As robotics and automation become more advanced, we continue to see innovators creating technology with a more human, personalized touch. This trend has been on display in recent years at CES.
Robots have always been given human names – Robbie the Robot in the classic 1950's movie, “The Forbidden Planet” and even “Rosie,” the maid for “The Jetson's” (pictured) in that animated show from the 60's that was a pop culture and mass appeal hit.
Of course, the “technology runs amok” icon was a combination computer/robot named H.A.L., the non-human star of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
The concept of humanized robots hit that all-important next level in the 80's film directed by Ridley Scott, “Bladerunner,” where the evil Tyrell Corporations manufactured worker (and pleasure!) robots called “Replicants.” The screenplay was adapted by Philip K. Dick's novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
Tyrell's motto: Their creations were “more human than human,” (the line that was eventually transformed into a hit song by White Zombie). Only a sophisticated test could semi-accurately identify replicants from their human predecessors, but only some of the time.
Today, these sci-fi philosophies permeate business and industry. In automotive technology parlance, there's the HMI – or Human Machine Interface. The idea is removing the friction and clunkiness when us human drivers attempt to operate our vehicles, especially those way-too-complicated infotainment systems.
Technically, that's precisely what Siri, Alexa, and the myriad other “voices” attempt to do when they connect us with the information, entertainment, and experiences we seek. Over time, voice recognition technologies have improved, mimicking a conversation we have with our homes, our cars, and the many other machines learning to interact with us – as we interact with them.
For brands, a more human connection is a goal that is rising in importance. In a recent essay in Entrepreneur, Danish business author and start-up expert Jonathan Løw quotes a Harvard Business Review article . He makes the case that brands thought to be “more human” foster more consumer engagement, innovation, loyalty, and even revenue.
The 2019 study summarized by psychologist and university professor Adam Waytz is titled “When Customers Want to See the Human Behind the Product.” It suggests that has the Digital Age has permeated our culture, interest in handmade products is amplified, explaining the success of sites like Etsy that feature a cornucopia of crafty products and creations.
In some ways, this also explains the increasing popularity of turntables and vinyl records. As the production of music has become more digitized, reduced to interchangeable mp3 files, we crave the tactile experience of putting a tone arm on a revolving black disk, watching and listening to the magic happen.
The success of Jack White's Third Man Records operation – a pop culture Detroit-based haven that houses a hugely successful vinyl record plant (covered here in JacoBLOG when it opened during Thanksgiving weekend in 2017.) I was there that weekend, like a kid in a music candy store.
In a new story in The Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber traces the story behind White's venture, a true love affair with the very human process of creating, recording, and memorializing music onto vinyl – a format where “flubs, flaws, and interference” becoming selling points.”
The trend toward the authenticity of vinyl is also an outgrowth of the continued pushback over streaming that has gained steam over the past decade.
As Kornhaber points out “the devaluing of music as an art form, many artists worry, is hardwired into the streaming format.”
The breakdown of the relationship between artist and fan is attributed to streaming, which has all but eliminated the album, listening to songs and entire album sides in their entirety, the disappearance of album artwork, and liner notes – all conspiring to erode the bond between musicians, writers, and consumers. There was also something very communal in sitting around with friends, listening to albums, talking music, and other stuff.
There is a tendency called the “effort heuristic,” where we can experience something being created, that carries greater product value with consumers.
Whether we watch our deli sandwich being made right before our eyes or we observe a DJ doing her show, Harvard Business School professors Ryan Buell and Michael Norton say this brings a certain appreciation and authenticity to a world that has become increasingly automated.
And that brings us back to radio and the ways in which we “manage our brands” to be more human, real, and interactive. Brands that are “in the moment” – that is, live – have an advantage over those that are manufactured.
If you apply that to media in general, and audio specifically, you can envision a competitive landscape where it's ADVANTAGE: radio – a circumstance that's been a rarity these past couple of decades.
Jonathan Løw describes what he calls “a human brand,” and provides real life examples. He notes that when Lyft entered a vertical already dominated by first mover Uber, they encouraged riders to sit in the front seat with their driver.
Or the way in which Southwest Airlines encouraged singalongs between customers and crew members. (Imagine that happening today in our not-so-friendly skies.)
He suggests that brands evaluate their customer relationships, followed by this key question:
“Can you imagine the relationship in a more human way?”
And the answer forces us to think about how radio's programmers can translate the on-air experience so a listener gets the same benefits they receive now, but with humanity and authenticity.
Yes, radio is simple, free, and always “on.” But what can we do to humanize the experience – to make it more real?
It might mean more opportunities for listeners to interact with fans – on the air and in social media (where there's already a demonstrated value), the opportunity to do a “Hey mom, I'm on KLOS” feature where a listener plays DJ for an hour on Sunday night, or even reminders the morning show and other announcer are, in fact, LIVE.
Assuming, of course, they are.
If there was ever a time to reconsider how much we voicetrack and the ways in which we execute it, it's now.
In a world where radio competes against the algorithmic artificial intelligence of Spotify, Pandora, and prerecorded podcasts, there is an edge to being live and in the moment – especially if we point it out.
It is notable that companies like Veritone are now marketing the use of synthesizing radio voices to provide the presence of popular personalities in more promos, ads, and other moments.
Earlier this year, Inside Radio covered how Bert Weiss, mastermind behind “The Bert Show” is using the technology to provide more of himself to this growing list of affiliates. Honored by the NAB last year, Veritone's VaaS (Voice as a Service) product is designed to bridge the gap.
As much as broadcast radio adopts digital technology to its repertoire – a practice I have long supported – it should not lose sight of the “old school” experience it brings to listening, whether it's music or spoken word radio.
To make great, live, in the moment radio is exponentially more difficult than throwing together yet another playlist on Spotify or listen to seemingly endless party songs on YouTube.
Like vinyl is to music, radio is a paradox in the audio entertainment arena. It may lack the on-demand, constructed sound of podcasts. But it makes up for that with a live, anything-can-happen environment – the same vibe that punctuated FM radio when it first emerged as an antidote to the tightly wrapped, safe, hit-driven Top 40 stations of the era.
When radio “breathes,” mistakes can happen. But so can those moments of raw spontaneity and utter brilliance. When there are humans behind the mic and behind the scenes, radio can be the most authentic of all media.
How to regain that spirit of unpredictability, whimsy, and not knowing exactly what's coming next?
It's a much heavier lift than establishing your power current rotation or making out the weekend voicetracking schedule.
What would Jack White say?
There's no formula, of course. If there were, anyone could record a hit record or own the ratings.
But when there's the human touch added to media and art, White summarizes it best:
“There's magic dust in there.”
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