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Sounds Of The Future: Sonic Branding In The Metaverse

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at October 12, 2021

When we think of building the metaverse, we often think of things like game engines and graphics rendering. But, what if you entered your favorite virtual world and there was no audio? Or, what if you could use the same “voice commands” that you use in the physical world today when you speak to your voice assistant to navigate and interact with a virtual space or a virtual being? 

Voice and in turn, sonic branding, is a frontier that needs to be explored. There are already companies like Skilled Creative, a full-service voice agency working with leading brands, or the great work being done by Mach1 on spatial audio. 

In this article, we will explore voice and sonic branding in the future of the internet. We hope to explore spatial audio in a future post. 

How Should Our Voices Work In The Metaverse?

In the real world, we use our voices to express ourselves but our voices also serve as a sort of user interface. We use our voices to speak our minds but we also use them to order food, hail rides, request information, and conduct transactions. This is increasingly true as more and more of us place more and more reliance on voice assistant devices in our cars as well as in our homes.

“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 behavior shifts, how can brands meet people there?”

In their current form, most of these services are conducted through computer commands and menus that work, but cost immersion in virtual spaces. It doesn’t feel natural and is often less convenient than doing the same thing through a voice interaction would be. Brands that work to develop creative solutions to this problem can better serve their virtual clients and customers, as well as stand out from competitors in virtual worlds.

“How can brands create conversational engagements to engage with consumers, drive loyalty, drive customer service?” asks Kaplan. “What is their conversational brand and where can they deploy that?”

Kaplan has also noticed a renewed interest in voice to power avatars after the launch of FOX’s Alter Ego singing competition, where contestants use virtual avatars to represent themselves on stage and compete to win. 

Developing A Conversational Brand

The question of how and where to employ “conversational brand” might sound tricky. The secret could be to stop thinking of the metaverse as some foreign thing and start thinking of it as a new space where people want to do many of the same things that they always have and in much the same way. That includes interacting with brands.

“Brands exist in the world. Whatever we do in the real world, we’re always encountering a brand,” explained 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.”

This doesn’t mean having more menus, or going to the other extreme like trying to gamify experiences that users already want to have. It just means approaching those situations in ways that feel right for the brand and that will also feel right to consumers. This could be as straightforward as having an intelligent virtual presence to engage with customers in virtual branded locations.

For Kaplan, brands have an opportunity to be able to insert themselves into these engagement moments and use voice and use chat as a means to have really meaningful encounters with people in a virtual world. Otherwise, you’re a billboard or an awkward key-driven experience.

Once a brand has decided how to interact with customers, some other considerations factor in that may sound more like game design than conventional brand engagement. But, once again, these are concepts that brands have already pinned down in their physical brand strategy and that aren’t as outlandish as they may sound.

“Once you know where people want to have a conversation with you, then it’s really important to figure out how you will converse with them,” added Kaplan. “What is your tone; what does your voice actually sound like? If you’re manifesting your voice in a synthetic virtual assistant and there’s a visual element, what does it look like?”

How To Establish Your Brand Voice In The Metaverse

Depending on the way that brands want to interact with consumers in the metaverse, they may have a few more questions to answer. For some situations and for some lengths of time, some brands might be able to have an organic human brand representative interacting with users in the metaverse. However, most brands should probably be thinking about an AI chat-bot style virtual assistant.

This brings up its own questions when it comes to voice interactions. They’re similar to questions that have come up in the realm of graphics and display. We know about the “uncanny valley” – the uneasy feeling that we get when presented with a face that isn’t quite real. While we would like photorealism in the metaverse, most platforms present more stylized avatars to avoid this issue.

A similar situation comes up in terms of voice quality. After having studied the phenomenon, Kaplan has worked it down to the following rule of thumb: the longer the engagement runs, the higher the quality of voice needs to be. Kaplan really recommends that brands think about audio engagement opportunities in terms of timeframe:

  • Use short engagements to create utility. Keep it simple. Allow users to get what they want quickly. Utilize AI and chat features.
  • Use medium-length engagements as “surprise and delight” moments where users might not be expecting a creative brand engagement.
  • In narrative cases involving longer engagements, invest in higher-quality audio production to keep the user invested.

“Where do you need to invest right now so that you can build conversational capacity in the metaverse? Where can you really deploy conversational tech in the metaverse today?” asks Kaplan.

Say Metaverse One More Time…

As we think about voice in the metaverse more and more, Kaplan sees more creative brand opportunities down the road. These include brands creating their own voices that they can offer to users in promotional capacities. As part of a recent event in Fortnite, users were able to get a skin that looked like performer Ariana Grande. In the future, users could unlock celebrity voices for their avatars as well.

“People are going to want to create an avatar in the metaverse, and you’re also probably going to want to pick your voice,” said Kaplan. “On Alexa, you can have Samuel L. Jackson speak to you. But, in the metaverse, what if you could speak like Samuel L. Jackson?”

For many people, their own natural voice may be the one that they want to use. However, just as some people find that avatar customization options give them greater abilities to express themselves, some people may find that the voice they want to use in the metaverse isn’t necessarily or isn’t always the voice that they use in the rest of their life. If brands can have a chosen “sonic identity,” why not us?

Written in collaboration and with insight from Brandon Kaplan, CEO of Skilled Creative, a full-service voice agency working with the makers of voice assistants like Amazon, Google and Samsung, as well as with creatives at companies including HBO, Warner Music Group, and others.

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