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Why audio in marketing is more than endless podcasts

As the branded podcast sector becomes ever more crowded, many businesses are considering how the poorer sibling to all-dominant video, audio, can elevate their messaging.

There is no doubting the popularity of commercial podcasts and podcasts in general; more than five million podcasts exist, with the global audience estimated to reach 465 million listeners this year, many of whom consume multiple broadcasts and numerous audio ads.

Read more on Press Gazette: Branded podcasts: How marketers can cash in on the audio publishing boom

This saturation means brands and media agencies are beginning to explore how to maximise their sound output without relying on the humble podcast.

Hannah Campbell, co-founder and managing director of One Twelve Agency recommends a deep-dive into the power of audio.

“In 2023, audio will continue to become an increasingly present element of our day to day lives. Driven by the explosion of sound-on apps such as TikTok, the increasing ubiquity of voice search assistants such as Siri and Alexa, and the ability to constantly be plugged into audio through true wireless earphones, the way marketers look at sonic branding needs to catch up.

“Sound can evoke strong emotions, feelings, thoughts and memories when used correctly. Brands will start to innovate their approach to audio, thinking deeper about how to use sound to represent their values and brand identity while connecting with their audiences across different platforms.

“This will not only include music choices (hopefully maturing out of stealing trending TikTok songs) but also how voice is used in their adverts and technology. Brands will need to be more scientific with their approach to sound and consider elements such as deliberate use of certain frequencies, tempo, use of silence and composition to evoke emotions and meaning in their campaigns.”

Inside and outside a brand

Companies tend to divide their audio strategy into two distinct categories, internal and external.

Outputs such as sonic logos (an audio equivalent to a graphic logo), soundscapes within stores and the music played in a business environment, either via in-store or on-hold are important considerations for the former.

The latter can include audiobooks, voice search through smart speakers and virtual assistants, audio ads and branded playlists.

Managing director of Embryo, Ross Green, is a big fan of audio, not least due to its relatively inexpensive nature.

“The reasonable costs of audio advertising allow brands of multiple sizes to incorporate the channel into their strategy without utilising too much of their budget.

“Actionable audio adverts will also enable businesses to combine data insights and their creativity to increase brand awareness and drive revenue.”

There are also specific industry sectors where marketing audio tends to break through the noise most effectively, as Ross confirms.

“As well as podcasts, brands can also look to succeed with audio ads in the ever-growing gaming sector. This can be proven by a YouGov survey that found 75% of mobile gamers prefer audio ads over video as it is less likely to disturb their gaming.”

Perhaps the biggest revolution in the use of audio in marketing and industry in general will be as the technology and AI in particular evolves further.

Text to speech synthesis – where the written word is converted into audio – is a growing sector where imitation of speech is set to improve the world for those with vision impairment or literacy issues who might miss out on traditional marketing.

Big-hitters Microsoft appears to have discovered such technology that can achieve this process speedily and with very little training – as little as three seconds of words are needed for their robot VALL-E to continue the sentence, accurately mimicking the original speaker’s voice.

“We introduce a language modelling approach for text to speech synthesis (TTS),” they announced in a statement. “During the pre-training stage, we scale up the TTS training data to 60K hours of English speech which is hundreds of times larger than existing systems. VALL-E emerges in-context learning capabilities and can be used to synthesize high-quality personalised speech with only a 3-second enrolled recording of an unseen speaker as an acoustic prompt.”

The results – which can be found here – are mixed, but it certainly introduces an interesting scenario where TTS and AI can be combined so brands can experiment further with audio as a solo project.

And as EVP global thought leadership at data analysts Kantar, Jane Ostler, concludes, “As we know, all channels work together in media effectiveness, [but] I consider audio an under-used channel, as it relies on high frequency and is less costly to produce.”