Appeasing the Appetite for Audio

By Kristy McAfee (Senior Digital Account Manager)

The audio space is constantly evolving. Users are becoming increasingly familiar with audio tools such as voice commands and messaging, dedicated voice apps, evolutions in podcasting, and new products from the likes of Amazon and Facebook.

“Voice” has been an industry buzzword for years now. Some brands have used it effectively (like Air New Zealand’s Alexa skills for accessing flight times and cancellations), while for others, it’s stayed on long-term business plans with no immediate action.

However, while some brands stall, voice continues to change the way we interact with our phones, new technologies and brands. Facebook’s Portal, a voice-activated smart screen designed for video chatting, will be available in New Zealand from November 5, 2019. On September 25, Amazon announced they would be adding voice assistants to their new range of glasses, wireless earbuds and rings—inevitably just the beginning of the range of voice-centric products we can expect to enter the market in the near future.

Voice has even begun to permeate social channels. Snapchat recently used voice-activated lenses for Shazam’s movie launch. Users could activate Shazam lenses by saying, “Okay, Shazam!” – the same way the superhero’s powers are activated in the film. The introduction of voice was a logical extension for Snapchat, who have long been leaders in the augmented reality space, and is just one of many signs of a coming shift to voice-activated marketing.

If brands aren’t already considering their voice strategy, they should be. Voice offers valuable opportunities for brands to provide solutions for everyday problems as people become more accustomed to voice functionalities.

Technology is continually developing to reflect the power of the spoken word, with parallel user demand for content that embraces voice. Audio consumption is increasing across a range of channels more varied than ever before, presenting brands with a variety of ways to reach receptive and highly engaged audiences.

Alongside digital radio, one of the key audio channels to watch is podcasts. A recent Radio New Zealand (RNZ) and Acast survey revealed that 31% of listeners consume podcast content at least once a week. Podcast advertising is executed through either pre-recorded audio ads (reminiscent of radio advertising) or through integrated sponsorships, with ads recorded by the show hosts. Many of the most popular podcasts are still populated with ads from international brands (Blue Apron, anyone?), but local publishers are already offering partnership opportunities with popular titles, giving local brands the ability to seamlessly embed integrated ads into podcast downloads for Kiwi listeners.

There is a real opportunity for brands to capitalise upon podcasting’s expansion, and to improve the relevance of this channel’s advertising for the growing local audience—not just because the likes of Blue Apron aren’t yet available in New Zealand, but because the advertising needs to be seamless to fully take advantage of this channel’s highly engaged listenership.

Innovations are already underway in the podcasting world, too. Recently, we saw the introduction of new ways for multi-tasking listeners to engage with aural content, with The Guardian Visual Podcasts and Entale Media offering content for users to scroll through while they’re listening. While these podcast evolutions were driven by user demand, they will help grow podcast listenership moving forward.

Of course, we’re also seeing ad-blocking technology emerging in this space. Podcast ads are already skippable by individual users via the fast-forward button, however the format has previously been unaffected by ad blockers. Last month, AdAge reported that a new open-source software, Ad Block Radio, is promising to automatically detect and fast-forward through ads in podcasts. Crucially, this tech is still in its early stages, and needs further development in order to get around native ads read by podcast hosts and dynamically-inserted ads. In any case, these kinds of developments signal the growing popularity of the podcast format, and also the opportunity for brands to stand out by developing creative that engages with audiences, offers value and integrates with the tone and style that has helped to popularise the podcasting form.

While voice and audio opportunities are new territory for many advertisers, it’s important that brands transition into them with ads that match the channel—whether that’s a fit-for-purpose Alexa skill or an audio ad for the digital audio or podcasting space—otherwise they’ll be lost in the noise of this ongoing fad.

If you’re interested in developing a voice strategy for your brand, we’d love to help. Please contact your Group Business Director for more information.

Date: October 10, 2019