1985: It Was a Very Good Year (for Voice Automation)

The Founding of GM Voices Highlights a Year of Important Moments

President Reagan is sworn in for his second term. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T team up at the very first Wrestlemania. New Coke debuts and fails. Live Aid brings our most talented (and mulleted) musical personalities together to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief. Everyone agrees that Back to the Future is awesome. It is 1985, a year of many cultural landmarks.

Perhaps less celebrated, but nearly as important, is the founding of GM Voices. It’s 1985, and voice automation is still in its infancy—no IVR, TTS, GPS. Actually, acronyms had not even been invented yet. But what did exist was after-hours messaging—“our business is closed.” And it all sounded bad. Enter one man. Like Marty McFly, Marcus Graham came with a vision of the future; a day when branded caller experiences would be omnipresent, a day when companies would have no choice but turn their customer relationships over to automation.

Enter one business—a Rich’s department store in Atlanta. Marcus, a former DJ at Georgia State University and as aspiring voice talent, calls Rich’s after hours and is shocked by what he hears. “This recording is not fitting of the Rich’s brand,” he thinks. Then, a commercial breakthrough: “I can record their messaging in my buddy’s studio, make it sound professional, and I can probably make some money.” And so it was, and so it shall ever be.

Since 1985, GM Voices has exploded as voice automation proliferated across customer-facing technologies—telephony, telematics, business narration and multimedia. The Back to the Future series, while entertaining, was not a predictive force—why did it feature hovering skateboards and not IVRs fronted by natural-sounding, brand-consistent voice prompts from GM Voices? It is a slight we often think about.

Watch this video rumination on 1985, the year it all got started.

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