“Voice interfaces: distributors will become brand communicators”

Laurent Habib Brands Voice Interfaces

Charismatic and passionate. Laurent Habib shared with the We Are COM team his outlook, his convictions and his constraints on our business and on brands: the communication of today and that of tomorrow with voice interfaces. Former President ofAssociation of Communication Consulting Agencies (AACC) and still President of the agency Babel, he is undoubtedly one of the (rare) great (independent) figures of communication in France. Prepare yourself ... things are shaking up!

Communication, is it really useful Laurent?

Yes ! The role of communication is to support “doing”, the transforming action of a “will”. Communication is not there to make up, nor to justify the lack of added value in a product. When a product is all about communication and brings nothing to consumers, it dies: it will not experience a second purchase.

Communication is useful and important in a society where everything is constantly changing. It is used to build strategies, to create new identities, to bring about transformations. But I must admit that it also worries me when it is only a word associated with inaction on reality. This seems to me to be a deviance from our society.

For you, what is corporate communication?

It is a system of meaning that is built around a legal entity that is the company. It extends into its multiple relationships with its audiences, including commercial relations. For me, dissociating the company and the relationship with its customers is nonsense.

In the 70s and 80s, the appearance of " company brand »Highlighted a new facet of brands, relating to the company itself and its global system of relations with its stakeholders. Thus, to the communication presenting what the company sells (commercial communication) has been added the communication on how the company produces its goods and services.

I have been fighting for a long time against the term “corporate communication” for a very simple reason: staying in the field of corporate communication means giving up what is relevant for an advertiser in his communication. In reality, between commercial communication and corporate communication, there is a continuum. Hail this continuum by saying " ah no, that is no longer my expertise Has no meaning in reality.

So what would be the field of expression of the " company brand "?

The employer brand, internal communication, CSR, investor relations… All these fields of expression contribute to the construction of a global image of the company and its attractiveness. These are elements of differentiation for the consumer, and therefore preferably in the customer relationship.

The perfect illustration of the interfaces that exist between product communication and the corporate brand is McDonald's. The CSR dimension - from supporting the French farmer through the diversification of the offer (salads, fruits, etc.) - takes a very important place in communication at the point of sale. This speech responds to an image AND income issue. It's real global marketing.

There is always a connection between the company - its history, its know-how, its women and men - and its products. This balance is changing because gradually the production of goods and services is becoming more and more homogeneous - even with low added value. Everyone is capable of producing the same thing! It is in fact the way in which the company produces its goods and services that becomes the element of choice for the consumer.

The material object is no longer the heart of value in our economy, while conversely the brand represents an increasing share. Globally, the intangible is more and more determining: aspects linked to the “soul of the company” are key in the construction of the consumer's choice.. The " company's brand Is now at the heart of communication issues.

Are we at the peak of the brand or at the beginning of its decline?

I think that brands experienced their peak with the internationalization of major exchanges: containers around the world, Hollywood cinema, the Olympic Games, etc. From the 1960s, brands established themselves as transnational cultural references: Coca-Cola, Toyota, Intel, Disney, Colgate, etc.

And since the 2010s, brands have - with the power of digital - entered people's lives, become everyday interlocutors, producers of content. Look at Red Bull: is it just a drink? No, the brand is available in events, in a magazine, etc. The brand is now media and has real mobilization capacities. While at the same time, the world of institutions and politics no longer mobilizes.

But despite this beautiful picture, I fear a decline of the brand because of GAFA. A new relationship to the world, to people and to objects, emerges. It will transform the relationship between brands and their audiences. The brand will no longer be a prerequisite for the act of purchase in fields that will be identified by the consumer himself. Each individual determines a proportion of his consumption which may or may not be allocated to brands. Do you know the brand of your kitchen roll? No. That of your toilet paper? Yes (the answer is statistical!). However, these are two relatively similar consumer objects.

We are in the process of “dualizing” our consumption, with on one side a world without brand (or private labels) and on the other side a world with brands and big brands.. The distinction is made according to the level of consumer involvement and the experience that the brand provides.

For a DVD player, the level is low because it only embeds use. For a speaker system, the level is high because it carries experience. When I have to change the batteries in my remote, I don't care about the brand: I want batteries to make my TV work. By listing its own batteries in its catalog, Amazon has taken 30% of the global battery market and brands like Duracell and Energizer risk disappearing.

The strategy of distributors is to be a crossroads of audiences between consumers and major brands, and to compete with the latter with their own private label products, which generate more income.

Today, the proportion in consumption is 70% for major brands and 30% for private brands. But it's not going to last!

Could this balance change with the new voice interfaces, a subject that is dear to you?

Yes, because tomorrow the voice interface will dominate our relationship with the world: they will be the intermediaries for 50% of interactions in 2020. Now let us think about the way in which the consumer will express his request to a voice interface. If you have to go to Lyon, you will say " I want a train ticket for Lyon » without specifying SNCF or Yes. You will naturally be in the functionality.

I therefore fear that voice interfaces accentuate the duality between the unbranded world and the world of brands, and that ultimately consumption will be dominated by functionality and no longer by experience.. Thus a new relationship of value will be established between the various players in the economy, between producers and distributors.

Facebook and Google have taken a major share of the digital advertising market and tomorrow they will absorb - via their voice interfaces - more and more advertising investments. This new era of SEO will bring about a distribution of value that will shift from producers to intermediaries-distributors.. These situations of dependence already exist: mobile applications with stores, music with iTunes, online press with Google, series with Netflix, etc. Distributors will become brands' communicators.

So what should brands do to avoid this addiction?

Brands can no longer remain in a structural dependence on intermediaries who by nature have an interest of their own. You have to understand that the power of these actors is incredible. It is not about an acceleration or a change of scale, it is about a profound rupture in our society.. Brands must realize that the nature, density, intensity and periodicity of the relationship with their audiences is a matter of life and death.

We are no longer in the fight for preference, but in that of existence. If the brand does not build its uniqueness, it could be divested by its customers, ignored by its audiences and become a simple feature, then die, weakened by the growing cost of its dependence on new intermediaries-distributors.

And what advice would you give to communicators?

Communication is a formidable profession made up of daily struggles to better establish the link between tools and the brand, between the brand and the company's strategy. You have to exercise it with ambition for your job. And we must never give up this ambition. Do not become workers attached to a communication tool - the annual report, the customer newsletter, the internal magazine, etc. The danger of the communicator is to be quickly absorbed by the madness of the production then to lose the direction of his job. Go back to the basics: the brand. It is your only concern.

It must be able to fully play its role in and for the company, because it generates value. This concern is not only the business of Dircom. It is the mission of each communicator in his perimeter, which I invite to fight for the decompartmentalization of know-how: corporate communication must focus on the customer relationship. It's an exciting challenge!

In my opinion, this job is one of the most extraordinary in the company because it has real levers on reality.

3 things to know about Laurent Habib:

  • - Where is he from ? He was at Havas for 22 years, before creating Babel in 2012.
  • - Why "Babel"? According to the Bible, the men of Babylon began to build a tower to directly reach Heaven. But God takes a dim view of this project. To punish men, he gave them tongues. The men were no longer able to talk to each other, to understand each other and therefore to continue the project. Babel collapsed. The myth of Babel is therefore that of communication: if it is only chatter ("babble"), it leads nowhere; if it is a real language which allows exchange ("babel"), it leads to heaven. Just that !
  • - What did he write? Transformative Communicationand Strength of the intangibleare his two works at the Presses Universitaires de France. Remarkable convictions.
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