In this article we’re taking a close look at translating your brand into a conversational interface. Specifically into how the elements of branding can manifest in conversational interfaces and how companies and products can craft their conversational interfaces (bots) to communicate their brand well.

This post is part one of a three-part series on branding a conversational interface (bot).  Part 2 on branding and persona’s will be published next week.

What is a great conversational interface?

Great conversational interfaces (bots) have the ability to pull you in and can connect emotionally with you. Next to that, bots need great branding to be successful. Building a tremendous brand starts well before you design the bot’s interface (or any other interface to which you deliver your product).

A view from the top

World class brands can transform an experience and evoke emotion in you. Brands can make you laugh, feel sad, or take action. Those brands express human qualities that we, as users or consumers, associate with those companies. We can all think of examples of our favourite brands and the traits we associate with them (my example: Nike, empowerment).
Branding happens whether you plan on it or not; it’s every single way that you communicate with your audience. A thoughtful branding process backed by research and decision-making produces an outcome that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The best brands use the most effective ways to communicate and then carefully crafts visual and textual elements that will best deliver that communication.

A world class brand consists out of elements like a mission statement, marketing direction, language structure, colors, fonts, images, and an identity system (logo or series of logos). Similarly to any other product, if a bot’s branding is not clear and consistent, the experience won’t be a good one.

Your brand performance

As a result, companies and products need to consider how their existing brand extends to a conversational interface. Ventures whose primary interface is a bot need to establish a strong conversation-focused brand.
As such, designing your first bot is a fantastic opportunity to embark on your first branding exercise or to reevaluate the current state of your brand.
Whether you already have a well-established brand that you’re extending to a conversational interface or if you’re building it from the ground up, chatbots and voice assistants have particular devices for brand expression.

In this article, we’ll uncover how your bot branding can use voice and tone to communicate with your audience.

Let it talk!

Voice and tone are an important elements of any brand, but with conversational interfaces like chatbots or voice assistants they lie in the heart of the experience. First and foremost conversational interfaces are textual interfaces that build a conversation with the user. And the voice of that conversation and the way that the tone adapts to the state of the conversation is essential.

Create your own ambassador

The core values and mission of the company are the pillars of your brand’s voice. As a result, the brand’s voice should stay consistent with the company’s values and mission. Your bot is an ambassador for your brand, thus they have to engage in that manner. The voice of a bot can range from being sarcastic, happy, cheerful or any other characteristics you think reflect the core mission and values of your company.
If you haven’t established a clear voice for your company, several resources can help guide you on your way. This explanation of Clearleft’s language refresh is a great example of (re)building voice and tone. Mailchimp has a fantastic content style guide (for their amazing brand) that puts a lot of emphasis on voice and tone.
Your tone builds off your conversational interface and it shifts with the state of the conversation and the emotional condition of the user. The tone is what makes your conversations seem natural. After you’ve crafted a solid conversational interface, then you need to consider when and how your tone changes.
Here is how we consider the tonal shifts in conversational interfaces:

Understand the feelings of your user

Technology is pretty amazing (duh), and advancements in Natural Language Processing (NLP) allow us to extract sentiment from users’ language. Sentiment Analysis (SA) returns a positivity score on a string of text entered by a user.

Furthermore, tools like IBM Watson’s Tone Analyzer allow us to get a more nuanced view into the tone and style of language.
If you’re starting small, and don’t want to integrate additional services like Tone Analyzer, there are plenty of options to help you make an intelligent guess about a user’s emotional state.

Performing user research and analysing the user experience will help. It’s important to understand how the emotional states of your users shift as they interact with your bot.

🤔  Confused – when instructions are not clear, or users aren’t sure how to make a decision.
😖  Frustrated – when a user cannot complete a task, or they can’t find something in the interface.
😆  Delighted – when a user finds success in the interface or has accomplished a goal.

The Sound on Sound Music Festival conversational interface incorporates the playful Renaissance voice of the festival. While providing options to help that user get information that the bot doesn’t know yet.

The state of a conversation

A natural conversation relies on a shared understanding. Bots and users will build this understanding throughout the conversation. When a user replies, “yes,” the bot needs to know specifically what the user is confirming. This shared understanding that the bot builds with the user affects the language your bot uses.

