Up until about the 1980s, custom compositions and sung jingles were all the rage in TV and radio advertising – but when running time average decreased from 60 to 30 seconds, the idea of sonic branding faded into the background, with generic licensing music becoming the norm.
Fast-forward to today, and we’re on the cusp of an audio advertising renaissance. Emerging technologies, including smart speakers, now allow us to interact with consumers whenever we’re in earshot, catching them in a variety of different moods and situations – and in turn, this increased audio engagement has led to reduced screen time, and less scope for visual advertising.
A voice-first future:
As a result, more and more brands are considering how custom sonic productions can help them succeed in a voice-first future. The Sunday Times recently featured leading cloud communications company Twilio's latest report, which revealed that adoption of voice related-services is at an all-time high. This means there's never been a better time for businesses to make their name heard.
As of this year, it’s estimated that approximately half of all internet searches are being orchestrated by voice, with statistics from Voicebot suggesting one in five UK homes now own a smart speaker, as well as 87.7 million US adults – that’s up from 32% in 2019. And as about half of all smart speaker sales happen in the final quarter of the year, we can expect household adoption figures to climb yet again by January. It’s clear this trend is no flash-in-the-pan, and with 20% market penetration, it’s no surprise companies are scrambling to develop their branded skills, and quickly capitalise on this unbridled opportunity.
Thanks to the ubiquity of Siri, Alexa, Google, and their contemporaries, a brand can now converse directly with its consumers – but doing this effectively takes creativity, and a deep understanding of your audience. Take, for example, Sony Music UK’s recent experimentation in increasing emotional connection between artists and listeners via interactive Q&As. The idea is to encourage customers to prove themselves as the ‘Number One Fan’ by tuning in for a daily trivia question, incentivising them with the chance to win exclusive prizes. This is Amazon’s latest push to find a place for Alexa in the music scene – they’ve also worked with Paloma Faith on bedtime content for children, and revealed the release date of Katy Perry’s new album – and as voice technology becomes more sophisticated and omnipresent, it looks like these efforts will become increasingly transactional.
Meanwhile, almost 300 registered charities – including the American Heart Association and Doctors Without Borders – are making use of the ‘there-and-then’ element of smart speaker interaction, allowing users to donate to their organisation simply by telling Alexa the name of the charity and a dollar amount. Instead of hearing an appeal and making a mental note that’s likely to be forgotten, this translates benevolent thoughts and good intentions into instant support. Similarly, the increasing popularity of podcasts guides consumers towards a certain train of thought before capitalising on it.
The power of the podcast:
Offering a more effective, affordable way for companies to reach consumers than TV or radio ads, there is currently a podcast for every mood, interest, and situation – but moreover, it’s a medium that provides considerable scope for storytelling, and fosters authentic connections. This one-on-one time with a listener – generally averaging 30 minutes – is almost unparalleled in today’s fast-paced world, and by sponsoring or creating content, brands can either tell their own narrative, or align with an existing one. The key here, though, is authenticity – instead of waxing lyrical about their products, businesses will reap more benefits by offering real insight into their sector; for example Slack’s successful series on office culture. According to Ofcom, one in eight people in the UK tune-in to podcasts every week, while Infinite Dial 20 posits 104 million Americans have listened to one in the last month – all of which is to say the surface has really only been scratched for the advertising potential here.
This is all very exciting – but as it stands, not every business can realistically budget for experimentation in these fields, and many simply don’t have the resources to create their own Alexa skill or produce a professional-sounding podcast. But there is still one essential touchpoint we haven’t explored, one that almost every company already has in place – the telephone.
Transforming the caller experience:
Offering a ready-made captive consumer, the caller experience is a vital tool in audio branding that offers considerable scope for achieving your business goals – and with the right copy, voice, and music, it’s possible to transform dead air and static into a creative playground where your brand’s identity really shines.
This interplay of perfectly executed language, tone and expression with a unique melody and track captures and expresses identity in a way that really resonates – and hits harder with each replay. Crucially, an exclusive production also harnesses the unrivalled emotional response that’s evoked by the human voice – the same vital ingredient that helps podcasts and smart speakers continue to thrive.
Whatever your resources, with a little outside-the-box thinking, and a good overview of your target audience, there are opportunities in abundance for any brand to creatively express their identity through audio.