According to data released at Advertising Week, nearly 50 million Americans now own smart speakers, and that figure could rise by 25% by the end of 2018. In fact, within two years 100 million consumers worldwide could have smart speakers in their homes and offices. These devices are transforming how Americans listen to audio, with users "asking" them to stream live audio, play podcasts and access on-demand content. Tellingly, comScore predicts that by 2020 at least 50% of all search will come via voice. With that momentum at its back, Cumulus Media-owned Westwood One, the nation’s largest audio network with over 8,000 affiliates, is expanding its voice app work into co-produced voice apps for its national brand partners.
Suzanne Grimes, Executive Vice President Marketing for Cumulus Media and President, Westwood One, revealed at Advertising Week New York a new effort in partnership with leading voice tech developer XAPPmedia. Together, they plan to develop, create and produce Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant audio experiences tied to national marketing campaigns. They will deploy the voice apps and promote the skills on Cumulus Media’s audio properties including its 441 local radio stations, digital streaming services and podcasts on Westwood One Podcast Network.
Savvy marketers recognize this new opportunity with voice and audio, Grimes contended. “Emerging audio platforms are among the greatest opportunities for brands and publishers to engage with consumers,” she explained. “Voice will be the easiest way to directly reach and interact with consumers -- and it will be on their terms.”
Westwood One and its partner XAPPmedia, she added, have the “experience, tools and audience to help brands achieve success.”
Indeed, Westwood One has a significant head start in voice, with more than 300 custom voice skills for the Cumulus Radio Station Group as well as Westwood One syndicated shows and Westwood One Podcast Network. Westwood One and XAPPmedia partnered to build the popular Westwood One Sports Skill for Alexa, which launched during last year’s Winter Olympics and included live audio streaming, daily highlights and news that users could access by saying, “Alexa, open Westwood One Sports” and navigating with voice commands to the desired content.
Audio was a hot topic throughout Advertising Week, with multiple sessions devoted to harnessing the burgeoning popularity of digital audio, podcasting and voice to showcase their brands and engage consumers. With a who’s who of audio executives appearing at the conference -- including C-suite brass from iHeartMedia, Westwood One, NPR, Google Home, Stitcher and Pandora, to name a few -- the industry is eager to tout its strengths to ad agencies and brands.
By incorporating custom voice skills from Westwood One and XAPPmedia into a media plan, brands add another valuable touchpoint to their media campaigns, said Pat Higbie, CEO of XAPP Media. His company has already worked with a number of major companies, including Toyota, on custom voice integrations. “This digital touchpoint not only extends a brand’s marketing messages, it also establishes a voice presence to engage consumers, drive seamless conversions, learn and optimize their omni-channel strategy,” he said.
For Westwood One, the capability to build and promote voice apps for brand partners gives the company yet another option to entice advertisers. If recent data from NPR and Edison is a guide, then Westwood One is onto something big: 81% of smart speaker owners say they’re open to skills or content created by brands on smart speakers.
Grimes appreciates the potential of this new channel to connect with consumers and is looking to spread that enthusiasm to brands. “It’s important to understand how this new marketplace dynamic redefines commerce and advertising strategy,” he said. “Now is the time to build a sound strategy, and we have the experience, tools and audience to help brands achieve success.”
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