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From Audible to MDC to Veritonic, the message is clear: you need an audio strategy

Scott Klass July 13, 2018
From Audible to MDC to Veritonic, the message is clear: you need an audio strategy
We were honored to be a featured participant in two great and important events before the July 4th holiday: Newark Venture Partners (NVP) Demo Day and MDC’s Immerse event in Soho. At Demo Day, where some of the best, most innovative young companies pitch to a packed house of business leaders, investors and fellow startups — where we pitched Veritonic only a year ago — our CEO Scott Simonelli dug in on the power of bringing an evidence-based approach to audio marketing with Audible CMO John Harrobin and Ian Schafer, CMO & President at Muzik. Five hours later we found ourselves at the swanky Galvanize coworking space in Soho, where Scott and MDC Partners Chairman/CEO Scott Kauffman chatted about the importance of audio measurement for brands. While both panels covered a wide swath of the audio marketing landscape, the fundamental takeaway was clear: you need to be building a data-driven audio strategy now to capitalize on a massive opportunity. Why now? There are plenty of reasons, but let’s focus on three.

1. Because the old frontier is the new frontier

John Harrobin from Audible was quick to point out the irony of labeling audio the hot new thing. And yet, it’s hard to find an article these days, if it relates at all to the current state of media and technology, that doesn’t touch on the “renaissance of audio,” driven substantially by innovations around voice. The power of audio is both eternal and topical. “Three seconds of sound can last a lifetime,” Scott said. Anyone who’s ever lost in Pac Man knows exactly what he means. “Your eyes are busy but your mind is free,” John stated, perfectly capturing one of the many things that audio can do that other formats cannot. Combine that inherent power with the state of modern media consumption and things get really revealing. A recent Nielsen Neuro Science study found, for example, that TV ads aren’t seen 61 percent of the time — a reality driven primarily by our multi-screen culture. According to Edison Research, 44 percent of U.S. consumers say they’ve streamed audio in their cars. In other words, people are distracted but they’re always hearing — and being influenced by what they hear. At MDC’s Immerse event later that evening, the conversation between the two Scotts equally emphasized audio’s unique power: It’s not just about a brand’s look and feel anymore, it’s about how a brand sounds and feels — audio evokes emotion and catches attention faster than visuals. There are so many facts and prognostications about the power of audio, it’s hard to know which to think about first (we’ve consolidated a bunch of good ones in this infographic to help). But this--a point emphasized by Scott Kauffman--is probably most telling: by 2020, more than 50% of searches will in fact be driven by voice. In other words, search is moving to audio. How can brands, agencies and platforms not be building voice into their strategies and testing which voices will be most effective at driving sales?

2. Because people tend to over-rely on technology

It’s easy to be taken with the bright, shiny object, and AI is only growing brighter and shinier. Rightly so; artificial intelligence, machine learning and the like are helping power our lives and businesses in ways no one ever thought would be possible. But the key word in that sentence is help; AI is a tool — it’s meant to serve and facilitate a strategy, but it’s not a strategy in and of itself (I’ve written about this before; unsurprisingly, the title uses a music metaphor :-). While the conversation at Demo Day focused a lot on the growing power of technology, everyone agreed that people will always need to inform the machine-learning layer. John Harrobin exemplified the point in the way Audible customers regard many audiobook narrators — that is, as celebrities. There’s personality-power there that technology can’t capture in the same way. As Brad Simms (CEO, GALE & Partners) articulated on the first panel at MDC Immerse, it’s easy to get carried away with technology and devise overly-complex solutions to problems that can be solved, at least to some degree, by merely listening to what your customers are telling you. Again, the point is not to take technology out of the equation, only to keep it in its proper perspective — as a supplement to a strategy that’s equally about listening to people. Veritonic’s methodology for generating audio effectiveness data embraces a similar philosophy, as one Scott explained to the other Scott on the second MDC panel. Our “machine listening and learning” capability provides a unique, instant prediction of how clients’ audio creative will perform in the market. But our technology also queries panels of people to figure out how voice, music or any other sonic asset makes them feel (which, in turn, continually helps the system learn). That requires clients figuring out exactly what types of people they want to query, what questions they want to ask them and more — in other words, a strategy based on their specific needs and goals.

3. Because audio creative measurement is finally here

The most important word in the vocabulary of advertising is TEST. If you pre-test your product with consumers, and pre-test your advertising, you will do well in the marketplace. (David Ogilvy, 1963)
It feels like everything is measured these days, from overall campaign effectiveness to attribution to brand studies. And for good reason — testing means maximizing your opportunity to reach people, and it empowers you to spend responsibly. Why, then, has it been glaringly absent from audio creative — particularly quantitative analysis of pre-market audio creative? Part of the answer is that the ability to measure a lot of audio creative — quickly and easily — simply hasn’t existed. Consumer neuroscience tools, for example, can be leveraged by brands, broadcasters and others to help predict people’s emotional response to ads. But studies like that don’t lend themselves to fast decisions, and they’re expensive. Another part might be that marketers think they have audio creative covered with other kinds of measurement. Take attribution: if a certain piece of creative is what drove an ad’s success, then attribution, in theory, should reveal that. Perhaps, but attribution, as we all know, is a complex ball of wax and, more importantly, it’s after-the-fact — it measures what’s already in-market. If you subscribe to Mr. Ogilvy’s wisdom above, you know that pre-market testing is a very different, critical thing. Yet another reason why there hasn’t been much audio creative testing might relate to the nature of audio itself, that is, it’s something that everyone has a strong opinion about. With music in particular, everyone wants to be the one who matches the perfect track with the rest of the media (ad, video, podcast episode, etc.). There’s something fun about the debate. But when opportunities like what the audio market is currently producing are at stake, sticking by a hunch, without the data to support it, is not responsible marketing. Whatever the reason why it hasn’t existed, the good news is that audio creative measurement exists now, and it’s part and parcel of any sound audio marketing strategy. About 10 years ago, if you were a marketer without a social strategy, or an agency without one for your client, you had good reason to be paranoid about your job. With the way the market is evolving now, when someone asks, for example, how smart speakers relate to your overall audio strategy, you probably don’t want to be the one without a good answer. And whatever that answer is, you probably want to be sure you’re backing it up with proof.

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