Why Generation Alpha will need to hear brands as much as they see them

By Michele Arnese, CEO, amp

In the past twenty years, we have seen a revolution in user interfaces and user experience design. What was simply typing a sentence in Google for Generation X, turned to pinch, swipe, zoom across laptops, tablets and smart phones for Millennials and Gen Z.

Millennial parents were the first generation to have spent a large proportion of their lives working with screen technology and of course smart phones. They may not have been born with smart mobile technology like the following cohort of young consumer – Generation Z, but they were and are by and large digital natives.

Few of these parents would have predicted that artificially intelligent audio technology would influence the behaviours and expectations of many members of Generation Alpha – children born in 2010 (and up to the year 2024) as much as screen-based.

As the first members of Generation Alpha were reaching the age of four, the first Alexa smart speaker was launched by Amazon, and Siri and Google Voice became our friendly helper on our phone or in our car. The explosion in popularity of smart voice technology has had huge implications for these young people.

Many are now unconsciously familiar with and reliant on the additional family member whose voice can help them do things, tell them new information and entertain them. A lot of parents have seen their kids walk up to an Alexa Echo device and ask it a question or play their favourite music.

A child’s general openness to this new type of experience is something they’ll carry with them through their teens and into adulthood.

These intelligent entities are also the guardians or gatekeepers to audio brand interactions known increasingly as skills.

The Covid-19 pandemic has if anything, accentuated the relationship with home audio AI-tech. Confined in their homes during lockdown, people of all generations have followed the Alpha’s and have befriended Alexa, Siri and Google Home. For a lot of households, smart speakers have become a more important part of daily life than ever before with much of the audio content and a growing volume of brand interactions, happening as purely audio experiences.

Within the next few years, we can expect it to become the social norm to be using our voices to control everything from searching for brand information and shopping to turning on the lights or making an espresso as well as more serious things such as monitoring and responding to reports on our biometrics as we go about our daily lives.

Our personal worlds will become full of vocal and audio signals, introductions, marketing or background sounds to activity and Generation Alpha will be listening and filtering this audio information. Recognition and appreciation of audio branding will become critical. A recent Salesforce report shows that voice is among the key technologies that will impact the next decade of marketing, however only 57% of marketers implement audio tactics.

But how to turn an established visual brand and product range into a complementary sonic identity? And how does one ensure that the brand is clearly recognizable and it is not Alexa, Siri or Google Voice speaking for it.

To state the obvious, for every brand, there’s a clear need to meet the tone and aspiration of customers – which goes beyond simply preparing ‘skills’ for smart speakers that answer where the products themselves have come from. It means developing auditory cues, whether voice or music, that truly reflect the unique feel of the brand.

Sonic identity and audio brand elements will be arguably as important as visual branding, especially as brand associations are indelibly formed at early ages. It also means that voice native users will have low to zero tolerance for poorly executed experiences. Generation Voice will know what good sounds like and brands whose sonic identities and voice experiences have been well-crafted and repeatedly iterated will be leaps ahead.

Brands need to ask themselves – what is my core DNA? What am I trying to reflect? How do I want my customers to feel?

For example, Mastercard introduced a holistic brand strategy that integrates audio-visual elements in a way that can adapt to our changing digital experiences. Even though generation Alpha is not thinking consciously about their financial future yet, they will soon be of age to ask about a kid’s debit card linked to their parents’ account. And whereas the bank name on the card won’t matter at first, the audio experiences using the card will. These children have been raised with smart speakers around, there they will pay attention to the sounds around their first feeling of being an adult – having a bank card. And first impressions matter.

The success of the audio element of Mastercard’s strategy lies in its complete embrace of a ‘comprehensive sound architecture’.

Its sonic identity is based around music that identifies the brand and enables core melodies to be re-worked and woven into everything from advertisements to point-of-sale transactions. The brand has developed a payment confirmation sound that reassures the card holder that a transaction was successful. To date, Mastercard has rolled out said sound out to over 36 million digital wallets and physical payment terminals around the globe.

Simply put, you can look away from a screen, but you can’t ignore a sound. Anticipating the behaviour and use cases of every touchpoint a customer might hear your brand is pivotal – and then ensuring that there’s a level of consistency to guarantee a genuinely recognisable brand experience for your customers.

As we move towards conversational commerce, consumers will expect to ask questions of your brand, expect to buy from your brand using only their voice, but also expect to feel the same affection they feel walking into your store, but through their Siri, Alexa or Google Home in the comfort of their kitchen.

Brands that invest in defining their voice will reap the benefits. All else will be noise.