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business Campaigns e-commerce Editor's pick product Retail technology

How brands can find their own voice in a screenless future

Amazon Alexas and Google Homes have been popping up in households around the world, and it is expected that there will be 8 billion voice assistants by 2023. While so far, the technology has mainly been used for running other smart devices in the home, asking novelty questions or setting timers, there is strong potential for fashion and beauty brands to focus on the retail aspect of the experience.

Voice commerce sales totaled a whopping $2.1 billion last year, and it is predicted that consumers will use the technology for almost a fifth of their total spending by 2021. For brands, this is not only a new a new opportunity to connect with its customers, but an important new sales channel. 

Last year we spoke to Amazon Alexa’s founder, William Tunstall-Pedoe, on the Innovators podcast, on how voice tech will impact retail. Although the technology is still in its early stages of development, Tunstall-Pedoe envisioned a future that is all connected: “I think you’ll be surprised in a couple of years if you speak to a device and it doesn’t reply.” He believes that the technology will be transformative, with the artificial intelligence behind voice assistants eventually interconnecting everything around us. 

As far into the future as it sounds, this concept may be happening a lot sooner than we think. 

From creating moments of discovery to enabling better store interactions, we explore 3 ways that brands retailers can be leveraging voice tech in order to enhance customer experience.

Gaining traction
Rebook’s limited edition Club C sneakers

One of the biggest challenges retailers and brands face when engaging in voice interactions is how to get their product discovered. The lack of a screen and the current intelligence of algorithms means that shopping on these platforms is generally a linear journey, and unless the customer is looking for a specific brand, surfacing as a suggestion is virtually impossible. 

One way retailers can adapt to the technology is by utilizing it in their marketing strategy. Reebok, for example teamed up with Amazon and Google for the launch of its Swarovski sneakers collaboration. Consumers could win a pair of the limited edition trainers by asking their voice assistant to “open Reebok Sneaker Drop”, which would automatically enter them into the competition. On the day of the launch, 50 lucky winners were announced through the voice channels. 

This specific campaign showed that as the popularity of the drop model starts to lose steam, voice tech could help reignite its spark. This approach is also particularly effective with the younger generation who is not only tech-savvy, but constantly looking to be challenged in order to land exclusive products.

Setting the tone
Mastercard’s sonic branding

Marketers often talk about fighting to get through the noise, but now brands are literally fighting to get their voices heard. In the near future, owning a clear brand voice, which aligns to its overall identity and DNA, is going to be an important tool to have under the belt. 

As voice tech gets more sophisticated, we’re seeing that brands will start to move away from the generic ‘Alexa’ or ‘Cortana’ voices, into recognizable accents that differentiate the brand from competitors. Developing the correct tone of voice will be key to building brand loyalty, as 72% of consumers believe brands should have a unique voice and personality.

Mastercard has been experimenting with sound architecture by creating its own sonic brand identity which is simple, memorable and adaptable. The distinct melody is played at every touchpoint of the consumer journey, with the intention of helping reinforce the brand’s values and build deeper connections with its customers. This indicates that although brands have long relied on having a purely visual identity, in the future, they are going to have to adapt to an environment that is increasingly audio-friendly (and often screenless).

Enhancing the in-store experience
H&M’s voice activated mirror

68% of consumers say voice assistants free them to multitask and accomplish tasks hands-free in the home, but how could that translate in-store? For example in a fitting room, a voice assistant could make product recommendations, check for other sizes, or even offer styling tips.

Last year, H&M tested the use of voice-activated mirror at its NYC flagship, which allowed users to access style advice, discounts and even take selfies. The mirror gained a lot of traction, with 150 interactions per day, while 85% of people who did so, scanned an additional QR code to receive a discount. The mirror was implemented as a standalone feature, but in the future, this technology could potentially move into changing rooms, allowing people to experience it privately (and therefore lowering the barrier to entry.)

In 2016, Gartner predicted that by next year 30% of web browsing would be screenless. Brands and retailers must therefore keep up with the pace of change, or risk being excluded from this emerging behavior that is increasingly leaning towards audio.

How are you thinking about new technology? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Each of the rules referenced above is matched by one of our products and services. Interested in how? Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Retail technology

4 technologies aiding in-store navigation

Big box retailers including Walmart’s Sam’s Club, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Target are using a variety of interesting wayfinding technologies to improve customer navigation inside the physical store.

The result is designed to enable efficiency in the customer journey. This is in response to the fact that as online sales growth surpasses brick-and-mortar, customers are expecting more than just easy access to online products in physical stores, they also want to find them faster.

Cue solutions ranging from robots to augmented reality mapping. Read on for some of the strongest examples in the market to date…

Augmented Reality
Legoland Denmark augmented reality app

Home store Lowe’s was one of the first retailers to introduce an app with augmented reality indoor mapping. Instead of a 2-D image, this mobile service projects navigation signs and price specials on top of the user’s field of view – meaning they can see which direction to go in projected through their smartphones straight onto the floor or space in front of them. 

Outside of the retail space, Legoland in Denmark has recently experimented with an AR wayfinding app that helps visitors navigate around the park via a mini Lego avatar. They can also then receive real-time information on wait times ahead of them.

Voice Search
Sam’s Club Scan & Go app

Sam’s Club Now in Dallas, Walmart’s test store for technology, is also focusing on a mobile-first shopping experience. Its Scan & Go app helps customers easily access products with an integrated system using voice search for navigation. When a shopper tells the app what they need, a map directs them to the item on the shopfloor. 

Home Depot’s version meanwhile, allows users to use voice or visual search to find a specific item and then be shown exactly where it’s located within the store. Macy’s launched something similar back in 2016 with IBM Watson, which enabled users to ask question as to where specific products, departments, and brands were located, as well as what services and facilities could be found in a particular store.