💡 Tips for building a shared understanding in a conversational interface:

  • Ask for a response that confirms an action
  • Signal understanding of what the user has said
  • Request more information to complete a task

The state of tone

As the user interacts with the bot, the emotional state, or the patterns that create it, change. Communicating this change to the user is important. Modulate the bot’s tone so that the user’s emotional reaction is as positive as possible.

💡 Tips for building a emotional connection in a conversational interface:

  • Errors – Be clear about who is responsible for an error and how the user or the bot will resolve it. Make sure the tone is appropriate, especially if it’s your system that is causing the failure.
  • Success – Noting the end state, especially success, is important for the user to acknowledge when they’ve reached the end of a task or accomplished a goal.
  • Processing – Let the user know when a process is being carried out and how long it should take.
At Wavyr we build conversational interfaces with flash messages and typing indicators to signal to the user when the bot has understood their request and that it’s currently in process.

Take delivery into account

Delivery through a chat platform like Facebook Messenger versus a voice-based device like the Google Home has a major impact on your conversation. Basically their are two types of conversational interfaces:

  1. Text-based conversational interfaces (TCI) – Chat platforms can use visual feedback and a temporal record of previous interactions. This means that a bot can deliver other media like images and video that amplifies the meaning of a text response.
  2. Voice-based conversational interfaces (VCI) – Since there are no visual elements that accompany interactions with devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, the communication context shifts for users. You must optimize your bot’s language for vocal delivery.

💡 Tip: Be sure you write the language of a voice-based conversational Interface (VCI) like an Alexa Skill or Actions on Google for speaking. Read the interface scripts out loud as a role-playing exercise to assess and refine the bot’s responses.

The building blocks for conversational voice & tone

1. Chatbots

In addition to text, bots built for messenger platforms have some other affordances that help convey voice and tone. The support for these elements depend on the platform for which you’re building, but here are the most popular:

  • Emoji’s
  • Video and animations
  • Images
  • Audio clips

Facebook Messenger provides several features for you to craft conversational interfaces that deliver content and meaning to the user.

2. Voice-based Conversational Interfaces (VCIs)

Although VCIs provide little to no visual interface for elements to convey voice and tone (although this will change with the introduction of smart displays), they do have several tools that can be used to strengthen the brand.

Speech Synthesis Markup Language

⚙️ Supported by Alexa and Google
The first available tool is SSML or Speech Synthesis Markup Language. This gives you affordances within the language of your bot that help you modulate the way the voice interface speaks. You can adjust various elements like speed, pitch, and pauses with SSML.

You can use audio clips like tones, sounds, and music throughout your voice-based bot. These can provide brand elements like intro music or help ground the user with sound effects.

Synthesized voice selection

⚙️ supported by Google
Some voice interface platforms allow you to choose from a set of /synthesized voices/ for your bot. You can also hire voice actors to record all the possible conversations your bot might have. Though this is a lengthy and expensive process, it allows for ultimate control over the bot’s vocal brand.

Use of cards & speechcons

⚙️ Supported by Alexa
Voice platforms come with companion mobile apps. Alexa’s mobile app supports the use of cards along with your Skill. These allow you to deliver images and text to the user when they interact with your Skill.

Speechcons are predefined words and phrases spoken with particular emphasis that you can build into your Alexa Skill.

Be patient

Crafting an experience that effectively uses all building blocks will take a lot of effort, experimentation and iteration. Don’t pressure yourself to create an exact definition of how the brand uses all these elements. Until you have a feeling for how they’re all working together. This is a process that takes a great deal of work. So start with understanding all these tools for branding conversational interfaces.

Tips for creating your first conversational interface

For starters who are looking to get acquainted with the various building blocks, prototyping is a good option. Use your favourite prototyping tool and try for yourself to create a brand ambassador that fits your company’s values and mission.

Conclusion

This article provides a starting framework for developing voice and tone in your conversational interface. There are several decisions that you will make. As you start to outline how your bot delivers the core capabilities of your product to your users. If your product offering shifts, it is a good idea to make sure your voice and tone align to your product’s promise.

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