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Sounding Off: Why Audio is the Surprising Star of Customer Engagement

In a world filled with visual stimuli and digital distractions, one medium has, ironically, quietly been making its mark: audio.

While audio as a medium is easy for brands to write off since it’s often consumed while multi-tasking, that’s precisely what makes it so valuable. Only audio captures our attention in such a uniquely immersive way.

From the podcast listened to on a commute to the welcoming “ta-dum” of Netflix at the end of a long day, consumers take audio with them on their daily journeys. And, by extension, the brands that have invested in the medium.

In this article, we’ll explore why audio is the future of customer engagement—and how you can tap into the power of sound to drive business growth.

Audio as a branding tool

Your sense of hearing originates deep in your brainstem, allowing sound to fundamentally influence your physical and mental state. A single sound can increase your heart rate, make your palms sweat, bring up happy memories, or even cause you to shed a few tears.

The undisputed ability of auditory stimuli to evoke strong emotions is why brands increasingly are looking to build a sound strategy.

So, how can sound be used as a branding mechanism? Here are just a few auditory levers you can implement as part of an integrated sound strategy:

  • Sonic logos: These short audio cues establish a brand’s audio identity. You open Netflix, and the first thing you hear is their sonic logo. Next time you’re on a road trip and hum "bada-ba-ba-ba” when you pass the iconic Golden Arches of McDonald’s—that’s the effect of a sonic logo.
  • Music and brand anthems: Crafting a brand anthem that aligns with your brand’s core values while triggering a positive reaction that grabs the listener’s attention can be very powerful. Brands that use music matching in their brand identity are 96% more likely to be recalled than brands with no music or poorly fitting music. This might be why you know who to call when "I have a structured settlement, and I need cash now." (Call J.G. Wentworth, 877-CASHNOW).
  • Voice: As audio-first platforms like podcasts grow in popularity, interacting with consumers through voice—and, more specifically, a consistent and recognizable voice—is becoming increasingly crucial for brands. You don't need to see a little green gecko to know the British accent speaking to you about car insurance over the radio is talking about Geico.

Audio advertising by the numbers

A recent Lumen study on audio advertising found that audio outperforms video (across all channels) in capturing attention and driving brand awareness and consideration.

Attention, recall, and brand choice metrics did not vary significantly across traditional radio, streaming audio, and podcasting—but all outperformed video ads.

And audio's dominating performance goes far beyond top-of-funnel awareness. Audio as a medium outperforms all others throughout the full funnel, according to Nielsen's Commspoint Influence, driving 45% of listeners to purchase.

Radio stands the test of time

While linear TV—often referred to as traditional broadcast TV—continues to plummet with the rise of streaming services, radio has not experienced a similar demise at the hands of its streaming counterparts.

For the first time since Nielsen began collecting such data, AM/FM radio has neared linear TV in terms of time spent among people aged 18-49 in the US. As of Q4 2022, radio (including streaming radio) accounted for 67% of time spent with ad-supported audio among people 25-54, followed by podcasts at 18%.

The cost to reach audiences across connected TV, YouTube, and linear TV continues to rise—averaging $35-65 cost per thousand impressions (CPM), $20-25 CPM, and $10-15 CPM, respectively. In contrast, radio costs are a fraction of that, averaging just $5-6 CPM, making radio an attractive medium for today’s marketers and advertisers.

P&G has become the king of radio advertising: it became the largest radio spender in the US by 2021 and increased its radio spend by 43% in 2022, primarily on local radio. By leveraging radio, P&G increased its reach by 44% in the US for the age 18-49 demographic compared to its linear TV reach. While traditional radio spots have fallen off many brands’ media plans in favor of the hot new thing (be it TikTok, connected TV, or the metaverse), P&G stuck with the tried-and-true of radio. By tapping into the low-cost, high-impact channel, they’ve been able to drive consistently strong business performance.

Everyone has a podcast now

With over 5 million podcasts (and counting) to choose from now, it seems everyone and their mother has a podcast.

The newest rising trend? Short-form creators becoming podcasters. As creators born from the short-form boom of TikTok look for more dependable and lucrative income sources, they have turned to podcasts. No longer at the mercy of the algorithm or the time limit, podcasts allow creators to experiment more with content—and build a deeper and more genuine connection with their fans.

As the creators have moved to podcasts, the brands have followed. By capitalizing on the relationships the podcast host has built—via host-read spots—brands can improve performance from brand awareness to purchase consideration.

The same Lumen study mentioned above found that podcasts drive the most attentive seconds per thousand impressions—a measure of attention—compared to other digital, social, and TV benchmarks. And if the podcast host reads the ad, it moves the needle even more. In fact, 75% of consumers in a recent study indicated that podcast hosts are the most influential force in driving their actions and life decisions—including their purchasing habits.

The sound of success

Whether it's the familiar jingle that resonates with us or the voice of a trusted podcast host, audio has woven itself into the fabric of our daily lives, presenting an intriguing avenue for brands to explore. By capitalizing on sound's emotional resonance and persuasive influence, brands can build a unique audio identity that enhances customer engagement and drives full-funnel performance.

And that’s music to any marketer’s ear.

Additional contributions by Annabel Gordon, Growth Architect, and Liam Nash, Growth Architect

Tech + Us: Monthly insights for harnessing the full potential of AI and tech.