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Why sound will matter even more in 2021

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Now let the music keep our spirits high

Jackson Browne, 1974

I won’t linger on the typical refrain about what a crazy year 2020 was. But it is part of my job to reflect on where our market fit into all that craziness and to think about how what we learned this year could move our industry forward in a fruitful way for everyone.

From a sheer business standpoint, audio, arguably more than any other channel or format (and with expectations obviously adjusted for the pandemic), thrived in 2020. Driven by podcasting and voice, perpetually anchored by radio, and constantly innovating technologically, sound proved its power everywhere. Think of some of the highlights:

  • Spotify continues to double down on podcastingpurchasing Megaphone for $235 million.
  • Agencies express similar enthusiasm, with, for example, Omnicom committing (relatively) big dollars upfront to Spotify podcasts.
  • SiriusXM makes sure it’s solidly in the game, buying Stitcher. 
  • The Insurance sector massively boosts its network radio spend, with, for example, Progressive devoting 44% more budget than in the year prior.
  • Different kinds of market players enhance their audio capabilities, as, for example, Shutterstock buys AI music platform Amper.

We count ourselves among those proof points as well, as we received new investment from forward-thinking VCs who understand both the power of audio and that meaningful data underpins all of the above. 

Maybe, more importantly, sound continually proved its ability to move people and comfort them through troubled times. 

A favorite song’s power to pull you through needs no quantifiable support — we’ve all called on it, no doubt more this year than ever before. But when we think more about the above Jackson Browne lyric, we understand that “music” can be about more than song alone. Voice, for example, as we all know, has tremendous power to drive emotion. In its purest form, that can come from hearing from an old friend. The business application is, of course, less significant in the grand scheme of things but powerful in its own context. And the marketing world is getting better at leveraging that power both effectively and responsibly. 

Rishad Tobaccowala, whom I interviewed last week for The Sonic Truth podcast (episode to air just after the new year), dropped more wisdom on the subject in one conversation than I think I’ve ever heard. We’ll save most of it for the episode, but one tidbit: building on the adage “music takes you where you want to go,” he added, “voice takes you to whom you want to go.” Nothing connects with and moves people like the right voice.

Taking it closer to the business application, Rishad continued: “People talk about the need to personalize at scale…voice allows you to scale intimacy.” There were plenty of signs this year that companies got it. Take Amazon, for example, which started enabling brands to create custom voices on Alexa. Why? Because they know that brands could, as described in Business Insider, “…experiment with voice emotion, resonance, and personability — data which in turn could develop Alexa’s abilities to engage with consumers.”

Related, looking more broadly at tone, I think about our own Audio Logo Index, which came out in May. In a special supplement to this year’s book, we looked at how certain brands — Liberty Mutual, State Farm, Home Depot, and others — demonstrated how much they understood this power. While their classic audio signatures were as omnipresent as ever through the year, when it came to advertising during the pandemic, they knew that tempering things — altering those legendary audio brands, softening voices, and more — would strike that right tone with consumers. The data supported the strategy: all of those modified ads were among the highest-scoring on the Veritonic platform. 

2020 reemphasized how the right sound makes a huge difference to people. 2021, which is happily already shaping up to be a way better year (think vaccines), is when that realization turns more to activation. We know the amazing potential of audio to move people, and the table has been (and continues to be) set to make that happen. Whether it comes from brands jumping more firmly into voice commerce or investing more deeply in audio marketing, we are, as always, ready to play our part by ensuring that every decision, grounded in data, comes with total confidence that they’re moving people the right way.

Click Here to See and hear the 10 Brands That Got Audio Right in 2020.

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Advertising

Making Do, and Still Making Great Brand Messages, with NPR

“We’re the people — we go on.” (The Grapes of Wrath)

It’s amazing to look around and see the myriad ways people and businesses are refusing to let the current socioeconomic situation slow them down.

Can’t see your favorite band at Coachella because it was postponed to October? They’re playing for you online. Can’t wait until the fall to get great business insights from the rescheduled Advertising Week EU? They’ve launched an amazing new podcast — Great Minds, featuring everyone from Martin Sorrell to Ndaba Mandela — to rise to the occasion.

