Brand awareness has given way to goal accomplishment over the past 20 years.
We’ve learned as consumers to find ways to complete objectives and lean less on brand names as signals of quality. When we search, we search for the job to be done and not necessarily a brand name.
As of today, Alexa is the leader in the popular voice assistant market. Alexa alone has about 10,000 skills; commands its artificial intelligence can understand and execute. Popular skills are things like ‘play this song’ or ‘tell me tomorrow’s weather.’ Users are quickly developing skills awareness. There are thousands to learn, after all.
For decades brands built awareness above all else, mostly through passive media consumption. Then Google, at the front of the internet, opens a few side windows for brands. People could find a brand by the description of what it did, proactively. Search marketing disrupted traditional advertising. Now Alexa (and all voice assistants) is disrupting search.
As consumers, we don’t care about brands. We care about goals. Google and other search channels have given us the choice. Amazon second in line. Brands, understanding this, and desperate to stay relevant are building frictionless experiences. They’ve actually been working to become as invisible as APIs that plug into Amazon, ebay, Google, Verizon – keeping people in those experiences.
So, it’s not the Hilton service or personal touch they want; it’s actually less of either. Does that make the Hilton brand more valuable for consumers? It seems to be moving more towards a convergence with the voice model. Hey Google, book me a room without involving any live people. Note the word that was missing. A Hilton room.
In this piece by Professor Joel Galloway, he demonstrates the response Alexa provides to the request for some batteries. Alexa offers only Amazon-branded batteries and no alternatives – such as top-selling brands Energizer or Duracell. Or even discount brand RayOVac.
In the grocery environment, high brand awareness is reinforced by visual cues. We see the bag; we see products that we associate; we see in-store ads. In your kitchen, talking to a computer, awareness is not so automatically linked to sales. You realize you need batteries; you ask Alexa to have some sent from your Prime account; you never buy Energizer again.
Brands were popularized during the early ages of mass production to create a shorthand for quality – and more importantly – consistency. There were less complex jobs to do, and fewer products to help do them. Prior to the popularization of brands, people would ask for the product they needed by description, not by name. Now it appears we have come full circle.
Amazon and Google have trained us to look behind the brand name – to focus on the job to be done. It stands to reason that the brands that will survive in the voice era (however long it may be) will be the very few that people care to remember. We’ve gone all in on utility of brands and brand communication. We’ve put full focus on downstream activity – fighting for last click attribution. Hmmm.
As TV viewing has diminished, there is a consistent line to sales decreases of classic CPG brands. Of course, this is also aligned with changing grocery consumption. As people adopt delivery or non-traditional grocery choices they do not see those brand reminders. The current trend suggests that awareness for these brands will diminish as well as viewership, and the most meaningful ad impressions drop.
As strategists, it’s time to elevate brands again. Get out of the tactical portion of the consumer journey and stop chasing clicks. Alexa and her friends are going to make unaided awareness the coin of the realm. Brands that aren’t requested by name will simply disappear. Especially as data from voice requests begin to affect screen-based search and shopping – and live grocery and retail within the next three years.
How? Brands must create memorable propositions, not strictly tied to utility, but tied to a memorable promise. Brandless has demonstrated that the CPG model is weaker than perceived in the US. There are hundreds of brands lined up to exploit that weakness. Brandless did it by promising to cut out the non-relevant components such as media and distribution costs that were passed on to consumers. A bold but simple proposition.
In a world where everything is on demand through a person’s voice, what will your brand do to make it to their lips?