Some have said that 2020 was the year of audio for brands. A few fast-movers seized the moment in the midst of lockdowns and unparalleled audio-driven content consumption to capture new audiences and consumers. But if 2020 was the year of the audio renaissance, 2021 is the year that marketers will fall behind if they continue to ignore the role that sound plays across the brand experience.
For those of you still trying to figure out where to begin, here are 3 fast-growing areas where branded audio will make the most impact:
Digital Audio & Podcasts
Digital audio consumption has been on a consistent uptick yearly. With the COVID-19 pandemic introducing periods of quarantine and other limitations to media and recreation, 2020 saw a record number of Americans turning to digital audio and podcasts. In their annual survey of audio consumption, The Infinite Dial 2021 reported that 28% of the U.S. 12+ population are now weekly podcast listeners, and 62% of Americans (about 176 million people) are now weekly online audio listeners. Not only are there more people listening to audio, the audience itself is more diverse than ever, the study also found.
Digital-savvy brands know that they cannot pass over an opportunity to reach this growing number of Americans engaging in the online audio space. This doesn’t just mean advertising with digital audio. It also means sponsoring content and finding innovative new ways to share information with consumers.
Marketers hoping to utilize this audio-only medium in their advertising or sponsorship strategies can benefit from having a sonic identity, both to signal brand attribution and build brand equity. In the age of invisible branding, not having a distinct sonic identity would be like running a print campaign without a consistent visual identity.
Smart Speakers & Voice Assistants
By the sheer number of smart speakers that are popping up in homes across the country, every marketer should be making plans to distinguish themselves audibly through Alexa, Google Home, and the like. Comscore reported last year that more than 30 million homes in the US (29% of those with WiFi) have smart speakers in use, and Juniper Research predicts that global voice assistant usage will jump 113% by 2024.
These audio-only experiences are not just sitting in our homes daily, but they are being integrated into our electronics, appliances, cars and furniture. In parallel, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased our need to complete tasks remotely. Thus, the pandemic has also significantly boosted demand for virtual customer service assistants, according to Allied Market Research.
Smart speaker and voice assistant interactions are different from typical brand-consumer interactions. For one, they are audio-only rather than accompanied by a physical or visual cue. The technology is still developing. Most of us have experienced wonky, awkward voice experiences that do not yet fully replicate human experiences.
One reason for this continued disconnect is that these voice-driven audio experiences have been created without utilizing basic sonic design principles. Our research on Alexa-type experiences showed that when voice skills were redesigned with intuitive sonic cues and entrances, the experience felt easier, faster, more helpful and 37% more emotionally appealing than the stiff, AI voice-only experiences we’re used to.
Marketers looking to brave the new world of smart speakers should embrace the principles of smart sound design to truly make audio and voice-driven brand experiences more desirable.
Television & Streaming
The proliferation of new digital platforms by media giants — Disney+, HBO Max, and NBC’s Peacock, to name a few — are broadening the scope of streaming options as well as advertising opportunities. While lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic kept many Americans indoors, we saw a dramatic increase in the amount of television and on-demand content consumed nationwide. According to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report covering the second quarter of 2020, the weekly time spent streaming video jumped by almost 75% from the previous year.
Our study on how sonic logos are resonating with consumers during the pandemic showed that overexposure can actually hurt brand value. Netflix’s trademark “dun dun” sound exemplifies this shift. We found that while consumers previously had very positive associations with the brand, when exposed to the sonic, the overall emotional appeal dropped by 10%.
Marketers can mitigate overexposure in television and streaming by continually testing with consumers, and adjusting sound accordingly. Moving with the times can be the difference between tired and iconic.
Sound now plays a more prominent and wide-reaching role in the customer experience than ever before. With new media, devices, and platforms cropping up it is no longer sufficient to relegate decisions on music and sound to ad agencies or product engineers. Marketers contemplating how to use their budget to move with the moment: the sound of your brand should be an integral part of any strategy, and will be an investment that certainly pays off. It’s time to meet the occasion and embrace audio — it can’t be ignored.