The decision whether to cast a man or woman in an ad is typically guided by the audience a brand hopes to entice. These days, that thinking also applies to emerging technologies—particularly, autonomous robots, AI personal assistants, and voice-enabled devices—and its impact on the brand experience.
The ultimate prize is a customer journey that’s richer than ever. But meeting this goal is no easy task. It takes an articulate and thoughtful approach that factors in the following points.
Make Conscious Decisions
Most of the new emerging AI assistants have gone the clear male or female route. The vast majority has gone with the latter—Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are probably the most recognised examples. While clearly not intentional, their femininity, combined with their roles as housebound helpers, has been interpreted by some as regressive stereotyping built into their design, helping to kick off the current debate on sexism in technology.
You can still go the traditional route and make it work for you brand—providing you’re intelligent and thoughtful in how you do it. Consider smoke alarm bot Nest Protect, which uses a female voice that actually plays an important role in its function. Research from the University of Dundee found that children respond best to human voices when warned of danger, such as their mother’s voice. As such, a conscious and articulate gender decision from Nest increased its AI’s effectiveness in warning a family of fire.
Before diving in, brands must stop to make a conscious choice about their selection of gender and carefully consider the full ramifications of each feature of their designs, as well as why and how it fits into the customer journey.
Understand Your Modern Audience
We’re finding ourselves in increasingly fluid times, so why shouldn’t brands embrace this development and find unique ways to integrate it into the customer journey for the community it serves.
Bank holding company Capital One, for example, has developed the voiceless and gender-neutral interface named Eno (which spells “one” backward). Similarly, computer game “The Sims” last year removed gender-specific character restrictions. These options could be creating far more positive experiences, satisfying the diverse needs of customers.
Similarly, Adobe Sensei’s AI and machine-learning technology, which helps businesses work smarter and faster so they can tackle today’s digital experience challenges, was assigned the Japanese name for “master or “teacher” without further personification.
So consider the possibility that this direction could be best for your brand, as well. Where might it be most appropriate in the brand experience, and what opportunities might it create?
Does Everything Need To Be Human?
Brands should also consider why interfaces need to have human attributes at all. There’s growing evidence that we can bond, accept, and connect with non-human technology as strongly as with that with human characteristics.
In Japan, Sony Aibo robot dogs were so popular that, after their production was discontinued, funerals were held by some of their owners. Research has shown animals can have strong therapeutic benefits for people, particularly around social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. Paro, the seal, for example, is a therapeutic robot designed for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
And, as we’ve seen with Siri and Alexa, the more binary approach to gender can run the risk of inviting criticism over unintended social associations. Could an animal identity attract as much brand loyalty as a human AI—but with fewer reputational dangers?
Your Brand, Your Values, Your Choice
If brands fail to make a clear choice around gender, they run the risk of allowing the marketplace to assign an attribution to the interface that doesn’t suit their essence. For example, NASA’s robot Valkyrie was assumed to be male, given the tasks it performed, but its developer originally had visions of it being female. NASA decided to take the stance that the robot had no gender. Perhaps this was a missed opportunity for the organisation to break down regressive social stereotypes and further enhance its perception as a brand.
The new digital brand interfaces needn’t be one gender or “species” across the entire journey. A more agile and articulate approach can ensure the increasingly complex needs of today’s consumer are met and will deliver an irrefutably richer brand experience.