November 29, 2017

Why Audio Branding Will Be Huge in 2018

Listening to podcasts is now bigger than Catholicism in the United States. Say what?!

It’s true. Today, 24% of Americans age 12 or older listen to podcasts monthly, while only 21% of Americans are Catholic. With a reach like that, isn’t it time your brand considered its audio branding strategy?

It’s not just podcasts that have consumers’ ears; big growth in audiobooks, voice assistants and smart speakers all signal that listening could begin to rival watching for the first time since The Golden Age of Radio.

Read on to discover just what a renaissance the medium is having and the opportunity it presents to your brand in 2018.

The Rise of the Podcast

Podcasting has been around a while (the invention of the format is dated to 2004) but it has taken time to gain traction. By 2008, only 19% of internet users had ever downloaded a podcast, by 2012 it was 29%. Today it’s 40%.

While this is a significant figure, what’s even more compelling is the proportion of highly engaged listeners that now exist. According to Edison’s report ‘The Podcast Consumer 2017’, which looks at American consumption of podcasts, 67 million Americans listen to podcasts monthly (that’s up 14% in one year). Meanwhile, 42 million Americans listen to podcasts weekly (since the UK tends to follow US trends we can assume it’s the way we’re headed too).

Jay Baer, President of Convince & Convert, says: “This is a truly big number, as it represents 15% of the total US population. For comparison purposes, 3% of Americans go to the movies weekly. Furthermore, 21% of weekly podcast listeners (approximately nine million Americans) listen to six or more shows every week.”

The Podcast Consumer 2017 from
Edison Research

People are starting to get truly excited about podcasts. In April this year, records were smashed with the release of investigative journalism podcast S-Town, which was downloaded more than 10 million times in the first four days.

As a point of comparison, consider that Ed Sheeran’s new album ÷, which was the UK’s fastest selling album in 2017 sold 672,000, and even Taylor Swift’s latest – the fastest selling album in the US – sold only 1,216,000. So combined they don’t even get close to the numbers of S-Town, a single podcast series.

What’s more, it’s now easier for advertisers to effectively capitalise on the growing popularity of podcasts. With iOS 11, Apple has introduced changes to the Apple Podcasts app that allow creators to track aggregated data about when users start, stop, and skip within an episode.

Up until now there has been no way to monitor how listeners using iOS interact with an episode – and since Apple still dominates the market (55% of podcast listeners use Apple Podcasts or iTunes) it’s meant that marketers have been operating in the dark.

Now advertisers will finally be able to gain real insight into the reach of their ads, with analytics that show how many people have listened and how many people have skipped over.

“Brand advertisers will be a lot more comfortable buying if we know exactly how many people are listening to a given spot,” Lex Friedman, Chief Revenue Officer at podcast advertising network Midroll tells Wired. “You can pay a price per listener, rather than a price per download.”

Judging by Edison’s research, these are consumers worth paying for: “The Podcast listener remains an affluent, educated consumer,” they state. “Predominately 18-54, and leans slightly male.”

However, they are also becoming increasingly more likely to gravitate to ad-free or ad-light subscription experiences. This means brands wanting to be heard might need to focus on creating their own content (and growing their own audience) rather than piggybacking on someone else’s.

Audiobook Sales Stacking Up

Where eReaders stole market share from physical books, audiobooks are now taking a growing slice of that back for themselves (not a problem for Amazon, which owns both Kindle and Audible).  

The Audio Publishers’ Association in America estimates that audiobook sales in 2016 totaled more than $2.1bn, up 18.2% on 2015. It was the third consecutive year that audio sales grew by nearly 20% in volume.

More than 67 million Americans now listen to audiobooks annually. Here in the UK, Nielsen’s ‘Understanding the UK Audiobook Consumer’ report shows consumer downloads of audiobooks stood at five million units between January and July 2017, 14% up on 2016.

The report goes on to say that around 40% of audiobook consumers, and especially those in the 18-34s category, are new to the market, only starting to listen to audiobooks in the last 12 months. Curiosity, multitasking, public libraries and children are key factors driving consumers to try audiobooks.

Laurence Howell, Senior Director of Content at Audible UK, says: “Audiobooks have a broad audience, but they fit in particularly well with the fast-paced and busy lifestyles of young people, who are likely to multitask, consume and digest while on the go.

“The findings from Nielsen’s study reflect the impressive rate of audiobook adoption among students and young professionals, who over the last two years in particular have become some of the most dedicated advocates of audio.”

The Connected Home

According to a recent Juniper Research study, by 2022 55% of American households (about 70 million homes) will have smart speakers and the average home will have 2.5 of them. Here in the UK, Attest’s own research shows that 17% of millennials already own a smart speaker.

With the recent passing of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, where smart speakers like the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini were available for just £35.99, adoption of this technology will no doubt have taken a big step forward.

Hands-free, internet enabled devices like smart speakers enable users to do everything from playing music to turning on the lights, ordering groceries to booking cabs, just by using their voice. And research by AnswerLab shows those who buy them, love them.

Half of all consumers report increased use since their first month, and almost 70% use their speaker every day. A further 63% of users like them so much, they plan to buy another one.

Amy Buckner Chowdhry, CEO & Co-Founder of AnswerLab, tells Forbes: “We have even seen a huge opportunity for brands to leverage smart speakers this holiday season. The majority of the smart speaker owners we studied were very interested in using their devices to learn about holiday products and gift ideas.”

