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It was around this time last year that I took my final descent into Dublin after a year in China. It wasn’t until I started working here in Return2Sender that I realised the pivotal role WeChat plays in my everyday life. I remember my first few weeks settling back into Irish life, I was walking down Grafton Street and couldn’t help but notice the strange looks I was receiving. It took me 2 weeks and 22 glances in the mirror to realise it wasn’t a make-up error or food on my face, it was the positioning of my phone. Then it dawned on me, audio messaging is an alien concept in the West. How is an action that is so natural to one set of users, so foreign to another?

When I first arrived in Beijing, the first thing I was told to do was download Wechat. WeChat provided me with grounding in the Chinese way of communication both on a personal level and a business level and a social toolkit that made my life as an expat a lot easier.

Wechat is a text and voice messaging app that is embedded in the Chinese culture with features such as messaging, moments (newsfeed), mobile payments, voice, video ‘sight’, book a taxi, browse commerce stores options and games. It provides brands a platform for a more targeted reach and one-to-one marketing as well as opening up possibilities for user-generated content. This means that brands have the opportunity to build brand loyalty with that personalisation factor. Multiple brands have taken advantage of this opportunity.

Pepsi for example ran ‘Bring Happiness Home’ campaign in China that allowed WeChat users to customise a Pepsi theme song called ‘Bring Happiness Home’ with a personal memo with the addition of sound effects such as a train or a galloping horse (as it was the Chinese year of the horse).
McDonalds have also exploited WeChat’s voice capabilities with their ‘Big Mac Rap’ contest. This consisted of users recording and sending a rap in the style of Hua Shao, the MC of the popular show ‘Voice of China’- who popularised a style of staccato syllabic speech.

Voice and audio messaging opportunities are not limited to the WeChat app however. Many software companies are taking advantage of the increase in mobile usage. Apple’s AI knowledge as a result of its acquisition of VocalIQ and iOS 10 will allow Siri to understand more with faster replies and more content use. The SiriKit response APIs are now advanced enough to allow these apps to reply with their custom UI.  Although it is currently limited to 6 categories of apps – Ride-sharing, VoIP, messaging, payments and workout/fitness apps, the announcement highlights the importance of in-app voice capabilities.

Nuance Communications, an American multinational computer software technology corporation, provides speech and imaging applications mainly for the health care sector. Nuance’s Voice Ads creates an interactive customer experience as customers can have a one-to-one conversation with brands they love. When an ad appears it prompts the customer to participate in a conversation. These software innovations and updates, Nuance in particular, mirror the capabilities of WeChat and highlight the slow yet positive adoption of voice and audio-centred applications.


So what does this mean for brands?

Voice messaging provides the perfect solution for Millennials that would usually choose a screen over personal contact (Well I know I would!) as well as satisfying the convenience urge. It is the feature of the future. Imagine waking around a supermarket with an app that provides the total cost of the contents in your basket with a simple “Uncle Ben’s Rice 250g”. Or instant voice messaging replies from your favourite designer suggesting what accessories to wear with your current outfit.

Apple has taken the first step, Siri’s third party integration gives brands the opportunity to create interactive applications or update their current apps whereby Siri voice assistant can enable brands’ engagement with users on a one-to-one level creating seamless customer experiences. If mobile users in the East have utilised voice messaging so greatly, why hasn’t the West? Opportunities for Western adoption of voice messaging exists, the question is – how will brands exploit voice capabilities and the existing software available to reach their customers on a one-to-one level and ultimately become leaders in mobile marketing?


Katie McCullagh – Return2Sender


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