The Importance of the Voice Persona

This is a good book.

Defending the process, recognizing the fine line between extraneous pretension and essential brand ascription.

Two weeks before I started working at GM Voices, I was loaded with a hernia-inducing pile of books. They ranged from generalized marketing and public relations to very specific tomes on IVR, ASR, Voice Branding and speech technologies. I read most of these books, all or in part. Perhaps the best of the industry-specific reads was Bruce Balentine’s It’s Better to Be a Good Machine Than a Bad Person. It’s lighthearted, conversational and written in way that’s easily understood by non-technophiles (me). It provided a solid foundation of the stuff we try to humanize; the essential automation that many people hate, and our mission to make it so they don’t hate it as much.

One issue I had with Balentine’s book, however, was his critique of the persona development process. It’s baloney, he says. Irrelevant. Even the word “persona” is pretentious to Balentine. People just want to enter their account number. Personality (voice) traits and biographical informers are unnecessary.

I disagree with most of his assessment. GM Voices recognizes that we’re not making movies here. This process can proceed with comical over-analysis. So with respect to the company’s brand and its customers, we therefore proceed with just the right amount of analysis and development. Indeed, it’s a fine line between thorough and extraneous. But we’ve found this balance.

But so is this.

Voice represents companies on some of their most crucial customer touchpoints: Television and radio advertising, direct and event marketing, trade show presence, even on the very products they sell. It’s understood that the voice will carry the hallmarks of the brand to affirm the identity of the company in the customer’s mind. Do businesses and consumers find this frivolous? No. And it’s no different over the phone, where depending on the company, hundreds or thousands of customer contacts are handled each day. Does it matter where the voice of the IVR went to college? Maybe not, but a brand-consistent sound is paramount to us. And these details help our very talented voice actors achieve this sound.

And it’s not just us: Our client’s marketing directors are usually on the same page. It doesn’t take much convincing that the voice of the IVR should resonate with buyer demographics and unify the essence the brand from other contact channels. I may be more jaded than most, but I know when the hip technology company makes an effort to present the same image on their automation. I also know when the luxury lifestyle retailer drops the ball by having what seems to be my grandmother on the IVR. Of course, everything fails if the VUI is poor or if the scripting is a failure. What I’m saying is that voice complements design. Branding is not a hindrance to containing calls or getting things done. These are not mutually exclusive goals. Persona development is an important part of the overall customer experience.

And if improving the customer experience and optimizing the Voice Brand is prententious, well, pass the stinky cheese and come over to my house to watch Inside the Actor’s Studio, because it’s about to get crazy up in here.

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