Audio on Wheels

Brands will soon be able to reach consumers in their cars, too. Voice assistant technology is being integrated into vehicles by Nissan, BMW, Ford, Hyundai and Daimler. The tech will enable users to sync their home devices with their car. This means they can command the garage door to open with their voice or play an audiobook, picking up from wherever they left off when they were listening at home.

In fact, increased voice assistant adoption is driving the consumption of audio over screen (starting to see how this is all connected now?). You call out to Alexa to tell you the weather forecast, rather than bothering to pick up your phone. You have a book read to you rather than reaching for your Kindle to read one yourself.

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 11.41.29.png

Is it because we’re getting inherently lazier or do we just want to do more in less time?

According to Steve Bohme, Research Director, Nielsen Book Research UK, the enjoyment of listening also plays a big role: “It was fascinating to see from the research that while audiobooks appeal because they offer a chance to multitask, and provide a welcome distraction on long journeys, they are even more widely appreciated as a source of relaxation to enjoy at home, and preferred to other media when it comes to bedtime listening”.

Podcasts are also widely listened to at home. The research by Edison shows 52% of podcasts are listened to at home, and 18% in the car.

Says Jay Baer: “I’m so excited about Edison’s finding in this report that shows a steady increase in car-based audio and in-home audio (Amazon Alexa and Google Home). I believe these new ways to access podcasts will be the fuel necessary for podcast consumption to reach another level.”

Audio Advertising Just Got More Personal

Not only can audio advertisers now get reliable reach data, they can also target audiences far more precisely and personally. New dynamic creative technology for audio makes it possible to deliver personalised messages to listeners in real time based on weather, time of day, location, device and, of course, what they’re listening to.

Music streaming giant Pandora has partnered with A Million Ads to do just that. Lizzie Widhelm, SVP of Ad Product Strategy, tells AdExchanger: “Dynamic creative [is] not a new concept, but within the scope of audio, it’s very new. The partnership will allow us to customise a more personal experience for our listeners, so the audio ads that interrupt their music resonate more and don’t sound like the one-to-many creative experiences that audio delivers today.”

To leverage dynamic audio, brands can record a script with multiple voiceover variations which the system will select to play based on the listener data it imports. While it’s more work to make personalised assets for audio (in comparison to dynamic display creative), since they must be recorded by a human and not auto-populated from a database, they can be more easily scaled.

Every line of the script can be patched to a different piece of data, meaning 10 creatives could easily become 100 with all the different variables applied. To prove the point, A Million Ads references a campaign it worked on for a coffee retailer with seven different data variables that produced 240,000 possible variations of audio creative.

Says Steve Dunlop, founder and CEO of A Million Ads: “When you walk into a coffee shop, they call out your name when the coffee is ready. We recreated that in an advert where we recorded 400 names, covering 80% of the UK population, and got the barista to call out the name.”

Food delivery app Deliveroo (an Attest client) also explored the potential for personalisation on audio with a campaign run on Spotify and Digital Audio Exchange (DAX) over the summer. With the content of the ads determined by location, time of day, weather, day of the week and local restaurant supply, the campaign could be served in 46,000 different creative combinations.

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 11.41.41.png

Says Campaign, the ultra-specific audio ads were accompanied by dynamic out-of-home ads referencing calendar events such as the Wimbledon tennis championships, festivals and TV show launches. Deliveroo also set up branded pickup points in parks, allowing sun-lovers to have their food delivered to an outdoor spot.

Meanwhile, it’s easier than ever for brands to find podcasts to advertise on. Acast, which lets publishers monetise their podcasts, has launched a marketplace to enable advertisers to buy spots across more than 1,400 podcast-based programs, reaching 56 million monthly listeners.

Targeting options offered by the programmatic marketplace include age, gender, location and interests, meaning ads can be placed automatically, according to brands’ preferences. The ads are inserted in real time as podcasts are downloaded or streamed.

Acast’s Chief Revenue Officer Ross Adams tells TechCrunch he hopes the automation and targeting will attract brands that have been willing to advertise on digital music services like Spotify and iHeartRadio, but have stayed away from podcasts because of the limited technology.

Audio Branding Shifts Perceptions

Now that more consumers are relying more and more on audio for information and the importance of audio in branding is reaching fever pitch.

But how does your brand fare on the air? Do you ‘own’ and audio prompts and signals that prime consumers in the same way your logo or tagline might do?

Attest tested the strength of the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” jingle to see how widely recognised it was, and if the jingle improved people’s perceptions of the fast food chain.

When asked “How does McDonald’s make you feel?”, those who heard the jingle were 9% more likely to respond “Happy” than those who hadn’t. We also asked how likely they were to recommend McDonald’s to a friend, and those who had heard the jingle were much more positive.

The negative perception amongst those who didn’t hear the jingle went even further – they were more likely to say they hated or disliked the restaurant. So there’s power in audio, and in 2018 we expect a growing number of brands to recognise the importance of properly developing their brands’ audio elements.


If you can’t see by now that audio will be a big deal next year, you simply haven’t been listening. As more consumers move away from their desktops and smart devices for tasks that can now be completed hands-free, brands need to make sure their messages remain audible (literally).

Now is the time to start thinking about how you can incorporate audio as an element of your brand identity in 2018. A good way to start finding your voice is with market research.

And so you might be interested to hear that Attest can now run audio surveys to our audience of 30 million consumers across 80 different countries.

This means you can test audio creatives and messaging, measure recall, and get an accurate read on the uplift your podcasts or advertising has achieved.

Whatever your audio branding strategy looks like in 2018, Attest can help you gain the insights you need to be heard as we enter a new Golden Age of Audio.

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