Top of Mind at Ad Week 2018: Audio is the Future for Marketers

By NPR InSites Archives
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For many of my peers, audio has always played a large role in our lives as consumers.  That affinity for the medium has affected the way we work, too.  We’re digital natives who came into marketing during the podcast boom of the past decade.  In fact, the small higher-education nonprofit I worked at for one of my first jobs actually produced an original podcast as part of its marketing strategy.  In my role on the communications team, I was responsible for researching and vetting guests on the program and assisting in pre- and post-production of the show.

Prioritizing audio in a media plan isn’t a revolutionary idea to us.  For young marketers who are familiar with audio both personally and professionally it can be hard to believe that not so long ago audio wasn’t a widespread priority for brands and marketers in the industry.

Just five years ago, the Advertising Week New York agenda included only four sessions devoted to audio.  At Advertising Week New York this year, that number was nearly tripled.  The schedule featured 12 audio-specific sessions, including "The Future of Audio Summit,” a half-day event presented by NPR and devoted to the audio revolution occurring across media, marketing and advertising.  Leaders from NPR, Pandora, Google Home, iHeartMedia, Capitol One and more took part.  Throughout the morning one common theme became clear: Audio has emerged as a must-have marketing tool for brands interested in making meaningful, one-to-one connections with consumers.

Any avid radio or podcast listener knows first-hand the familiarity and affinity that develops for brands that support their favorite programs.  Yet, while working in sponsorship marketing for a major news and audio organization, I’m often surprised how many marketers have not realized audio’s full potential, despite the fact that they may be listeners themselves, because audio is one of the fastest growing and most powerful forms of media today.

"We're seeing increased consumption across the board," Edison Research Senior Vice President Tom Webster told the crowd.  Take the fact that share of time listened to spoken word on mobile alone has doubled since 2014.  For marketers just starting their career, it is sure to be an integral part of their future. Not just digital audio, either.

Some may consider traditional radio to be an outdated or old-fashioned medium for modern brands seeking to make connections with audiences.  But the opposite is proving true.  Nielsen Audio Managing Director Brad Kelly shared with Summit attendees that brands looking for reach today are actually turning to radio over other platforms because it offers an audience they can’t find in other places.  In fact, the largest share of time spent listening to audio -- 50%1-- is spent listening to AM/FM radio.

That alone is a compelling argument for radio, but the value of radio isn’t limited to scale.  “Radio starts conversations,” iHeartMedia Chief Marketing Officer Gayle Troberman said in her remarks.

And beyond radio, the opportunities available to brands in audio are plentiful.  Podcasts and smart speaker activations are just the beginning.  “Technology has enabled the rapid growth of audio,” Webster asserted, noting that the digital transformation has “brought audio into places it hadn’t been for a lot of people.”

Accelerating the role of audio in our world today is voice activation.  “Voice is the natural next step in the evolution of technology,” said Head of Partner Marketing for Google Home Julia Chen Davidson.  In fact, voice-activated smart speakers are the fastest-growing consumer technology, according to the 2018 Infinite Dial Report.  This transformation is ushering in a new era in media consumption in which millions of Americans are incorporating audio into not just their home lives and commutes, but also their daily routines.

“What is it that you’re doing that will make [a consumer's] day better in this environment?” Pandora Vice President for Ad Innovation Strategy Claire Fanning asked the audience.  As she emphasized in her presentation, it’s critical for brands to maximize their utility and the value they provide to consumers through audio marketing.  Simply “copy and pasting” a strategy from TV or digital won’t deliver results.  Smart speaker activations, for example, must help solve problems consumers face in their day-to-day lives and make life easier.  And audio creative must be just that -- creative!

Audio has become such an effective medium for advertisers, because listeners “find relatability in the content. It’s the power of imagination,” said Pranav Yadav, Chief Executive Officer of Neuro-Insight, appearing on a panel titled “Audio Messaging & How to Do It Right.”  Crafting the correct tone and messaging style is paramount in the audio ecosystem and can actually enhance effectiveness of a cross-platform media strategy.

“The combination of radio and TV together make a stickier message,” noted Kelly.  “The audio portion augments, supplements and amplifies the visual.  They are highly complementary.”

In today’s noisy world, consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical of traditional advertising and are in turn seeking higher levels of authenticity from brands.  Stakla reports that 86% of people say authenticity is important to them when deciding what brands they like and support.  As brands continue to recognize this change, they must seek out platforms that facilitate this more authentic communication.  "At NPR, we’ve found that 80% of the NPR audience would rather listen to podcast sponsorship than pay for ad-free streaming, in part due to a carefully-honed messaging style for sponsors," said Bryan Moffett, Chief Operating Officer of NPR’s sponsorship subsidiary National Public Media.

Across all six presentations at the Summit, there was a clear consensus that no matter what audio platform a brand activates, transparency, authenticity and utility must be at the heart of the activation.

For those of us beginning our careers, whether or not audio has been a part of our past, it will be an essential part of our future in the industry.  Our first-hand experience in the digital transformation has left us with a unique perspective on audio that will be a useful tool as we develop careers.  And thinking about the ways we’ve used, experienced and consumed audio media in our personal lives can inform our strategies for clients and companies for years to come.

Sources: 1) Edison Share of Ear, 2018.

Pictured at top, left to right:  Tom Webster, Senior Vice President Edison Research; Julia Chen Davidson,Head of Partner Marketing Google Home; Anna Bager, Executive Vice President of Industry Initiatives, IAB, and Meg Goldthwaite,CMO NPR and moderator.

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