Tune in or lose out – the rebirth of audio

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OMD EMEA consider the rise of audio and suggest ways marketers can make the most of this medium.

The rise of the podcast and the proliferation of new delivery channels for audio content present a compelling opportunity for marketers. Still, audio plans must be consolidated & measurable to reap the rewards.

It’s 7am Monday.

You flail your arms in a blind panic, desperate to hit the snooze button.

“OK [Google/Siri/Alexa], play the latest news.” Cornflakes, check. Coffee, check. Brexit, check.

You listen to “My favourite murder” on your commute to work, and then you are at your desk listening to your “Discover Weekly” playlist on Spotify while you are answering your emails.

It’s not even lunchtime, but you have already spent hours on audio.

These days, we are spoilt for choice in terms of the range of audio content available, from music to current affairs briefings and comedy shows, audiobooks and the increasingly popular unsolved murder serials. The advent of connected devices and ubiquitous high-speed internet, giving us access to this expanding treasure trove of audio content whenever we want, has sparked something of a renaissance for audio. Audio offers us a welcome break from the screens to which we have become glued, in the form of a more personalised and intimate experience.

One of the reasons audio is seeing recent success is the unique way it triggers emotions, paints pictures in one’s mind, and motivates people into action. Orson Welles notoriously convincing listeners of a martian invasion is an excellent example of this.

But the new audience behaviours and the fragmented landscape is causing confusion and indecision among agencies and brands when it comes to investment. For brands to harness the power of audio, we need to acknowledge the need for a pan-audio strategy, understand audio’s role within the full communications spectrum, and make sure the industry enables easier measurement, planning, and tracking of campaigns.

Digital audio is up, and radio is not dead - not by a long shot.

Digital audio (whether it is digital radio, podcasts or streamed music) now reaches a record high of 28.3m adults a week (+14% YoY) in the UK. This means that for the first time, more than half of UK adults listen to digital audio each week (DAX whitepaper).

Even though the most prominent consumption of digital audio is by 15-24-year olds, older age groups have started to embrace audio streaming services as well. Globally, 64% of adults have accessed a music streaming service in the past month – up by about 7% over 2018. The highest rate of growth comes from the 35-64-year-old age group, with 54% of them accessing a music streaming service in the past month (+8% increase from 2018, according to IFPI's music listening report 2019).

And of course, there is the rise of podcasts. According to Ofcom, weekly podcast listeners make up 13% of the UK's audience - an increase year-on-year of approximately 25%.

Brands have been trying to crack the best ways of getting involved with podcasts for the past few years now, with a limited amount of results to show. Only a few weeks ago Procter & Gamble partnered with Spotify to launch a new branded podcast series called Harmonize, focusing on the impact of racial bias in the US and how music has served as a catalyst for change.

Smart speakers are yet another area fuelling the growth of digital audio and have been part of innovation conversations for all brands. Even though 75% of digital audio is consumed on PCs and smartphones, 17% is consumed on smart speakers. (Share of hours by device, MIDAS Digital Audio Survey, Spring 2019). Bauer announced in April 2019 that 40% of its internet listening hours were from smart speakers (DAX Whitepaper) which shows that their impact is steadily growing.

And the most interesting thing is, new consumer behaviour is not decreasing the reach of radio. Thanks to radio’s adaptation to digital, radio’s weekly reach in the UK (analogue and digital combined) has been stable at 89% since 2013 (Ofcom Media Nations 2019).

What’s the catch?

Even though the appetite for using more audio within media plans is growing, there is still a fog of uncertainty on the medium’s contribution to overall campaign objectives. The audio landscape is currently fragmented and too complicated for marketers to plan efficient campaigns and see the results in a comparable and organised way. To make the most of consumers’ audio experiences, we need a consolidated way of approaching audio, encompassing radio (digital & analogue), streaming platforms, podcasts and smart speakers.

BBC has taken a significant step this year by launching BBC Sounds, where they unified all their audio content and channels. Programmatic within digital audio has been an enormous step forward in the path of consolidating the music landscape for advertisers, and it is critical to future growth in the space. Over the last three years, programmatic audio has grown to now account for more than 40% of digital audio ad spend in markets like the UK and Germany (IAB and Xaxis). However, lack of inclusion of many of the biggest streaming networks, podcast networks, and radio channels, still have to be planned in silo, rather than part of an overall audio strategy.

There is also the question of measurement, tracking, and audibility. Marketers who are now used to multiple metrics they get from digital campaign reports are keen to see something similar for audio. And like viewability issues faced within display advertising, audibility is another metric that needs to be proved as part of programmatic digital audio. In the absence of more clarity around measurement and tracking, some advertisers feel reluctant to move marketing budgets into this medium.

Brands should stop overlooking audio and start making the most of what it offers.

Despite these uncertainties, audio offers advertisers several opportunities other channels cannot. Most importantly, brands should leverage the intimate personalisation opportunities audio provides as well as the efficient reach and frequency building capability of the medium, which is usually overlooked in the “age of digital”.

Identifying the most receptive moments of consumers is an integral part of effective communications planning, and audio presents great targeting opportunities to create relevance in some of the critical receptivity moments. Breakfast, commuting, working out, cooking, road-trips are some of the moments which many brands would love to own - and where audio is the primary channel people consume.

With the digitalisation of radio and the data streaming networks gathering immense data on audience behaviour, there is now an excellent opportunity to create relevant and compelling messaging. Combined with the personal and intimate nature of audio, both media and creative agencies should be thinking more about how to best take advantage of this medium.

As an industry, we need to work together to test, learn and to understand the possibilities audio offers. As connected cars and homes enter the market, smart speakers become personal assistants, and podcasts continue to delight and inspire, neglecting audio as a critical pillar within communication plans will be a mistake many brands cannot afford to make.

Hayati Alaluf, strategy director at OMD EMEA.

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