What are we hearing? It really doesn’t matter. But when it comes to how what we hear affects bigger business decisions, there is a sonic truth and it matters a lot.
Tired of the “Laurel or Yanny” debate? So is everyone. And the reason why is that you never really cared.
Now, we’re not in the business of hurting robots’ feelings, so robots of the world (or people actually named Laurel or Yanny), please don’t hold that headline against us. Surely the question of what you hear has spurred tons of stimulating debate across media…and across the kitchen table. My daughter nearly sacrificed a week’s worth of dessert by calling me an idiot because I wasn’t hearing the truth (that, to her, it was clearly Yanny).
But, amidst deep analysis of the range of personal and environmental influences at play, the debate is, ultimately, just good intellectual fun. What you think you hear, apart from potentially causing a few mild scuffles, is not really going to affect your life in any important way. You’re going to keep doling out the brownies.
But when there’s something bigger at stake — when what we hear actually has a material impact on our lives — an objectively “right” audio becomes really important, especially in business.
An objective, sonic truth
As we all know by now, there is no one right answer to Laurel v. Yanny. People interpret what they’re hearing differently based on a whole host of reasons — everyone has their own sonic truth.
The marketing world obviously solved this problem with targeting; if you are, for example, a young woman listening on a particular kind of device, a brand could ensure that they’re playing to your sonic truth by serving you Yanny content. When targeting technology got really smart, there were suddenly plenty of right answers to go around.
Again, no one is really thinking about the hot business possibilities of Laurel v. Yanny, at least not yet (maybe if they were built on a blockchain). But when the question of what we hear does start to have real business implications, it’s a whole new, often very tense ballgame.
When the sonic truth matters
The critical question for businesses isn’t “what do people hear,” but “does what people hear impact them in a way that might make them a customer (or a better customer)?” Everyone, from the brands using audio to forge deeper customer connections, to the streaming services and radio networks trying to prove to those brands that their platforms are the best places to make those connections, needs to ask this. Does a given spot (or the voiceover for this podcast, or the audio branding in this video) get the emotional reaction we’re looking for? Is it memorable? Does it compel people to purchase?
While more generic ad analysis exists, amazingly, no one has really been able to figure out what works about audio in particular yet (in ads, videos, voiceovers, podcasts, etc.), likely because they’ve never had a reliable, easy way to quantify its value. Understanding the relative value of audio assets, and making objective determinations about which to leverage as a result of that insight, has been hard.
We’ve all heard the myriad stories of how audio gets chosen — like, “my gut is to go with the real “Freebird” in this ad because it’s a famous song that people love.”
What if it turned out that a majority of the population has a different sonic truth — that they’d respond just as positively to something that reminds them of “Freebird” at a fraction of the cost to the brand? On the other hand, what if the real “Freebird” is really the best way to go?
The point is, in a market where digital audio ad spend is expected to surpass $20 billion by 2020, there’s simply too much at stake to not look to the data for that objective truth.
So apologies to Laurel and Yanny, but when the question turns to effectiveness over perception — and understanding what’s quantifiably “right” is the difference between making a real impact on consumers or not, keeping clients happy or not, saving money or not — you’re just not that important.