Headphones and a Smartphone on a Table
The rise of podcasts and music services like Pandora and Spotify, has given new life to audio marketing PHOTO: Unsplash

Audio content strategies are nothing new. In fact, brands were vying for the ear of the people almost a century ago after WWJ, America’s first commercial radio station, started broadcasting in 1919. But somewhere between then and the turn of the millennium, audio content lost its way. Televisions began to occupy the same living room corners once reserved for the family radio, and once the internet went mainstream — well, you know the story.

And yet, annual worldwide audio ad expenditure is expected to hit 31.7 billion in 2020, and that rising figure has a lot to do with the resurgence of audio content in the digital era.

Audio Marketing: An Old Medium Rejuvenated

The terms audio marketing, voice marketing and audio experiences all refer to the practice of producing audio content, commonly in the form of radio shows, podcasts or smart home assistant skills. Larger brands like Apple and Microsoft go a step further by bringing voice-activated assistants into our lives à la Siri and Cortana.

CMSWire spoke to Scott Colenutt, Head of Digital at Brighton, UK-based digital agency SiteVisibility, to get some expanded insights into the growing role of audio marketing:

“Home devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home have provided us all a new medium through which to consume content and this technology has also started to make its way into cars and other public environments via IoT devices and wearable technology,” Colenutt began.

“This [trend] will continue to present new pockets of time in which we might choose to listen to content and where video isn’t easily available. Whether it’s to stay productive, or we’re simply paralyzed by the fear of missing out, we’ll be using new audio apps and technology to fill the time where there would have otherwise been silence. We live in a consumption generation and this is just another touchpoint,” explained Colenutt.

This heightened consumer desire for audio experiences — the same desire that convinced HubSpot to begin recording their Weird Work podcast and inspired the launch of GrubHub’s Alexa Skill — doesn’t just spring from audio being a familiar yet edgy way to consume content. Instead, it springs from something far more carnal; the human greed for convenience.

The Context and Convenience of Audio Experiences

“Audio helps us to perceive depth, it allows us to discern emotion,” Juliana Pereira told CMSWire.

Pereira, the Head of Marketing at NYC-based Smartling, a translation software vendor, continued by pointing out the heightened sense of context that an audio experience delivers:

“There are many intangible qualities to audio that heighten the experience of language and communication. So much can be expressed and understood through audio, from the personality of a vocal inflection to the unique timbre of an accent. As marketers seek to create even more personalized experiences for their customers and prospects, it's no surprise that audio is becoming a central component to a portfolio of creating special and unique brand moments,” Pereira explained to CMSWire.

Moreover, while most of us aren’t as productive as we would like to be, human beings seem to be infatuated with the concept of stretching and optimizing their time. Marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk said it best when he described Uber’s success, “[I realized Uber was going to be successful when I understood that] Uber doesn’t sell transportation, Uber sells time.”

Audio experiences allow us to buy back our time in a similar way by being consumable as we do other things. The rapid rise of voice search comes to mind. Thanks to voice-activated search functionality on Google, Amazon and Apple devices, you no longer need to turn down the stove, flip open your laptop and re-check a recipe, because you can just ask Alexa as you stir the pot. Now that’s convenience.

Audio Marketing Pros

Convenience: As mentioned, audio experiences can be enjoyed while the listener gets on with their day. The convenience is unparalleled.

Accessibility: Consumers only need a smartphone to listen to a podcast and smart home assistants are becoming increasingly popular.

Easy to Repurpose: Once you upload a YouTube video, you can extract the audio files to create a podcast episode or a string of audiograms with relative ease.

Listener Lock-in (The Bright Side): Listeners are typically busy with other tasks while enjoying their audio experiences, so they’re far less likely to bring the experience to a premature end.

Audio Marketing Cons

No Visual Cues: Listeners won’t be able to pick up on body language, facial expressions and other nonverbal gestures.

No Direct Calls To Action: Listeners are usually physically disengaged from their devices during audio experiences, so there are no buttons to click or forms to fill.

Listener Lock-In (The Dark Side): Because listeners are “locked in” to your audio show, if they do decide that you aren’t hitting the mark, the process of getting out of the experience is a frustrating one. Unlike on YouTube for example, where viewers can simply click away, a podcast listener has to pause their workout or park their car in order to make an exit.

3 Audio Marketing Strategies To Start With Today

If you want to boost your content strategy with some audio, there are currently three common ways to do so.

1. Podcasting

Originally known as ‘audioblogging’, podcasting is nothing new. However, it has grown in popularity over the years. According to a 2017 Edison Research study, 42 million Americans over the age of 12 listen to at least one podcast episode each week. Moreover, monthly podcast listening 67 million — that’s double the amount recorded in 2013.

Hubspot's podcast 'Weird Work' is a good example of a branded podcast. The marketing software vendor invited entrepreneurs onto the show to discuss their off-the-wall industries.

It should also be noted that a successful podcast doesn’t need to mimic a radio talk show. Some podcasters indulge in monologues, while others strip the audio from their vlogging adventures or public speeches to form podcast content. Alternative podcasting experiences can be delivered through Facebook Live Audio and Anchor, two channels that are trying to carve out their own spaces in the audio marketing space.

2. Smart Home Assistant Skills

Smart home assistants are bringing audio experiences and voice-activated search into our homes, and 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated device at least once per month, according to eMarketer – a 128.9 percent increase since 2016. Amazon, Google and Apple are the three companies making the most noise in the market, and with the Amazon Echo and Google Home already having multiple generations, the future looks bright.

A good example of a brand leveraging smart home assistants can be found in the NBA Alexa Skill. Their skill allows Basketball lovers to hear the latest scores, find out which fixtures are coming up and listen to live games. Notably, all 30 NBA teams are also on the brink of releasing their own Alexa Skills.

3. Audiograms

Publishing audiograms is probably the easiest way to dip your toes into the audio marketing world. An audiogram is just audio that overlays a still image. That image — along with whatever audio message that goes along with it — can be published on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

WNYC, the radio and podcast station, has dabbled in audiograms, choosing to publish them on Instagram and Twitter in order to share their audio snippets with a little more swagger. An audiogram may also make sense if the image is an infographic that requires some explanation.

What’s Your Audio Content Strategy?

Consumers are slowly but surely increasing their demand for audio experiences both inside and outside of the home. And now that there are at least three clear ways to add audio to your content strategy, is there any excuse not to?

If you’re already experimenting with audio marketing, or are planning to, we’d like to hear about it in the comments section below.