The same is happening on a day-to-day business level. When our partners at NPR’s sponsorship subsidiary National Public Media (NPM) needed to temporarily leave behind their amazing production studio, producers had to adjust quickly to the new normal. Because their Spotlight mid-rolls feature a voice from the sponsor, the team pivoted to remote recordings with guests joining from home. With that, they wanted to ensure that the quality of these custom sponsor messages would be just as high as those recorded in the studio, and that NPR listeners would respond to them just as favorably.  As any diligent business would, they turned to the data to find out.

NPM leveraged the Veritonic platform to measure how podcast listeners reacted to two variations on a custom mid-roll creative where the featured voice was captured during a remote recording. In addition to indicating their overall response, listeners were asked to assess the sound quality of the “remote” spots.

Both mid-rolls performed above the Veritonic Audio Score benchmark average, and post-intent numbers for the Spotlight audio featuring a customer voice were higher than a standard mid-roll.  That additional lift held strong even with the difference in audio quality.

Most encouragingly, after listening to both spots 87% of the audience felt that the audio quality was very good/good.

Making do in tricky times does not mean you have to sacrifice quality and impact. We continue to be proud to provide our agile clients with the means to prove it.

Categories
Audience Insights

In tricky times, the world turns to audio (again)

This article has been updated to include a new list of companies that are making audio content to support listeners. See below. 

From March 1933 to June 1944, Roosevelt addressed the American people in some 30 speeches broadcast via radio, speaking on a variety of topics from banking to unemployment to fighting fascism in Europe. Millions of people found comfort and renewed confidence in these speeches, which became known as the “fireside chats.” (history.com)

Not that he had too many other options at that point, but FDR clearly understood the power of radio to speak to and comfort the American people in a time of crisis. In both his choice of words and the manner in which he delivered them — informally, with calm — Roosevelt was a master of leveraging the medium to placate public concern, even if temporarily.

In our own current period of complexity, audio’s ability to comfort the world is more powerful than ever. Part of that power lies in the sheer number of options now available to us, from radio to streaming services to podcasts. Some of it surely lies in the fact that audio programming can be churned out easily wherever you are — perfect for the age of social distancing! 

But perhaps the most powerful part — as it was in the case of FDR — is built from smart, compassionate people. Getting up-to-the-minute news on developments is, of course, critical, but we’re talking about something different. Coming up with innovative ways to capitalize on the medium and develop programs that engage, distract, or otherwise remind us that there’s still a lot of fun to be had, is just as critical. We should be thankful for the people who do it.

Update: April 1, 2020

As we all get a little more settled in our new normal (at least what will be normal for a little while), we wanted to continue sharing the ways audio – be that radio, podcasting, or music – is here to comfort us.  There are obviously plenty more, as you see/hear them, don’t forget to share them! 

  • We are loving Pandora’s social campaign #WFHTips where members of the Pandora team share how they are keeping calm these days. This example is from our friend Steve Keller, Sonic Strategy Director at Pandora who practices ‘Virtual Commuting’.
  • Never expected 2020 was going to be the year that you took up a second career as a full-time teacher? Neither did we. Our partners at SiriusXM are giving parents a break with ‘Kids Place Live’ radio.
  • One perk for music lovers working at home is you can now listen out loud instead of through AirPods and have between-zoom-call solo dance parties. Veritonic team members were asked to each pick a song to add to a playlist with other audio industry members — check out our top picks! Isolation Radio.
  • Now trending on Stitcher is Westwood One’s new podcast: Scott Galloway’s The Prof G Show. A little humor and economic advice can go a long way in uncertain times like these.
  • Last but not least, sometimes being in the know can calm nerves. In case you want to stay up-to-date on the latest news (minus the fake news) Coronavirus Daily by our partners at NPR is our go-to.

If you wish to give to others during this time, consider MusiCares’ coronavirus relief fund. 

Here’s our favorites from last week: