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Delivering a message by voice is more compelling than in writing
By our News Team | 2023
Fast-growing voice technology may be a more effective way to deliver call-to-action product messages than putting them in writing.
In this age of screens, smartphones, virtual assistants and voice-enabled speakers, we are constantly bombarded by visual and auditory suggestions of things to do, products to buy, and media to consume. Yet are all these messages created equal?
According to new research published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Science, the answer is ‘no’. Recommendations that are heard rather than read have a greater influence on our behaviour.
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay
In 2018, Shwetha Mariadassou and Chris Bechler, both graduate students at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in the US, were in a marketing seminar studying how different types of messages affect decision-making. They learned that people generally perceive someone as more intelligent and competent when they convey spoken information rather than delivering the same message in writing.
They wondered whether hearing a recommendation for a product or service would influence consumers’ decisions differently? Would a person be more likely to buy something based on the word of a smart speaker over a website?
“Voice technology is such a fast-growing technology segment right now,” Mariadassou says. “We wanted to see what would happen when we present recommendations in both modalities.”
So they ran a series of studies where the same information was presented to participants in different forms, including computer-generated audio that sounded like a smart speaker. This was meant to mimic real-world situations – for instance, the Apple-based virtual assistant Siri can be programmed to ‘read’ a blurb aloud or display it in a text.
The researchers were surprised to find that, across the board, auditory recommendations for products ranging from cakes to food blenders and beer were more influential than textual ones.
“In theory, this shouldn’t yield any difference in behaviour,” Levav explains. “Hearing that you should drink the pale ale beer or reading that you should drink the pale ale beer is really one and the same. The fact that it leads to psychologically different experiences that are significant enough to lead to a change in behaviour is not something you would expect.”
The effect was small but strong enough to demonstrate a “consistent effect of auditory power”, Mariadassou says.
Audio’s temporary nature may be a deciding factor
It was difficult to pinpoint why it was happening, however. The researchers believe the power of auditory information has to do with its temporary nature.
“It seems like there’s this sort of fundamental need to act on information that’s going away,” she says. Bechler agrees: “When something disappears, it creates a kind of urgency to respond.”
These findings could have important implications for how companies try to reach customers. While many brands spend a lot of money to place their products at the top of visual Google search results, Mariadassou believes it might be worthwhile to focus on auditory search results, which can be transmitted via a Google Home (app) or an Alexa (virtual assistant) speaker.
Interestingly, the research team also discovered that, while consumers considered human voices more intelligent than digital voices, they still found messages delivered by artificial voices more compelling than messages put in writing.
There are limitations to these findings, of course. The messages used in the experiments were short and simple. A longer, more complex spoken message might not hold the same weight. Also, the form of the message is just one factor that drives decision-making.
“There are very few things in psychology that last beyond the immediate context in which a stimulus occurs,” Levav explains.
“[In the experiment] you hear something and are given a chance to act on it; the information is salient and is useful at that moment. Later on, the information is less salient, so therefore also less influential.”
Regardless, says Bechler, this research can help us better understand the connection between “consuming information – whether it’s listening to a podcast or reading the newspaper – and how that relates to evaluating choices when purchasing a product or service”.
You can find out more about the research here.
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