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Finding your voice in a pandemic

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The lingering Covid-19 pandemic has impacted many of our daily habits — fundamentally changing how we interact with people and objects, and our ways to communicate. Social distancing and avoiding commonly touched surfaces have given voice technology new momentum and encouraged a push towards touch-free controls and experiences.

People are also engaging more with their voice activated smart devices at home too. Large retailers have benefited from voice search sales and are expected to rise above $40 million by 2022.

Voice and audio interfaces

Voice technology continues to improve and grow. A recent Adobe survey found 91% of businesses are making significant investments in voice technology.

Today, Google's word accuracy is 95%. Alexa has more than 100,000 skills. Market projections suggest there will be eight billion units of voice assistants worldwide by 2023. Siri got an upgrade and can play real-world sound samples on command.

These applications are transforming how consumers shop and interact in their day-to-day lives — improving experiences with content discovery, recommendations, and personalization through voice-enabled devices.

We like to speak and listen

Naturally, as people, we lean towards the most comfortable interface — the human voice. We speak faster than we type, and it is low-effort and high-comfort. It creates a unique intimacy that makes social distancing and isolation so much more bearable. It's arguably the most powerful and influential "tool" we have.

The rise of voice and audio led social media platforms

It’s no surprise then that hearing more voices would make its way into integrated technologies. Social apps like Clubhouse are coming in hotter than Soho House memberships. And other platforms are testing out their own versions: LinkedIn, Twitter, Spotify, Facebook to name a few.

As a voice-only, and currently the only invite-only social platform, live conversations, which users call events, are open for all guests to jump in and out of as they wish, like next level eavesdropping. But it’s also an opportunity for artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs to have genuine conversations with the benefit of a live audience.

Are we shifting more into a voice and audio first content consumption and live event format?

Brands can benefit from an audio only environment like Clubhouse.

They can tune in and listen to the topics and issues that directly concern their consumers. It is a huge free learning opportunity for brands to get insights that could influence their marketing, business strategy, and product development.

This idea is not new, gaming chat apps like Discord are already immensely popularity. And dating app String launched last year only lets you talk to potential dates using voice notes. And brands, in particular media companies, such as The New York Times and The Verge, now offer audio versions of their content on their platforms – either as audio of article text or topical interviews in a podcast episode.

But what all of these have in common is a resurgence of the lost channel of voice, something that has especially been lost in the era of Zoom fatigue. And as consumers grow more comfortable engaging with voice, opportunities to connect with audiences multiply.

What's next?

How consumers experience brands is changing. They are actively invited to be part of a brand's narrative and with the ease of social engagement through voice-led platforms, it’s literal. With virtual experiences now a proven option for how to engage with brands from anywhere, voice and audio will likely be a big part of the next format paradigm shift, especially as the emphasis on innovative ways to present content becomes a defining factor for brand engagement.

Brands can benefit from the inexpensive and scalable medium of voice and AI technology to provide a more natural, intimate, and immersive way of storytelling. These platforms can help build your brand. And that’s something we all want to hear.

Barbie Lam, futurist at Jack Morton