The upsurge in interest in Audio continues to accelerate and excite progressive and innovative marketers. More and more are recognizing its undeniably powerful capabilities to draw attention, shift perception and trigger behavioural intent. The potential for increased adoption of Sonic Branding, Brand Voice and Sound Design seems infinite- especially since audio currently remains chronically under-leveraged as a day-to-day marketing tool in campaigns, nudges and activations.
So, what’s super-charging its growth? And why now? I think it’s likely driven by the need for brands to find fresh ways to attract and differentiate themselves in ever more cluttered environments. Firstly, marketers seem to view sound, music and voice as new tools to add to their armoury and appreciate their unique ability to not just reinforce visual content but to provide enriched experiential value to it. In our ‘always on’ economy, there’s also the increased focus on Distinctive Assets to deliver greater mental saliency, build and trigger brand feelings, values and usage occasions -anytime, anywhere.
Secondly, smarter Creative agencies, be they advertising, innovation / product designers, identity or CX businesses, are adding audio expertise to their credentials as an opportunity to deliver more impactful experiences, create new revenue streams and USPs for themselves. An added expertise in audio is increasingly seen as a point of difference. And digital and hybrid (digital + ‘real world’) experiences are increasingly being designed by brands, offering yet more channels to use audio.
And thirdly, advances in neuropsychology are helping us better understand its inherent power to forge and enrich brand-related memory structures; whilst new, deeper, neuroscience-led tools provide better ways to evaluate and optimize the effectiveness of voice, music and sonic design solutions. While most people lack a sonically- rich enough vocabulary to describe their responses to audio, we all recognise how sound can move us emotionally or instantly take us back to earlier moments in our lives.
However, with the opportunity comes challenges. One of the challenges brand owners commonly express in becoming more involved in audio is their lack of expertise in it. It's customary, of course, for marketers to develop a strong competency with imagery and copy- it is, after all, part and parcel of the average brand manager’s job! However, in contrast, marketer competency in audio remains a rarity. This in turn presents its own hurdles for creative agencies in the briefing and critiquing of solutions. A frequent complaint is that clients struggle to articulate meaningful critiques on recommended work and lack confidence in their own abilities to judge the likely suitability of different sonic options. The result often being another frustrating, (and unbudgeted) round of creative development without enough clarity on its direction.
One way around this is through training and mentoring to upskill those involved in both commissioning and delivering audio solutions. The other is in new science-led approaches for pre-testing and optimising work-in-progress. Yet, traditional Market Research techniques have had a long and difficult relationship with the creative industries; many creatives consider consumer feedback from surveys and focus groups to be over-rationalized, and at worst, plain misleading. These views seem exacerbated when using traditional tools to measure response to sound and music. A reliance on box-ticking and open-ended questions obliging research participants to find the words to describe their responses, does not feel a fit-for-purpose recipe.
The good news is, today, we are armed with a better understanding from neuroscience of how the brain processes audio. We know that measuring response patterns at an implicit / non-conscious level will provide deeper insights into the likely effectiveness of different solutions. In this way we can more meaningfully predict the degree to which a composition, a sonic logo, or a particular voice is likely to trigger the intended feelings, values and brand associations. And the very latest online implicit methodologies are sufficiently agile and rapid to enable iterative test-n-learn evaluation and optimization throughout the creative development process. As a result, the most progressive agencies are pre-testing audio solutions at key stages of evolution- to ensure that their intuitively backed hunches are also supported by science-based market research.
As Studio Resonate’s Sonic Strategy Director (and self-proclaimed “audio alchemist”), Steve Keller explains: “Sound science and sound art are two sides of the same coin. Incorporating science-based consumer insights into the creative design of sonic assets and experiences not only increases the likelihood of their effectiveness, but can also guide objective decisions about how to best use them across multiple consumer touchpoints.”
CloudArmy research techniques can be used to answer a wide array of audio related research questions. For example: to what extent do different idents feel like a uniquely tight fit for your brand personality? To what degree does it feel familiar for your category, yet be uniquely attributed to your brand? Which composition has the power to instantly evoke key values and feelings across a range of different touchpoints and occasions? And which specific voice is going to most powerfully trigger deeper emotional responses to your advertising.
And each of these questions is answered at the Implicit or intuitive level of consumer response. And that, I believe, is the key to unlocking the marketing power of audio. As we say at CloudArmy: Audio works at the deeper level; therefore it deserves to measured at that level.