Robotics
The LoweBot

From voice technology then comes robotics. Lowe’s was also one of the first to make it easier for customers to find help on the shop floor by deploying robot attendants. The “LoweBot” responds to voice commands, guiding customers through the aisles with smart laser sensors.

For Kyle Nel, executive director at Lowe’s Innovation Labs, the LoweBot resolves a common problem: “When I walk into a store and I want to know where something is I want to know right then — I don’t want to have to download an app — a robot can really help with that.”

Real-time Beacons
Target

Target is heavily investing in beacon technology for the sake of navigation also. It renewed its stores to use energy-efficient LED lighting with built-in Bluetooth beacons, which enable the store’s app to show customers their real-time location on the shop floor in a similar experience to that of Google Maps. They also help notify customers when they walk by one of Target’s “Cartwheel” deals.

Gatwick Airport has also invested in beacon technology as part of its £2.5bn transformation. Here, 2,000 indoor navigation beacons have been installed to help customers easily navigate around the terminals and reduce the amount of missed flights. Augmented reality plays a part here too, with a blue line mapped through the smartphone for users to show them which direction to go in.

The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more. 

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Editor's pick film social media technology

Ted Baker launches shoppable Guy Ritchie film and Google retail partnership

British fashion brand Ted Baker has launched a new campaign anchored by a shoppable film, cryptic social experience and physical retail tie-in with Google’s voice search.

Ted Baker
Ted Baker’s Mission Impeccable campaign

Penny Loafer, Jack Quard and Manny Quin are just some of the characters that appear in a new Ted Baker film launching today, produced by Guy Ritchie.

In a subtle nod to the sharp and witty nature of the British brand, this play on words is what Craig Smith, global brand communication director, refers to at “Ted-isms”, or “Ted-touches”. And it’s those, along with some significantly hefty tech bolt-ons, that anchor this integrated campaign, created with London agency Poke.

Mission Impeccable, as it’s called, is a story of 1950s espionage. Styled accordingly, it follows the tale of T.E.D, enigmatic leader of his eponymous agency (played by the founder and CEO of Ted Baker, Ray Kelvin), deploying some of his best spies to “prevent a couture catastrophe” at the hands of a villain known as The Needle.

Chapter one, which launches today, is a three-minute short following agents Lacey, Silke, Draper and Weaver trying to stop The Needle from selling the fabrics he has stolen at auction.

The story is narrated throughout with all manner of further “Ted-isms” dropped in, including: “All agents report to London, let’s get this ironed out”, “He’s out to pull the wool over the eyes of the fashion world, and you’re going to unravel the whole nasty business”, “The auction will be buttoned up tight” and “The collective influence of those buyers is woven throughout the world.”

The film saw Guy Ritchie serving as executive producer and mentor to emerging directors Crowns & Owls. Part two has also just finished filming and will release early November for the Christmas season.

Having a narrative was core to what the brand was trying to achieve, says Smith. “Understanding who we are and what we stand for provides us with a platform to tell stories. We’re lucky we have Ted – an intrepid character – it gives us a lot of creative license.”

The basis for the story, then, was built with digital and mobile audiences in mind. As a result, the campaign spans way beyond the film across the brand’s social channels and into store.

“Having narrative enables you to create different levels and meanings from a content perspective,” explains Gail Dobinson, global head of marketing and PR at Ted Baker. “It was important that everything tied together, but we didn’t want to just flood all our channels with the same content. We wanted to deliver to the nth degree, so we challenged the team to think about how it touches every part of the business in different ways.”

Ted Baker
The shoppable element of Ted Baker’s Mission Impeccable campaign

Core to this is the fact the campaign is shoppable via TedBaker.com and through exclusive retail partner sites: Selfridges in the UK and Nordstrom in the US. Created with interactive video company Wirewax, who Ted Baker previously used for a shoppable Christmas campaign in 2015, this version of Mission Impeccable comes with the tagline: “Spy it. Click it. Buy it”. While watching, users are able to click on looks to save them into a “vault”. From there, they can then look back at individual pieces, without having to interrupt the film throughout.

Online, they can also access full bios and back stories of the characters in a complete campaign hub.

Meanwhile, on social media, a cryptic campaign has played out across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook ahead of today’s film launch. Drawing out the story of The Needle, it saw “classified information” leaked, and users invited to try and decode what they saw in order to win prizes.

Another contest is now set to run in the real world in partnership with Google. Based on Google App’s voice search tool, this retail activation invites users to speak coded phrases in store windows to gain access to a total of 26,000 rewards collectable inside.

Ted Baker
The retail activation of Ted Baker’s Mission Impeccable campaign in partnership with Google App’s voice search

Hopping onto that witty Ted attitude again, the initiative is not only geolocated, but time-stamped, meaning that if users are at the bus stop outside at 2am, the app will tell the user to rather go home and put their PJs on, according to Smith. He refers to the initiative as both playful and meaningful, and a bid to surprise and delight shoppers throughout.

As for measurement, what Smith really cares about is creating something consumers will care about: “Everything has got to be supported with great creative and great ideas. Otherwise consumers are not interested, or they see it and don’t come back to it, and certainly don’t share it.”

“This is not a vanity project, we want it to drive traffic, but equally we’re not basing its success on sales.” Instead he’ll look to eyeballs and of course, those shares. A little sprinkling of Guy Ritchie will certainly help that, but it’s the full force of Ted’s thought out 360-campaign that’s going to take this all the way. As Dobinson puts it: “Everything’s been considered… from Ted to toe.”

This story first appeared on Forbes.com.