He is the founder of Voice Express Corporation, with multiple patents covering the personalization of voice-enabled print media, and VOT (the voice of things), Stern has been at the forefront of using voice to drive commerce and customer engagement. Stern's products have been used in over 60 million Build-a-Bears in sentiment expression, photo imaging, direct mail, packaging, and point of sale signage to name a few.
Does every product, service, and brand need a voice, and how do you discover that voice?
I think when we're in school, we're always asked to find our own voice, whether we're writing or whether we're an artist. Think of a child where the first thing that they do, the first interaction that they have is to hear their loved one mother's or father's voice and to start to gurgle and interact with the world through voice. So voice is very primal and it's also a primal trigger. There were some brands that really kind of feature themselves and define themselves through audio. There were others, especially business to business type brands that might not realize that they have a voice too and they have a voice in the larger sense of the world in the sense that whether you sell a spring or a widget or personal care products when the customer uses it, your brand should be delivering a message that is more than just the physical product or service. So our company, as you said, is involved with linking products that can speak, can engage, can interact with the consumer. But I would suggest that anyone listening who is involved with any sort of branding, whether it be a product, a service, or just their own personal capital, needs to have a voice and needs to explore ways to engage with that voice and to flesh out all of the different personalities, characteristics, and aspects of that voice.
How does a brand innovate and keep fresh?
It's part of the sense of a voice and there is kind of a new tagline out there. It's called conversational commerce and it doesn't necessarily relate to products like mine that literally talk. But ultimately, whenever you have a customer who's interacting with a product, there's a conversation, and it's a two-way conversation. So brands that are growing, are constantly listening to their customers and hoping that their customers are also listening to them. One of the things that we did during the past year and so many brands have pivoted is we started offering our products on Amazon. We did it for the obvious reasons of having another channel of revenue, but more to the point because we are a technology enabler and many times stand quietly, silently behind the brand, when you offer something direct to consumer through Amazon so that we don't have to get involved with customer service, shipping, and delivery, it enables us to everyday look at the comments and look at the way that our customers are using our products. Frankly, most of our best ideas literally come from our customers. So I think the secret to growth is really listening to the users of your products, watching how they engage with your products or services and that's the best source of innovation.
What is the future of voice and what do you see happening with the voice of things?
Well, I think the biggest misconception about voice in terms of the recent introduction of smart speakers like Alexa or Google Home, or even Siri is that these are voice assistants, they're smart, they're artificial intelligence-driven. It's all true, but at a much lower level their interfaces are more in line with a mouse or a touchscreen, they're simply a way of interacting with other devices that maybe don't need touch and maybe have a higher level of privacy because every voice has its own coding. But I think that a voice, on the one hand, has to be put up on a pedestal in terms of, "Wow, this is amazing what you can do with it!" But on the other hand, it has to be integrated into all of the simple, trivial, habitual things that we do, and again, it's not the end-all of everything. When it's appropriate, when you need a hands-free environment, voice is great. Sometimes you need to move from voice, to screen, to mouse, to a touchpad. So it's just another tool in the arsenal, but it's a very powerful tool and the beautiful thing about it is the more it gets us the better it gets. So I think that we are going to find voice integration and voice interaction in more and more products, and it's going to impact how we humanoids converse because we're going to learn to appreciate that voice is something that needs to be used just to establish a conversation and an interaction.
Can you share with our listeners one of your most successful or favorite networking experiences that you've had?
Well, I've started my company from the beginning, and we're 20 plus years old as a virtual company, pretty much. We manufacture a lot of stuff in the Far East. I have software programmers and hardware engineers that I've worked with for over 20 years, but it's based on a network. It's a kind of a precursor of the gig economy and I just love waking up in the morning and not knowing who I'm going to be talking to, where they're located, what timezone they're on. But I think what you need to do in terms of networking, is to be open to the serendipity of finding relationships, finding things in common and I think people are very open to that. So networking is something that one should look at as something that is actually enjoyable and opens up your little world to the global economy in ways that never could happen before. We can network today as we've never networked before.
How do you stay in front of them best nurture these relationships, especially on a global level?
Well, I think the most important thing, and this is a trite answer, but character. You need to know and your network of friends and associates need to know that your word is your word, that if you say you're going to help, if you say you're going to look into something you will. That is this cement of any network that people have confidence in you. We talked today about influences, and we are all micro-influencers, and we're all brand ambassadors, and all of that is based on trust in someone else expanding your reach which ultimately, is what networking is about.
What advice would you offer to those business professionals really looking to grow their network?
You have to be seen and heard, you can't grow a network by living in a cave. So it's not giving up everything that you've done and dedicating an hour a day to troll, whether it's LinkedIn or other social networking platforms. I just think it means that doing what you do integrate into your life, the ability when you get a good idea, to share it, or when you embark on a project to share that journey. You have to integrate it into your life, as opposed to segregating it out of your life. If you do that, then it becomes something very natural and I think that is probably not only the best way to do it, but if you if you're talking to somebody and they want to network, more than likely if you ask them to change the way they do business or work, it's a tough lift. But if you ask them to enhance the way they do what they're doing already or to share it more, or to be open to learning from others, then networking can become much more natural.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
I think delegating is my biggest challenge. I'm an entrepreneur and it's wonderful to sing the praises of being a virtual company, and having all of these networks, but in my particular regard, the challenge is on the other side to be able to let go and to launch an idea and let other people take it from there. Ultimately, that is the most profound way we can network. It comes to when we raise children and all of a sudden they say something that we didn't teach them but they extrapolated from something that we said so you kind of see your ideas take on a new life. It's the same in business and I just have to learn and I'm constantly striving to throw out an idea or throw out a project, and then see where it goes using its own inertia.
We've all heard of the six degrees of separation. Who would be the one person that you'd love to connect with and do you think you can do it within the sixth degree?
There are so many people that I admire in the tech world. I think that I have some people that I've looked at forever, some of them are no longer with us, whether it's a Steve Jobs or others. But I think that actually, to focus on just one person is probably selling oneself short. I think that one has to find the Steve Jobs or the iconic person inside of pretty much everyone. If we drill down, I think we'll rather than trying to extend our six degrees, I think within six degrees, we can find all of the role models and mentors that we probably need.
Do you have any final word or advice for our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
Always experiment or try something new. The worst that can happen is you fail, but no one has succeeded without failing and keep trying, and ultimately, something is going to work out. Sometimes you send out 100 messages, 100 emails, you post X amount of times, and it's that one lead that can change everything. So keep at it, keep trying, always experiment and try something new.
Connect with Geoffrey
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