2019 – the year audio became unavoidable
16 December 2019

This article first appeared on WARC.

Brands have only skimmed the surface of the true potential of audio media, argues Flora Williams Connections Planning Business Director at OMD UK. Voice will be key to its next phase of growth.

2019 was the year audio became unavoidable, to both the consumer and the advertiser.

The openness, diversity and low-cost entry point for audio has resulted in many years of continuous, unrivalled talent. This, as well as consistent, insight-driven tech innovation and an increase in devices to listen to audio, means that audio is now truly unmissable.

It is an industry full of talent, utilising tech to the best ability to deliver better products and content for the customer.

The fragmentation of audio has not decreased its reach, with 90.6% of UK adults tuning into audio each week (IPA Touchpoints 2019). There are more moments than ever before to reach your consumer via audio, whether that’s audio’s bread and butter – in the car, at home or on radio – or new technology-driven options such as streaming whilst on the move, listening to downloaded podcasts or music whilst travelling, or using your voice-activated device at home.

This is not even considering the challenging multimedia landscape which audio competes against. It is not “new news” that linear TV viewership continues to decline and fragment due to changing consumer behaviour, creating both cost and reach challenges on one of marketers’ most loved channels. However, TV was described as being at a “tipping point” back in February and 16-34 adults in particular have seen a double-digit decline in eyeballs. Over on digital video, 2019 was the year of scrutiny on brand safety alongside detailed data-driven analysis of further metrics than completion rate, such as on-target percentages.

Audio has become a marketer’s dream when it comes to effectiveness, as it continues to be a reliable option for high listen-through rates, cost efficient CPTs/ CPMs and cost-effective reach, which hasn’t been affected by other adverse factors within the media market. To anyone who hasn’t developed an audio strategy for their brand or considered investing in audio advertising – ignore audio at your peril.

But what is the big watch out for 2020?

Audio as a medium is already fertile but the catalyst to the explosion of audio in the last 12 months has been voice, and we’ve only skimmed the surface of it’s true potential. After all, there is a reason why over 10,000 employees at Amazon are employed for voice alone.

You learn to speak before you learn to write, so there is a natural behaviour ingrained in us as humans to ask questions through voice, rather than through writing. You only need to look at how children under three engage with voice-activated devices to see the frictionless opportunity of voice. Some have even realised you can get the answers to the times table by asking Alexa!

And the numbers speak for themselves.

The recent MIDAS report shows that 22% of UK consumers listen to voice-activated devices each week. This is up from 4% in 2018, a more than fivefold increase.

Now that nearly a third of all adults own a voice activated speaker, what are the future opportunities for audio?

In-car voice recognition has been driven (excuse the awful pun) by safety. Voice in car isn’t a huge landslide revolution as it has been available in different forms for a while now, and whilst car technology has greatly improved, purchase is generally infrequent. But the big change is that the ‘big boys’ (especially Google and Amazon) have created software specifically for cars which makes it easy to connect your mobile to your car. For example, there are more than 500 car models which are compatible with Apple Carplay, whilst Google Android Auto has around 225 models so far. You just need to make the effort to buy one of these in the next couple of years to see the potential this medium has.

On the other hand, Alexa and Google Home are also ones to watch out for 2020. Three-quarters of voice activated speaker usage is live radio and 23% is on-demand music services (MIDAS Autumn 2019). Only 1% respectively are podcasts and audiobooks. For an advertiser, buying into the likes of DAX, Bauer instream, Spotify and now Amazon Music are the best options for the moment.

For brands thinking of future-proofing themselves, skills (the software command) are a big win with relatively few being used by consumers – but only if there is a clear and real consumer need or desire which is fulfilled easier through their creation. I have definitely overused the Domino’s Pizza skill – the command “Alexa, ask Dominos to feed me” fulfils this way too easily for my bank balance and waistline.

It’s evident that audio has become an unmissable and unavoidable advertising option for brands. We’re listening to and using audio mediums more than ever before and advertisers need to take advantage of the new opportunities that audio is offering. However, audio is yet to hit its potential, and 2020 will see voice elevate audio to the next level. So, keep your ears peeled; audio is only going to get louder

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