Foresight 15: Sonic branding + physical retail as a technological bridge for consumers
A bi-weekly newsletter diving into the concepts, people and brands shaping the future of retail, entertainment and connectivity.
Welcome back to Foresight!
To say there have been some big announcements and movements in the world of emerging tech the past few weeks would be an understatement. Most notably, Facebook-now-Meta changed its name to reflect its hopes of becoming a metaverse company. Following the announcement, my Google Alerts set up for “the metaverse” has gone from the occasional article every few days to hundreds of hits daily. Although controversial, Meta’s shift in focus signals a clear shift in the future of almost every business.
The topic is still incredibly vague and opaque, while also having more definitions than anything else. The more articles published, the less concrete the concept becomes, which makes sense considering how new it is for consumers and companies. It’s impossible to predict where we’ll be in five or ten years so until then we’ll continue to discuss and watch how it all unfolds.
This week we’re talking about sound and sonic branding, a topic I haven’t seen many experts in emerging tech discussing, which makes it a great topic for this edition. We’re also touching on how physical retail could serve as an access point for millions of consumers into the metaverse, an important step in bringing emerging tech to the masses.
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IDEAS, INSIGHTS & FORWARD-THINKING PERSPECTIVES
Sonic branding + how you should be thinking about sounds of the future
With many of us only having experienced virtual and augmented reality through our phone screens, we’re much more focused on the visual experience. Although audio might not be the first element we notice, it oftentimes enhances and completes an experience. Voice and in turn, sonic branding, is a component of the metaverse that needs to be explored and companies like Skilled Creative, a voice agency working with leading brands, and Mach1 specializing in spatial audio, are already leading the space. In the real world, we use our voices to speak our minds and in everyday activities such as ordering food, requesting information and carrying out transactions which are becoming more commonplace as we rely on voice assistant devices. “Brands need to be thinking about what happens when there’s a huge population of people that are starting to use these voice assistants and devices for more utilities and more entertainment,” said Brandon Kaplan, CEO of Skilled Creative. “As human behaviour shifts, how can brands meet people there and how can brands create conversational engagements to engage consumers, drive loyalty and customer service? What is their conversational brand and where can they deploy that?”
Thinking about how and where to employ “conversational brand” sounds complicated but perhaps the trick could be to stop thinking of the metaverse as a foreign place and instead consider it as a new space where people are looking to do many of the same things they already do. This includes engaging with brands. “Brands exist in the world. Whatever we do in the real world, we’re always encountering a brand,” explains Kaplan. “If I’m in virtual worlds and I’m trying to navigate it naturally, I want brands to be able to respond to me in a natural way.” Kaplan believes brands have an opportunity here to insert themselves into these engagement moments by using voice and chat to have meaningful interactions with consumers in a virtual world. Most brands should be thinking about AI chat-bot style virtual assistants and after studying the phenomenon, Kaplan has boiled it down to the following: the longer the interaction, the higher quality the voice needs to be. Brands should be thinking in terms of timeframe when it comes to audio engagements.
Short interactions: Create utility and keep it simple to allow users to get what they want quickly. AI and chat features are best used here.
Medium-length interactions: Use to create “surprise and delight” moments where a creative engagement might not be expected.
Long interactions: High-quality audio production is essential to keep the user engaged.
The more we think about audio and voice in the metaverse, the more creative opportunities there will be for brands. Whether it’s brands creating their own voice or allowing users to unlock voices for their avatars, sonic branding needs to be kept top of mind.
Could physical retail be the technological bridge to the metaverse?
It’s quite possible that the virtual worlds and metaverse we’re heading towards might still depend on physical retail. In a report released by the New York Times, there might be physical stores in Meta’s future to help the company build the metaverse. The stores would be an opportunity to showcase and let consumers trial the virtual and augmented reality devices made by the company’s Reality Labs, including headsets, video chat devices and smart glasses. Learning about and experimenting with the technologies would be at the centre of the in-store experience, as opposed to only selling products. The idea raises the question, can physical retail be the entry point for millions of consumers into the metaverse?
In an effort to introduce and explain the concept as the next social media experience, the spaces would also be “intended to spark emotions like curiosity and closeness, as well as a sense of feeling welcome while experimenting with headsets in a judgment-free journey,” according to Meta. The connection between the physical world and the metaverse for a truly immersive experience is through devices, which are often expensive and complex in design and user experience. A brick-and-mortar channel could act as the technological bridge to the metaverse for the wider consumer group.