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Wake Words Will Soon See a Resurgence

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More than 10 years ago, Sensory was actively developing and promoting keywords to wake up devices, now more commonly known as wake words.

Sensory has noticed a few interesting developments within the world of wake words and voice control. Based on what we're seeing, we predict a new wave of branded custom wake words fast approaching. This resurgence for wake words is being driven by two major factors: Wake words have gone mainstream, and companies want to take ownership of their voice user interfaces.

Wake words have gone mainstream. It's true. Quite simply, it seems like everyone uses wake words in some aspect of their daily lives. Phrases like, "OK Google, what's the weather?" or "Hey Siri, set a timer" have become a normal part of our lives. Look around your home, and it is very likely you can talk to your smart speaker, your TV remote, your laptop, your mobile phone, and maybe even your refrigerator. The growing mainstream acceptance of wake words has created a new generation of voice-first users. Adults, children, and even the elderly have all grown more comfortable speaking to and conversing with technology.

One unintended consequence of mainstream acceptance is that wake words have become the gatekeepers to high-tech experiences, and by doing this, they also hijack brand equity along the way. Consider this recent Buick commercial. The driver and the passenger argue about whether the car is a Buick or an Alexa. It is a light-hearted banter about the included Alexa integration, but the ramifications of brand dilution are real. In this example, Buick is clearly taking a backseat to Alexa.

It is now common for wake words to become associated with the highly valued, high-tech product experience. On the other end of the automotive spectrum, a company like Tesla is sure to protect its brand and refuses to offer Siri, Google, or Alexa integrations. This isn't by accident.

Companies with strong brand presence are beginning to figure it out. They need to own the voice experience, and that starts with a branded custom wake word. Some early examples include branded wake words like, "Hi LG" or "OK Honda." In these examples, the brand name is the doorway to the voice user interface, and every incantation reinforces the consumer bond to the brand.

At Sensory we have an insider's view to the world of branded custom wake words, and while we can't share the details of some of the applications we're working on, we can share that there will be many, many high-power companies that make the shift to branded wake words. Sensory is not the only company that sees this resurgence on the horizon. Amazon announced an initiative to support multiple wake words and multiple voice assistants on the same platform. The Amazon Voice Interoperability Initiative (of which Sensory and many other leading brands are members) was established for companies working collaboratively to bring to market products capable of supporting multiple simultaneous voice services, each with its own wake word.

Sensory sees a bright future for branded custom wake words, but, of course, there will be some challenges along the way. When it comes to performance and accuracy, wake word algorithms are not created equal. The differences in performance can lead to a poor user experience, which, in turn, reflects poorly on the brand.

To sum it up, get ready for a future where consumers speak directly to the company of their choice. In the car, on the mobile phone, in the home, at work, and everywhere in between. The Alexa, Google, and Siri gatekeepers will no longer act as the middlemen in every conversation.


Todd Mozer is CEO of Sensory.

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