A Wake Word Resurgence Is Upon Us

While voice seems to power the user experience of nearly every technology product we own today, 10 years ago the concept of using keywords (now known as wake words) to wake up devices mostly pertained to science fiction. Fast forward to today. Wake words are everywhere, from low-power devices like our smart watches, smartphones hearables, and portable devices, to more powerful gadgets like our PCs automobiles, smart speakers and even home appliances. Now backed by more than 10 years of technology breakthroughs, one might think that wake word technology is as good as it may ever get…but they’d be wrong.

Sensory is one of the earliest pioneers of wake word technology. Having had our solution ship integrated into nearly 2 billion products, we’ve noticed a few interesting developments take shape in the world of wake words and voice control over the last year. We predict that wake word technology will see a resurgence, driven in part by the fact that wake words have gone mainstream and that brands are realizing there is value to controlling their own voice experiences.

Voice control initiated by wake words is not a short-lived trend. People have become so accustomed to saying the wake words from industry giants like Amazon, Apple and Google that they’ve become woven into pop culture. Quite simply, everyone has used wake words in some aspect of their daily routines. Phrases like, “OK Google, what’s the weather” or “Hey Siri, set a timer” have become a normal part of our lives. While the term “wake word” may not be universally understood or known, all you need say is, “you know, like Alexa,” and people get it. This growing mainstream acceptance of wake words has created a new generation of voice-first users. Adults, children and even the elderly are now comfortable conversing with technology. In fact, many even prefer voice interactions for convenience, and every one of those AI-infused conversations today starts with a wake word.

Which brings us to a dilemma faced by brands that want to get on board with the trend but aren’t interested in diluting their brand equity. One unintended consequence of mainstream acceptance is that these wake words have become the gatekeeper to high-tech experiences, and by doing this, they also hijack brand equity along the way.

Consider this recent Buick commercial where the driver and the passenger argue over whether the car is a Buick or an Alexa. Although there is lighthearted banter about the included Alexa integration, the ramifications of brand dilution are more than apparent. In this example, Buick is clearly taking a backseat to Alexa. It is now common for wake words like Alexa, Siri and Google to become associated with the highly valued, high tech product experience. On the other end of the automotive spectrum, a company like Tesla is inclined to protect its brand and refuses to offer Siri, Google or Alexa integrations. This is strategic.

Companies with strong brand presence are beginning to understand the importance of taking control of their brands. They need to own the voice experience, and that starts with branded wake words. Some early examples of branded wake words include “Hi LG” or “OK Honda.” In these examples, the brand name is the doorway to the voice experience, and every incantation reinforces the consumer’s bond to the brand.

Sensory has an insider view to the world of custom branded wake words. We see that there will be numerous name brands that make the shift. Sensory is not the only company that sees the resurgence of wake words on the horizon—Amazon recently announced the Amazon Voice Interoperability Initiative (of which Sensory and many other leading brands are members). The program was established with the mission of brands working collaboratively to bring multi-assistant products to market capable of supporting multiple voice services, each with its own ‘wake word’ or invocation name.

At Sensory, we believe the future of custom branded wake words is very bright, but it won’t be without challenges along the way. Not all wake words are created equal, and product developers will need to be extra critical of the promises offered by wake word technology providers to ensure their products perform as desired. Wake word accuracy and performance can make or break a voice-enabled product, as can be seen in this sample report on wake word accuracy.

The ways people interact with brands are already changing, and whether you’re in the car, on a mobile phone, in the home, at work and everywhere in between, the Siri, Alexa and Google gatekeepers will no longer act as the middlemen in every conversation. End users will soon be in complete control of the services and businesses they speak to, and every one of those exchanges will start with a branded wake word.

If your company is considering a custom branded wake word, or if you would just like more information on wake word technology, please visit contact us here.


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