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How Voice will make traditional digital copy redundant

by Sophie Laverick

Here’s a list of the current banes of my professional life:

1. Finding an outfit conducive to both my sweltering, Survivor-esque commute to work and the frankly arctic conditions of the office
2. Attending meetings that involving climbing two flights of stairs (multiple times a day)
3. The ‘Click here’ button

It should have died alongside the rise of touchscreen, but ‘Click here’ still soldiers on relentlessly. In eDMs. Across entire websites. On digital banners that stalk us into buying things we looked at for a nanosecond a month ago.

And this is why I hate it

1. It’s infuriatingly vague

While the likes of ‘Read article’ and ‘Request quote’ give you a pretty clear idea of what’s going to happen next, ‘Click here’ is decidedly ambiguous. It might take you to a valuable source of information, it might erase your entire hard drive. Who knows?

2. It hinders accessibility

Because it carries no context, ‘Click here’ instantly makes the user experience a frustrating one. If you’re skim reading, what should act as a shortcut actually has you re-reading things to understand exactly what you’re clicking for. But if, say you’re using a screen reader, the frustration is amplified ten-fold. These devices rely on clear, descriptive, purposeful links to help you navigate the page without visual cues, and repeated ‘Click here’s get you nowhere fast.

3. We tap, swipe, pinch – pretty much anything but click

50% of eDMs are now opened on mobile devices. Globally, mobile browsing overtook desktop browsing more than two years ago. Even laptop trackpads have tap functions. And so, the likelihood of anyone actually ‘clicking’ anything is slim. But that kind of comes second to the fact that using ‘click’ immediately insinuates your interface isn’t built for mobile-first interactions. Or Voice-based ones for that matter.

Hello, computer

Technology is actually advancing in the complete opposite direction to how we originally learned to communicate. Speech (for a vast proportion of the population) is the most natural and friction-less form of communication, yet until recently our devices have relied on text-based interfaces.

But that’s changing. Fast.

The consumer adoption rate of smart speakers has been faster than AR, VR, wearablesTV, Facebook and even the internet. In Australia, growth hit 200% in the last year alone, with almost half of smart speaker-owners now using their devices daily. It means there’s an impending overhaul of the way we approach digital copywriting and that the ‘best practice’ we’ve become accustomed to is well and truly on its way out.

RIP CTA

‘Click here, ‘Log in’, ‘Call now’ – they’re all redundant with Voice; persuasion trumps instruction and voice recognition beats any sign in system. Channel your inner salesperson when writing your CTAs. Positioning them as natural, follow-up questions (‘Would you like to complete the application now?’) and offering up a choice (‘Or shall I set a reminder for later?’) makes them feel more like a service than an obligation.

See ya, <first name>

We’ve spent years cultivating CX journeys and comms with a multitude of dynamic fields, so we can create a perfectly personalised eDM that says ‘god consumer, do we get you’. But fail to nail personalisation for Voice and you might find yourself in Uncanny Valley – the point at which AI’s human likeness goes from charming to just plain creepy. Because a polite reminder you need to stock up on milk is one thing, Alexa knowing you’re pregnant before you do is another…

Say it like you mean it

If Google’s Duplex demonstration has taught us anything, it’s that crafting natural responses depends on how accurately writers replicate vocal quirks. (And that people thought doing so without letting someone know they were talking to a bot was ‘deceitful’, ‘unethical’ and ‘horrifying’. But, hey, this is advertising after all.)

Purposefully including inflections like ‘ummm’ and ‘errr’ creates a sense of deliberation reflective of everyday dialogue. And while Amazon’s Alexa handles things like punctuation automatically, for more control over how the speech is generated, adding SSML tags to your copy can simulate more expressive content. Use ones like ‘emphasis’ to dictate the rate and volume of speech, and ‘lang’ for words that need to be pronounced in a foreign language. The odd Speechcon (special words and phrases that Alexa pronounces more expressively) and use of voice actors can also bring more personality to AI-generated speech.

Write for the ear, not the eye

Follow the rule that if you wouldn’t say it out loud, you shouldn’t use it when writing for Voice. Words like ‘whilst’, ‘amongst’ and ‘utilised’ might seem articulate on paper, but they’re archaic, unnecessarily long, and won’t fly with Alexa (or with your editorial team for that matter). Strip them from your dictionary stat and replace them with their simpler Voice assistant-friendly counterparts, like ‘while’, ‘among’ and ‘use’.

Choose conversation over consistency

Best practice is to keep CTAs the same across digital mediums for consistency: if it’s ‘Sign up’ at the top of the web page, don’t switch it to ‘Register now’ part way down. But it’s the opposite for Voice prompts, which need to be varied if they’re going to be repeated frequently. Aim to create a sense of progression, like ‘Song queued’ to ‘I’ve added it’ through to ‘Kylie Minogue, coming right up’, so users don’t feel like they’re trapped in an endless telebanking-style cycle of frustration.

So there you have it. A quick guide to writing for your DJ-weather reporter-personal shopper-news reader-agony aunt-wellness coach-financial adviser-history buff-boardgame champ-brain trainer-Friday night Domino’s enabler smart speaker.

At least, until they become so smart they can write their own scripts and we’re all out of a job.

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