare's Jeremy Pounder discuss the increasing popularity of voice tech

Speak Easy: The Rise of Voice Technology

In our recent UK voice tech report called Speak Easy we not only wanted to find out what people thought about the increasing popularity of voice technology, but literally get into their heads and see how their brains are responding. 

Our survey of one thousand UK smartphone users found that efficiency was a primary motivation for using voice.  To explore that further, we called in the neuroscientists to really get under the respondents’ bonnets and tinker around. By working with leading neuroscience research agency Neuro-Insight to investigate the brain’s response to voice interactions, we were able to compare neurological responses to voice with touch and typing. 


Easing the cognitive load 

We found that voice interactions showed consistently lower levels of brain activity than their typing equivalent with the brain not working as hard to process information. In fact, we found that there is actually 50% less brain activity. 

This would certainly seem to back up one of our overall findings that 41% of all regular voice users turn to voice tech when they are feeling lazy. It also points to our belief that speaking (the oldest form of communication) is inherently more natural for us as human beings. 

Nick Ryan, a composer, sound designer, artist and audio specialist says, “For most of our cultural evolution as a species, humans have transmitted knowledge and ideas from one generation to another through oral tradition - the voice is therefore perhaps the most innate and intuitive way for us to communicate.”

So by using this innate bias, brands don’t have to work as hard to place themselves into consumers’ minds. Voice can be exceptionally successful at engaging consumers and offering them a seamless route to problem solving, but it does come with a caveat. You do need to ensure that you’re producing something valuable to the end user, and not just creating tech for tech’s sake. 

Travel app HelloGbye does this very well by allowing users to dictate their dates of travel, destination, and the number of people they are travelling with, to generate a suitable list of flight and hotel options. For mutli-tasking professionals who are often on the go, this voice-activated service converts what was once wasted time, say driving a car, into a productive period. 


Craving intimacy 

With the increased ease and efficiency with which the human mind can take on board voice messages when compared with touch or type, it was no real surprise then that users quickly began looking for deeper understanding and stronger emotional connections from voice assistants. 

In fact, the neuroscience tests showed that for the first 15 minutes people were mentally (not just visibly) averse to using the tech, but very quickly got over this and began to not only accepted it, but actively embrace it. 

Some of the statistics we got back in this area were extremely enlightening. 60% of smartphone users agree that “if voice assistants could understand me properly and speak back to me as well as a human can, I’d use them all the time” while 37% of regular voice users said they love their voice assistant so much that they wish it were a real person with 26% going so far as to say they have had a sexual fantasy about their voice assistant. 


Find your voice

With this level of intimacy and cognitive acceptance by consumers it emphasises the need for brands to really craft the sound of their own voices. While the voice assistant will act as a critical gatekeeper for many purposes, such as discovery, there will be instances where consumers will expect to talk to a brand directly, especially where they already have a strong relationship with the brand, such as in banking or grocery.

Our neuroscience experiments showed that when saying a question involving a brand name, a respondent’s brain activity showed double the positive emotional response compared to those typing that same brand question. The act of saying a brand name actually appears to strengthen the pre-existing emotional associations to a greater degree than typing it. 

However, for this relationship with brands to flourish – just as in human relationships – trust is a prerequisite. Providers need to earn trust through a track record of successful service before dependency can grow and a deeper relationship can emerge. 

They also need to alleviate users’ privacy concerns and demonstrate responsibility with personal data. For some, the level of intimacy voice tech fosters equates to an infringement of privacy that is unacceptable, though we don’t believe that this will be enough to dissuade the majority of consumers from engaging. 

As one focus group participant explained, “You can build trust by, hopefully, making sure no one’s ripped off while giving them access to do amazing things.”  

We are currently expanding this research to include an additional eight countries throughout Europe, APAC and the Americas, and will be launching this report at a talk in Cannes. Come see us on Tuesday 20th June on the Discover Stage for Speak Easy: The Rise of Voice Technology. 




Elizabeth Cherian, Director of J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group and Jeremy Pounder, Futures Director at Mindshare UK

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Wunderman Thompson London, Fri, 16 Jun 2017 14:38:09 GMT