Every time people think about design, their minds immediately wander to beautiful objects, lots of color, great uses of typography and amazing photography. But there’s one unsung hero in design and branding who plays a great role in how we live and interact with brands today – verbal branding.

What is Verbal Branding?

Verbal branding is when brands use language to communicate their strategy and demonstrate how they are relevant and differentiated from competitors. It is used to express the brand’s personality, which will become even more critical as customer interactions fueled by artificial intelligence become more common.

Our Interactions with Artificial Intelligence

Alexa is a name that I hear in almost every meeting I attend. Not because she is an Instagram influencer (or at least, not yet) or it is just a popular name. It’s because Alexa has become closely associated with a new form of interaction with machines, an interaction though language. An interaction through our voice.

I happen to be one of those that’s fascinated by Alexa’s capabilities, and I have two Echos in my own home. A couple weeks ago, I said “Alexa, turn on the lights.” My son looked at me bewildered and said, “Dad, why didn’t you say please?”

His question shocked me a bit and got me thinking about AI’s role in consumers’ lives today and where it could be headed in the future. Specifically, it got me thinking about how we communicate with these “assistants.”

How we can Transform AI Interactions

The fundamental way we, as consumers, interact with these devices is very cold and transactional. We very much treat them like machines (yes, I know, they are machines) whose sole purpose is to complete a task. The vocabulary and tone of voice we use is very different from the vocabulary we use when communicating with other people. And this is where it hit me: Until this very fundamental roadblock is removed from the equation, our interaction with AI will only be able to progress so far.

As Richard Farson once said: “The most important discoveries, the greatest art, and the best management decisions come from taking a fresh look at what people take for granted or cannot see precisely because it is too obvious”.

This is what became interesting to me, as I believe a few key words and phrases could revolutionize the way humans and machines interact. The specific words I have in mind are “Please,” Thank you,” and “Could you.” Yes, it really might be that simple.

For example, instead of saying “Alexa, turn on the lights,” why don’t we say “Alexa, could you please turn on the lights?” This simple tweaking and addition of words shifts the mindset from interacting with a machine to interacting with another being, thus erasing the boundaries between data, machine and interaction.

The Changing Role of AI

These technologies are becoming so smart that they are already going beyond just taking orders – and the moment we cross that line in our minds is the moment, I believe, the landscape and interaction with AI will fundamentally change.

Even with all the fear and uncertainty surrounding this expanding technology, it is clear that AI is going to play a direct role in our lives in the future. How big of a role will be dependent upon the evolution of speech, voice design and its interaction with humans. For brands to break through with artificial intelligence, they will have to sound and talk like a human being, and build more trusted relationships with their audience.

What I like to call voice branding could open the doors to endless possibilities for branded technologies and full integration of artificial intelligence into our lives. Until then, consumers will continue to treat their AI devices like task-doers, rather than helpful companions.

So Alexa, please remember when you take over the world, I tried to convince people to be more polite to you, so please be nice to us. Thank you.