Digital audio is no shiny object. Listeners' passion for it is one reason savvy brands are incorporating it in their media mix. It's an "ideal canvas for brand building," according to one veteran media buyer. Another, a senior media executive for PepsiCo, said he is "so hot on audio" that his company is "doubling down" on the medium. These endorsements for digital audio — from Pandora for Brands' new "2020 Definitive Guide to Audio"— show that media buyers are as passionate about digital audio as the listeners they're trying to reach. Take the 2020 Definitive Guide to Audio tour here.
"Our clients need to understand how sound and voice can work for their brand," said Jennifer Hungerbuhler, executive vice president, managing director of local audio and video investment at Amplifi, part of Dentsu Aegis Network.
It's that enthusiasm that led Pandora to create the guide as a way to help marketers navigate the booming digital audio space. "Branding hasn't been audio's reputation, but we see the technology, the contextual advantages, and a critical mass of engaged listeners that can stand up to any competing media," said Pandora's group creative director Roger Gehrmann.
Why digital audio deserves brands' full attention
According to Pandora's guide, digital audio listeners devote one-third of their waking hours to audio and they access music and podcasts via smart speakers, connected cars, smartphones, and other devices. Reaching those listeners requires more than repurposing creative or media plans from other channels — even broadcast radio. Instead, Pandora advises, marketers need to develop an audio strategy and establish a sonic brand that plays over various devices and platforms.
And, since digital audio is a fast-moving space, influenced by new technology, brands need to be nimble. Advanced technology, including voice search and AI, allows for deeper personalization and context and less clutter in both content and advertising.
Buoyed by mobile and smart devices, digital audio is booming. Sixty percent of Americans listen to online radio weekly, which includes pure-play services, such as Pandora, as well as online radio streams. That's up from just 17 percent in 2010, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital's 2019 Infinite Dial report. Pandora leads in brand awareness and usage, with one-third of adults polled having reported listening to Pandora in the last month.
In today's cluttered media environment, where consumers are bombarded with marketing images on multiple screens, audio is emerging as a refuge for the senses. (A city dweller might see 5,000 visual messages per day, Pandora said.) Unlike most other media experiences, digital audio is user-driven. Pandora and others make suggestions based on user behavior, but users choose how and when to listen.
Similarly, ads served in digital audio platforms are highly targeted and relevant ads generate higher engagement and satisfaction. This benefits users and marketers. "This gives a better experience, as the ads are aware of the listener's context and environment, but also makes the ads work harder and perform better for the advertiser," said Steve Dunlop, chief executive officer and founder of A Million Ads.
"Think about how much you invest in understanding and reaching your target customer in this cord-cutting, voice-driven, earbud era. If you're overlooking audio, you're missing out on a massive, influential audience," said John Trimble, Pandora's Chief Revenue Officer.
In a testament to its effectiveness, Pandora says that ads on its platform are 49 percent more memorable than those on broadcast radio; 36 percent more memorable than TV spots; and 29 percent more memorable than mobile video. Based on troves of user data, Pandora can deliver granular data on listening and engagement, which is critical to today's advertisers.
Why you need a digital audio strategy
Brands that want to capitalize on digital audio's potential should devise a dedicated strategy. Digital audio deserves its own blueprint, including creative and media planning and buying. Don't try to shoehorn TV creative into a digital audio ad; similarly, avoid the temptation to use plug-and-play radio spots.
In fact, the only way for brands and their agencies to fulfill digital audio's potential is to separate broadcast radio from digital audio because they have very different strengths and capabilities. While radio has long been valued for reach and frequency, digital audio offers marketers brand-building and engagement. Radio reaches masses, while digital audio is personalized and targeted. Dentsu's Hungerbuhler explained that her agency usually activates digital audio when the intent is to "drive engagement, action, or advocacies." In contrast, they use broadcast radio for broad reach at lower price points.
An essential ingredient for audio strategy is sonic branding. This doesn't have to be a jingle. It can be a consistent voice, background music, or even just an opening sound. It establishes a personality and communicates brand values, and it serves as a signal to consumers. Sonic identity should also transcend platforms. "It's mobile, personal, social, interactive, engaging, emotional, live," Hungerbuhler said. "But, more importantly, as podcasts, speakers, smart devices, and connected cars continue to [proliferate], our clients need to understand how sound and voice can work for their brand."
Trimble concurred: "As demands for audience attention grow, cutting through the clutter seems more challenging every day. Smart speakers. Connected cars. Digital personal assistants. In today's world, where it's becoming increasingly more screenless and voice-led, successful brands will keep pace with the ongoing evolution of the space and embrace the opportunities audio provides."
Why now is the time to get involved
Digital audio's strengths are its ability to deliver personalized ads to specific consumers. Brands can adjust their campaigns for context, including seasons, behaviors, or activities. These messages can be complemented with a call-to-action or voice activations that allow consumers to engage more deeply and extend the conversation. Pandora, for instance, now offers a "Voice Mode" option, so users can control their mobile listening through voice controls. It also enables them to interact with ads through voice. Pandora can work with brands on those activations.
For brands worried about safeguarding their reputations, digital audio offers exceptional brand safety, Pandora pointed out, because ads are served up to specific consumers who seek out programming. Also, since listening is an in-app experience and ads aren't skippable, marketers can rest assured that they're reaching legitimate audiences.
With so many benefits and opportunities, now is the time to embrace and experiment with digital audio. "Audio is going through a fundamental shift," said Doug Rozen, chief media officer of 360i. "There's so much opportunity."
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