Every time we utter the words 'Hey Siri', 'Ok Google' or 'Alexa', you're greeted by a friendly voice providing the information you need. While this may seem effortless, it's actually the result of years of exploration, analysis and recording to ensure this voice perfectly represents the identity of the tech giants. Read on as we meet the woman who brought Siri to life – and explore the trends every business should consider when establishing their own brand voice.
Back in 2005, the idea of home digital assistants responding to a simple voice command was something confined to a sci-fi movie. Yet it was 13 years ago when Atlanta-based voice artist Susan Bennett stepped into the studio to begin recording what would eventually become Siri. This painstaking work involved her laying down thousands of often nonsensical phrases ("cow hoist in the tub today"), which Apple geniuses would manipulate to recreate every possible combination of words in the English language. At the time, she thought this was for "a sort of phone messaging system." Little did she know that six years later, she would become the first ever digital assistant and the personification of arguably the biggest brand in the world.
Bennett was chosen from a selection of voice artists who completed the recordings, because her tone carried the unique qualities Apple were looking for. Even after it was processed using AI manipulation, the confidence, edge and dry sense of humour in the voice was clear to hear. Siri is a woman who knows what she's talking about, who'll give you a reply with just a hint of sass – and this authority is present in its low pitch. And to counteract this, it also carries an otherworldly, phantasmal quality that illustrates her digital omnipresence.
While Siri effectively represents Apple, she also represents a wider trend in AI voicing – the clear proliferation for female voices. Each of the big players in digital assistance has opted for a female speaker, largely in reaction to audience research. A 2017 study from Indiana University showed that both men and women expressed an 'explicit preference' for female synthesized voices because they had a much warmer sound, while smart home company Nest states that their Protect smoke alarm product was voiced by a woman because research illustrated children were much more responsive to females through association with their mothers. Yet even though these companies have the research to back up their vocal decisions, the consistent use of female voices has attracted criticism. Many state that this trend panders to traditional gender stereotypes, and fuels the idea that women are subservient, or take on administrative or organisational roles.
Research and criticism aside, there's one key factor that should be considered above everything else when establishing the voice of your brand – whether it represents your company identity. Male or female… corporate or conversational… youthful or mature… when the qualities it carries perfectly match your brand personality, you'll have a voice that becomes the human embodiment of your brand.