Tuesday at Advertising Week New York was audio’s big day. Panelists converged at AMC’s Lincoln Center Theater to discuss topics such as the growth of the medium as a marketing channel through the proliferation of smart devices and podcasting, how brands should strategize around audio and the neuroscience of consumer awareness as it relates to sound. 

Panelists offered consistent perspectives on the current state of audio and its impact on the consumer.

Stats On Audio Marketing

At ‘The State of Listening 2019,’ Tom Webster, SVP of strategy and marketing at Edison Research, set the stakes for brands wondering if they should enter the voice technology audio space.

Webster noted that smart speaker ownership is now the fastest-growing tech sector in America. Nearly one-third of American households have a smart speaker and almost every smart speaker owner has more than one device.

Podcasting shows similar growth, according to Webster. 

“This is a watershed moment for podcasting, a true milestone. With over half of Americans aged 12+ saying they have listened to a podcast, the medium has firmly crossed over into the mainstream.”

Bret Kinsella of voicebot.ai took to the stage for ‘The Voice Shift,’ giving more heft to Webster’s outlook on the podcast front. He noted that podcast users are also more likely to trust the ads they hear on that medium.

“We are seeing a true shift,” said Kinsella. “First there were clicks, then mobile and now there is voice.”

The Neuroscience Case For Audio

Not only do the statistics point to wider tech adoption, but neuroscience is finding applications in marketing by measuring the duration of brand memories and the attentiveness of consumers toward specific mediums. The results are myth-busting.

At ‘Feel the Story: Emotionally Immersive Storytelling,’ Wondery’s founder and CEO, Hernan Lopez, made the case for the power of audio’s impact using reports drawn from neurological imaging done by NeuroLab. 

NeuroLab’s studies showed that audio storytelling trumped visual storytelling for emotional impact across categories, citing 21 percent more “emotional intensity” when the same brand story is told audibly rather than just visually. 

Host and producer-read podcast ads had a 30 percent higher average of emotional intensity when compared to social media ads, which increases their memorability.

According to the press release announcing the launch of NeuroLab by Mindshare, the studies used “medical-grade EEG (electroencephalogram) and GSR (galvanic skin response) technology to measure second-by-second, non-conscious neurological responses to brand stories and media. The NeuroLab supplements the data from these neurological responses with pre-and-post Implicit Association Tasks (implicit bias testing), as well as quantitative survey responses.”

NeuroLab’s studies also showed that podcast recall is more likely to sustain over time due to the strong emotional component.

When charting implicit trust associations with brands before and after ad exposure, the advertisements on podcasts grew “subconscious brand trust” while social media ads decreased subconscious brand trust.

At ‘Make Your Brand Memorable: The Neuro-Science Of Audio Messaging,’ similar study results were presented by Pranav Yadav, CEO of Neuro-Insight US, whose panel addressed how audio advertising affects the human subconscious and consumer behavior.

In one study, Yadav showed how the alignment between NPR’s program segments and their sponsored messages helped in making the NPR sponsored messages more memorable to NPR listeners when compared to traditional radio, a testament to the cohesive sonic branding that in layperson’s terms could be described as, “that NPR sound.” 

Podcasts Are Open For Business

The current state of audio marketing, specifically with podcasts, is wide open for brands.

Nick Southwell-Keely, US director of brand partnerships for Acast noted that the podcast industry is expected to pass the $1 billion dollar mark by 2021. “There’s been an explosion this year from investment […] and there are over 700,000 podcasts out there right now.”

According to IAB and PwC’s third annual Podcast Revenue Report, “driving the growth in revenues is podcast listening which continues to surge in the US, increasing 7 percent in one year. In addition to this, “podcast listeners continue to respond well to ads, scoring high marks in terms of engagement with ads as well as responsiveness.”

Janet Levine, head of invention+, a division at Mindshare, noted that with the diversity of voices and stories in the podcasting market, brands can carve out a niche in the space due to its magnitude. 

“Podcasts are so fragmented. Every single brand has the opportunity to own a vertical; they can own a show. There are just enough out there. And because the ecosystem is very much in DTC, it gives bigger brands the opportunity to make a greater impact.”

Panelist Grant Durando, growth marketing consultant at Right Side Up, has high expectations for the state of the market in two years’ time: “From an in-house advertising perspective, we’re going to start to see podcasting [become] one of the major new channels of customer acquisition as opposed to an incidental channel.”

So, why were DTC brands first-adopters of the medium and what does that mean for everyone else?

“About five to six years ago we had a bit of a revolution in DTC products where you had new models coming out, notably the subscription and box model, that was one piece,” explained Durando.

 “And the other piece was, I’m not exactly sure why this happened, you had these innovative products like Ring.com and Casper […] and at the time, podcast advertising was so non-diluted that we were able to buy a spot for 30 seconds and then that endorser would go on for five minutes about how he got a mattress in a box, liked it, kept it, but he could have returned it.”

“That was the moment we were able to do top-funnel messaging, full-on education on a new delivery system for a product and drive it all the way down to the deep funnel, and then finally, it was successful because we had vanity URLs and promo codes, something we’ve used in radio for a decade or so, so listeners were already trained on how to do that,” Durando said.

Brands In The Audio Space

Rob Walker, global director of creative solutions at Spotify, explained how he worked with Snickers at ‘A Brand Strategy, In Audio.’

“You have to start with what’s true about their brand,” he said.

Walker offered an example: “We tend to take what’s true about their brand in terms of their ideas, the key visuals, and try to translate those […] into audio through our data and things we know about our consumers.”

For Snickers, that meant translating the tagline, “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry,” into an audio-only version of the same brand messaging.

“We took people who were switching their usual repertoire of music listening and changing it in a very peculiar way, so someone who listens to pop music is suddenly listening to hardcore metal […] because of all those behavioral signals we pick up using our data we can serve messaging to them in a very contextual, quick way,” Walker said.

“[We used] little audio snippets, almost like little songs […] which spoke to people in those music genres that they just switched to saying, “maybe you’re doing this because you’re hungry.”

For Sabrina Caluori, EVP of digital at HBO, audio was the right channel for marketing Westworld because it aligned so closely with the HBO brand. “Audio is the oldest form of storytelling. What is HBO at its core? High-quality storytelling.”

The Alexa Skill that HBO released, Westworld: The Maze, led to over 500 million earned media impressions and focused on reaching tech early-adopters while echoing the show’s themes of artificial intelligence and our interaction with it⁠—not to mention snagging a Grand Prix in Radio and Audio at Cannes Lions.

The main takeaway from panelists offering guidance to brands around audio was that you can start small but should have the same respect for your audio initiatives as you have for those in the visual medium.

Audrey Arbeeny, founder, CEO and executive producer at Audiobrain, commented that the idea that brands must go “all-in” on audio is one of the biggest misperceptions around audio branding.

“That (audio branding) is a sound logo or single asset.”

To Arbeeny and others, audio branding requires a cohesive approach with respect to the context and content of a brand’s messaging in spaces where visual advertising is either unable to penetrate or simply ineffective.

At the end of the day, panelists echoed the same sentiments toward strategizing around audio. That is, this type of marketing isn’t reinventing the wheel when it comes to foundational ideas for brand success. 

“Be authentic, understand your brand and understand that the experience of your audience is paramount now,” said Abbey Klaassen, NY president of 360i. “Treat your sonic portfolio with the same respect you treat other aspects of your brand.”