In days gone by (ie pre-pandemic lockdown) the office ‘water cooler moment’ was often used as an indication of what was hot in the world of popular culture, media and marketing. Whether it was chatter about the latest episode of Love Island or shared recommendations on the best new places to eat out, must-see films or must-have products, this form of word of mouth has always been a powerful tool for measuring the success of advertising campaigns or tracking the latest trends.
If the modern-day equivalent of the water cooler moment – the first few minutes of chat at the start of team Zoom calls – is to be believed, then there are few things getting colleagues and clients more excited right now than podcasts. And it’s not just rising comedy stars and little-known musicians dominating the world of podcasting as it was in the early days – more and more household brands, from Sephora to Vodafone, are starting to launch their own podcasts, seeking new ways to create deeper engagement with customers.
It’s hardly surprising that brands are keen to capitalise on the growing popularity of podcasts when you look at the statistics. There are currently more than 850,000 active podcasts available to listen to, and 6.5 million or 12% of adults in the UK listen to podcasts every week (Podnews). That’s an awful lot of ears potentially open to receiving information and messaging about your product or service, if you can get the content just right.
It’s not just podcasts that are having a boom moment as a result of the pandemic – commercial radio saw listening times increase significantly in the UK during the first few months of lockdown, with 38% of listeners tuning in for an extra hour and 45 minutes each day in April (Radiocentre) as people adjusted to life working from home.
The marketing industry was quick to identify and react to these changes in audience behaviours, helping clients to create a range of audio content from Spotify and radio ads, to fully branded podcast series as we all began to tune in to the benefits of audio in our new ways of living. Then, of course, there were the practical benefits of creating and producing audio content during lockdown – in most cases, a process much more easily managed remotely than for video content.
We spoke to several Mission agencies about how they have been working with clients to produce creative audio content during lockdown and where they think the future lies for this area of marketing as we start to return to previous routines.
Jim Gillingham, production editor at Speed Communications:
In a world where video content has been largely reduced to people shooting themselves on mobile phones (sometimes well, sometimes very, very badly) or screen recording Zoom calls (shudder), then audio has unsurprisingly become a very attractive option. For audiophiles, the joy of listening to content rather than watching it is hardly a revelation, but when no one is commuting any more, when domestic lives are full of bored children, video conferences and a lot of worry, would there be any appetite for podcasts or other forms of audio content?
The answer is, of course, yes. And then some. In the months of lockdown, we’ve produced three podcast series for three different clients at Speed, with more scheduled for the coming months. All are recorded remotely via some very nifty software and all of them produced, edited and distributed from my dining room. The USB mic I grabbed hastily when packing up my office desk all those months ago has been used almost every day, whether it be to record various voice-overs and introductions or to brief podcast guests ahead of recordings.
While video will definitely become a force again once the current situation is over, I can’t see audio slipping back to its previous role of video’s nerdier, less successful sibling. The intense connection that audio creates between the listener and the content is a marketeer’s dream with one important caveat: your marketing shouldn’t sound like marketing. But that’s a different conversation: I’m sure there’s a podcast on the subject.
Over the past few months, Think BDW has created a product – Think VC (or Virtual Consultant) – in response to members of the public currently having to visit show homes unaccompanied, and therefore not having a sales person with them extolling the virtues of the house/apartment they are looking at.
It works by us recording the sales messages and embedding these in a tag that’s readable by any phone with a NFC (near field communication) chip. The tag is located behind a prominent vinyl sticker within relevant rooms or spaces in the show home, with the message ‘scan here’.
The visitor then holds their phone to the sticker and an Alexa-type voice then talks about the room in question, pointing out features and benefits. It could talk about the views, the flexibility of the space, the appliances, the specification or finishes, any technology featured… anything the client thinks is pertinent.
While this is a product born out of practical necessity during the current pandemic, there are so many ways that audio can enhance the home buyer’s experience and the seller’s marketing activity, and I’m certain we will continue to see many more innovations in this space in the future.
As an industry, it’s our job to predict, adapt to and create new trends in consumer habits and demands, and the rise in consumption of audio content during lockdown has presented marketeers and our clients with the opportunity to explore new ways of communicating with customers that may not have otherwise been considered. With shorter production times and lower content creation costs generally than video, along with the ability to tell compelling stories in bite-size formats and on the go, we may well be tuning in to the beginnings of an audio revolution in marketing.