The power of sound over video to engage

Moz Dee: The power of sound

I hadn’t slept a wink. There were massive bags under my eyes and my voice had dropped at least an octave with a raspiness in the back of my throat.

“Hey Moz, Richard Branson is ready for you” said a passing producer. “Oh, good,” I thought to myself, dabbing my watering eyes with a clean tissue before gathering together the notes that sat on my desk. Into the studio I marched, sat in front of a microphone and put my headphones on. Into my left ear my producer's voice appeared, “you look shit” and I nodded in agreement. “Richard is on the line. You ready?” I waved in recognition and Branson’s dulcet tones emerged via a studio in the States. What ensued was an amazing conversation about what it was like to touch the edge of space suspended in a balloon. The colours, the effect on your body, the sounds you can and can’t hear, the spiritual experience of it all.

Richard Branson painted a vivid and fascinating picture of his adventure. Despite my aggressive cold (I wasn’t hungover, promise) I did more than get through the interview. It was a genuinely interesting conversation with one of the richest men in the world. I went on that day to interview two government ministers and an 80’s pop star, cold and all. What I am I trying to say through this self-indulgence. Is that sound is a powerful thing. It doesn’t matter how you look; you don’t need an art director or a set, just an interesting topic and knowledge or experience to exchange.

I worked in radio for years as a presenter, commissioning editor, managing editor and programme director. I loved radio’s simple power, the ability to do something else while listening, how it presents an opportunity to use your other senses while also being entertained. Radio was the first mass-market broadcast platform and ever since it has been challenged or even written off as new broadcast platforms, technology, and a changing audience emerges. However, radio, audio, sound whatever you wish to call it, has survived and diversified. 90% of the UK population listen to some form of radio every week with millions also listening to on-demand podcasts and streams. 700 million was spent by the advertising industry on commercial radio last year. However, despite all this, sound has often been seen as the less sexy medium when compared to its visual cousins.

This has been the visual age. From the small screen to the big, we are targeted with the relevant content that’s meant to elicit some kind of reaction, and that isn’t changing any time soon. YouTube is now the second largest search engine with 1.5 bn users a month, who are watching 1 bn hours of video a day! Facebook is talking about being entirely video-based by 2021 and 72% of executives would rather watch a video than reading text. I could go on and on with these stats, but I’m sure you get the picture and many of you will have better ones. The point is, the visual world has exploded and we at Contented have benefited from this and hopefully will for many more happy years.

Gaining attention and keeping it has become the pre-occupation for those of us who provide visual storytelling. As the use of video has evolved, we’ve had time to study the data and construct videos at the right length and in the right shape for the platforms designed to fit the attention span and the sensibility of the audience. That means a killer 10 seconds on social with the first 3 landing a logo or message. Facebook has even spoken of telling a story or conveying a feeling in a second.

Clearly, we love video. But video is now ubiquitous, and we can become numbed by it all. Our muscular thumbs skipping through all but the most targeted and compelling content. Podcasts, sound, listening is different. Once our interest has been pricked, we’ll make the effort to listen, regularly and for longer.

Do you remember the first podcast you listened to? No, me neither. The term was coined by Ben Hammersley of The Guardian in 2004, talking about a couple of lads called Adam Curry and David Winer. Slightly before my time but Curry was an MTV star and recorded a programme called ‘The Daily Source Code’. However, Winer was the brains. Winer invented the RSS feed. Really Simple Syndication, which meant programmes could be delivered through a static URL from favourite websites to a desktop application. In 2006 iTunes got involved with their own native application. DJ’s, and indie producers flocked to the new medium, and bloggers found that talking as opposed to writing might be a better way of getting to their niche. Niche it was, as podcasting took a hit from what else the web had to offer, including the impact of YouTube.

However, over the last couple of years podcasting has gone main-stream, throwing off the niche. 5.9 million people listen to podcasts every week in the UK according to the latest Ofcom research, that’s 58% up on 2 years ago, and that number doesn’t look like slowing. 18.7% are aged between 15-24. ‘Love Island’ the podcast, along with lots of mainstream personalities creating their own pods has fuelled that uptake with younger listeners. Main-stream radio and TV programmes have also helped push podcast listenership. I’m currently listening to the Podcast ‘Chernobyl’ that discusses the TV show after every episode.

So, what does all this mean for the marketeer? According to Acast, a Swedish company placing ads and messaging in these broadcasts: 76% of surveyed listeners (1,335 Brits) said that they had followed up on an ad or sponsored message they heard in a podcast, with 37% saying an ad had led them to seek out further information on a product, and 24% were prompted to visit a brand's website.

Podcast listeners stay with the pod, listen through and engage. This is a marketeer’s prayer come true. So, no wonder there are more and more clients reaching out to us to add podcasts to their messaging tools.

However, my friends, beware. Mistakes are being made that remind me of the early days of ‘the video revolution’ - an “easy innit” mentality. Undoubtedly, it’s very simple to record and upload sound, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Why are you doing it? What purpose will it serve? and what does success look like? I’ve spoken to so many disgruntled brands who’ve tried podcasting, or at least dipped their toe in the water. “No one listened or subscribed” is always the main gripe. Where did your podcast figure in your media plan? How did it link with your overall marketing strategy? Did you put any spend behind it? Truth is podcasting can be seen by some as a cheap, DIY way of getting to an audience and consumers.

Who’s the audience? Who do you actually want to listen? from niche and specialist to broader interest groups. Find a way of talking to them like humans, you are in their ears after all.

Where will your podcast live? Apple?Soundcloud?Spotify? All of them? What will work best for your audience? And promote, promote, promote. Make sure that promotion is part of the media plan. In bed little teasers and interesting bits of audio into your social distribution.

Also, small thing, but what does it sound like? A couple of people just sitting down and chatting in an echoey room about stuff isn’t broadcasting. Get into a soundproof room. Have a decent mic set up. Have a structure and running order to what you are going to discuss and introduce and stick to it.

Sonic logos

Get yourself a sting, or music that’s consistent with your pod. As with video, get your brand, pod title, who you are, into the ear nice and early. Introduce and tease what people can expect across the whole of the podcast. Keep them there.

Paint pictures

Remember we are talking about sound. If the pod is exploring how your brand is helping the environment, can we hear some of that environment? From sea lapping on a shore to birds singing, to the sound of thunder. Make it part of the soundscape and build a picture in the mind’s eye of the listener.

360 marketing isn’t a new term, but with podcasting, done in the right way, brands now have an opportunity to engage with their audiences in an exciting way, building on their other activity and really having a way of cementing an authentic relationship with potential consumers.

I can see a media landscape where brands will automatically look at sound as being part of their media plan. A very quiet, or should I say noisy revolution is taking place, platforms like Spotify are talking about investing $500m in podcasts and original content with a target of $650m in revenues against them by 2020.

So, all power to the Pod. Not so much a new arrival as that cool person in the corner of the room whose always been at the party, watching and waiting knowing full well how they are going to make the party a better place.

Moz Dee is co-founder and director of Contented digital media group, former managing editor of BBC Radio 5 Live and programme director of talkSPORT.

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