Editor's note: The following is a guest post from Aaron Masih, chief operating officer at marketing language cloud Persado.
As Amazon grows at a seemingly unstoppable rate and voice-activated shopping becomes more common, brand loyalty is at stake. Brand marketers need to think more critically about their positioning within e-commerce marketplaces (especially those with voice technologies) and adopt strategies to solidify genuine emotional connections with their customers.
Last fall, Unilever's global vice president of digital transformation, Rahul Welde, addressed and dismissed this issue by arguing, "If I go back in time there was this idea that everything would be white label, but I don't see it playing that way. I think it is about what the brand stands for and to my mind it is generally speaking about much more than the product. As long as there is differentiation and brands stand for something consumers will continue to love brands."
However, I believe Welde underestimated this changing landscape while simultaneously identifying an opportunity. As voice-activated tech becomes more advanced, shoppers will become increasingly comfortable with relying on these technologies for new product suggestions — especially as data collection and machine learning analysis help them become more attuned to each shopper's unique preferences. In the near future, Amazon could leverage this fact to prioritize sales of its own private label products, making it more difficult for other brands to stand out from the noise. When you say, "Alexa, buy me soap," it's a lot harder to listen to a list of options than if you were shopping online or in a store. Many shoppers will simply chose whatever "sounds" good, or whatever their virtual "trusted advisor" chooses on their behalf.
But marketers shouldn't be discouraged. While Amazon has grown its private label business beyond tech products like Echo, Kindle and Fire with "Amazon Basics," it has yet to create the fierce brand loyalty known by other private labels like Trader Joe's, Costco's Kirkland or Boxed's Prince and Spring, all of which continue to gain popularity for specific products and entire lines. Some wonder if Amazon ever will.
Sustaining consumer attention through voice commerce is still more difficult compared to online or in-store interactions, signaling an area of opportunity for brands to embrace Welde's admonition to communicate their differentiation and establish a true connection with customers. However, as the tech matures, this gap will likely shrink. Brands must double-down on establishing themselves and understanding what exactly customers want from each shopping experience, the stories they want their products to say about them and the expectations they have for a brand voice. Here are three fundamental strategies for marketers to keep in mind:
- Be everywhere, without being in your face. Creating a multi-channel — if not omni-channel — experience is practically table stakes today, but it's equally important not to be overbearing. Brands should come across as a consistent, trusted voice, not an overbearing annoyance. Do this by going back to basics: revisit your brand vision architecture, focus attention on just one or two social media channels and segment your email marketing lists so that every piece of communication is as relevant as possible for your target audiences.
- Form an honest friendship. Marketers and their brands are ultimately trying to sell a product, but they must also form meaningful relationships with each customer. That means speaking on more individual levels, addressing specific needs and communicating in a way that demonstrates an open and on-the-level relationship. While this may come naturally during an in-person sales encounter, doing so digitally requires an understanding of how to connect emotionally across the screen because, at the end of the day, humans rely on emotions and visual cues more so than information to drive purchase decisions. Incorporate specific, actionable and emotion-based language and images into your text and creative assets whenever possible, but always keep your authentic brand voice in mind.
- Stand out, and stand for something. As Alexa and other tech make shopping a more generic process, it's all the more important for brands to differentiate themselves and to send a clear message about what they're about. Shoppers want to feel that they can trust brands to stand for ideas that align with their own, and they rightly want to have faith that the brands are being open and honest in those positions. Create editorial calendars with proactive content that reinforces these ideas, and be prepared to react to news when it's appropriate for your brand to weigh-in. No matter what stance you take, make sure it's consistent.
The growth momentum behind Amazon-led voice commerce isn't slowing down, so brands must do everything in their power today to build a foundation of loyal customers for tomorrow. If brands stay true to what makes them unique and create content and experiences that solicit genuine emotion, customers may soon ask Alexa for them by name.