Four Ways Brands Can Harness Audio in 2021

By SXM Media InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Four Ways Brands Can Harness Audio in 2021

When you hear the phrase, "breaking the sound barrier," you probably think of traveling at supersonic speeds. That's exactly what's happening in the audio industry. To help marketers keep pace, Pandora for Brands is offering its insights with a virtual series titled, "Breaking the Sound Barrier." Through Pandora's granular data and personalized targeting capabilities, paired with the power of music, podcasts, and voice integrations, contends that audio is the medium to help brands break through.

Few companies are better positioned to make that claim. Pandora is part of the leading audio entertainment company in the U.S., SiriusXM Holdings, which also includes SiriusXM, podcast publisher and audio analytics firm Stitcher, and audio distributor SoundCloud. See some of the insights, below, that Pandora's experts have shared about growth, opportunity, and harnessing audio's potential.

1. Embrace Audio Now

As programming and accessibility expand, digital audio usage is booming. Digital audio is now more popular than AM/FM radio, with 55 percent of all audio listening being consumed on digital platforms.

From podcasts to music, Pandora can connect brands to the right audience, and brands can target any demographic, psychographic and even moods. Pandora can dig into more than two billion data points from its logged-in users across SiriusXM, Pandora, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

"We can serve up a network of listeners with incredible targeting capabilities," said Denise Karkos, chief marketing officer for Sirius XM and Pandora. "That's the gift we are able to give to [the] media buying community."

Podcasting is a major platform to tap into. According to Edison Research, more than half of Americans have listened to a podcast, and 104 million Americans tune in monthly -- up 16 percent from last year. Pandora, SiriusXM and Stitcher offer huge menus of podcasts, and Pandora's algorithms suggest other shows that users might like, which helps with discovery and extends the time spent listening.

This year, podcasting is well-positioned to draw money away from television. The secret sauce is the intimacy that exists between hosts and loyal listeners, advocates say.

"It is different than TV" said Laci Mosley, host of Pandora's popular Scam Goddess podcast. "It is a personal relationship I have made with my fans. They trust me. I don't advertise anything I don't like, and I don't advertise anything I don't use. Advertisers need to understand this is the future. You need to change and adapt," she added.

2. Lean into Innovation

From voice-activated speakers to connected cars, Pandora aims to be everywhere and anywhere. Advertisers should be willing to experiment, too. SiriusXM and Pandora's Chief Product and Technology Officer, Chris Phillips, says about 17 million users currently tune in to Pandora through connected devices -- and even more access SiriusXM and Stitcher on those devices.

Each one requires a different user experience and brand message. Some platforms allow users to interact with a screen or a remote control, while others are voice-first. "It is important to tailor [content] to the context of the device," Phillips explained. "The accuracy and ease are critical."

When it comes to voice integrations, Pandora is in late-stage beta testing on interactive ads, where listeners engage with products and services through verbal responses. In one early effort, Dunkin' Donuts asks listeners if they'd like to place a pickup order. If the response is affirmative, the user's Dunkin' app opens. Another spot, for Hellmann's mayonnaise, asks if the listener would like a recipe for using mayo in grilled cheese. Say "yes," and the instructions come up.

Phillips said early measurement of voice ads shows "phenomenal results," with intent to buy going up 27 percent and "say-through" rates 10 percent higher than click-through rates on ads with screens. "These creative options are awesome to do storytelling in a native audio format and give consumers more control." Later this year, Pandora will roll out voice-interactive ads to all of its brands, Phillips said.

Such innovations are an example of audio's unique value proposition, noted Dave Smith, SiriusXM and Pandora's senior vice president of monetization and yield.

"If what you're trying to do is deepen your relationship with a customer, expand a customer's thinking about what your product set is, or different ways you can be serviced by the retailer or any business, that fits beautifully with Pandora and audio in general."

3. Embrace Diversity Inside and On-Air

Following last spring's racial equality protests, media companies and brands have taken a hard look at diversity within their own ranks and with their business partners. Karkos said her company redoubled its efforts. This year, Pandora is taking a closer look at its creative work. Studio Resonate, the company's in-house audio creative studio, is encouraging brand partners to be more representative of American society and its consumers. "We know decisions we make around who voices ads makes a big difference on the listeners that hear them," said Executive Creative Director Roger Gehrmann.

While people of color make up about 40 percent of the American population, white voices are still the default for audio ads. In the first half of 2020, Studio Resonate found that 90 percent of its voice casting requests didn't ask for a specific voice, yet 93 percent were cast as white.

To "better reflect the rich spectrum of voices in our community," Pandora instituted a new casting policy as of June 2020, Gehrmann explained. Unless a brand requests a specific race or ethnicity to voice their spot, Studio Resonate is committed to casting voices of color 50 percent of the time. He said advertisers have been supportive, and the ads are still as effective, making it good practice and good business.

4. Find Your Voice

To effectively capitalize on audio, Pandora experts say brands need to dedicate time and resources to sonic branding and voice strategy. The days of recycling audio from video ads are over. Marketers must invest in a dedicated audio strategy, including consistent voices, sounds and messaging. "Voice identity is part of brand strategy," Gehrmann said.

It isn't just about music and podcasts. As consumers experiment with voice technology, they're accessing audio in new forms. Audio versions of journalism, fitness, online dating and even pornography are gaining popularity. Being able to untether from a screen and still consume media is a huge advantage for all forms of audio, including marketing.

"Voice is quickly growing far beyond being a virtual assistant," Gehrmann said. "It is going to be the primary user interface for the future."

For more insights, Pandora for Brand's five-part "Breaking the Sound Barrier" series is available on demand until the end of February.

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