In the bubble where I work and live – that of voice assistants, audio and sound products and solutions – the proclamation that audio has arrived is undeniable. For us, the inhabitants of this bubble, the trends are clear, the facts are indisputable and the patterns are hard to ignore. But in my conversations with marketers and other business function leaders outside of the bubble — professionals who have to deal with an endless stream of new tools, strategies, and tactics, while keeping an eye on deliverables and time-sensitive financial results – I discovered the perception is very different. Audio as a category that one can assign to an owner and have a budget for, as a marketer does now with mobile and social media, has yet to crystallize. Instead, marketers feel like they’re being bombarded with random audio manifestations, from hardware and software to content and experiences, and they’re not sure what to do or where to start.
A basic sketch can explain not only why the emergence of audio is as much of a significant disruption as mobile and social, but also how that disruption is different. Unless marketers understand precisely what makes audio both appealing and unique, they will continue to be perplexed by the various manifestations of its presence and growth and unsure of exactly what action to take, without talk about the strategies to be formulated and the resources to be allocated.
Audio Value Proposition
Perhaps the best way to explain the value proposition of audio is to focus on two form factors that have rapidly become mainstream over the past five years or so: smart speakers and headphones.
Let’s start with some basic numbers.
Smart speakers burst onto the scene in 2016, when Amazon Echo and Google Home saw a unprecedented adoption rate compared to other digital devices, such as laptop, mobile phone and smartphone. According to Business Insider’s smart speaker reportin April 2021, 50.2% of US consumers now have a smart speaker at home, with, according to Canalysan expected growth of at least 21% from 2020. The growth of headphones is even more astonishing: a growth rate of 33% year-on-year in 2021 and a total of 310 million units that should be shipped this year.
The obvious question is: why is this happening and why now? With screen hardware – HDTVs, tablets and smartphones becoming more and more affordable (unless, of course, you want the latest high-end iPhone) – why the shift to a stand that doesn’t seem to offer much more? but much less (no images, only sound)?
The rise in demand for smart speakers and headphones is basically the same as the reason why the BlackBerry 7230 was eagerly embraced when it was introduced in 2003, and the same reason the smartphone quickly became mainstream with the arrival of the iPhone in 2007. They both allowed us to do things in situations where using the laptop was not possible or practical. For example, with our new portable devices, we could now read our mail while walking down the street with Blackberries in hand, browse the news and play games while riding the train, and basically do whatever we could. do with a laptop — but now literally anywhere. Our physical connection – at work or at home, where we needed Ethernet or Wi-Fi – was broken.
Related article: The future is multimodal: why voice alone will never be the answer
Marketing implications for the rise of smart speakers and headphones
With smart speakers and headphones, a new kind of liberation is underway. Namely, we are freed from our dependence on our eyes and hands to do things. Whether it’s a laptop, tablet or smartphone, in all cases we had to look, locate, hold, swipe, pinch, tap and put something down. Our eyes and hands were held captive while we used these devices. In other words, while the Blackberry and the smartphone freed us from a specific location, the smart speaker and headphones freed us to do the same things in new modal situations. For example, we can listen to podcasts while jogging, or ask the weather forecast under the hood while fixing our car, or ask for plant repotting information while repotting a plant, or ask for measurement conversions while preparing food. . The important thing is that before smart speakers and headphones, none of this was possible without us having to stop what we were doing, free our hands (and often wash and dry them), and then tap a keyboard or pecking at a surface.
The implications are enormous. For the marketer, a whole new world of situations has emerged that offers radically new opportunities to interact with prospects and customers. Audio as a vehicle for marketing products and services – i.e. the good old radio – has of course been around for over a century and has remained a relevant, effective and compelling channel for reaching buyers. and establish and deepen brand loyalty. But until now, audio has remained a one-way medium, with the listener merely a passive receiver of information. With smart speakers and headphones, the listener is now also a participant, an initiator of engagements. They ask, speaking naturally, for the things they want – information, experiences, interactions – and are able to do so with minimum effort and maximum convenience.
The exciting challenge for marketers is to identify opportunities where the brand can fill a need with this simple and elegant, yet powerful new medium. We’re already seeing this happen with the latest TVs you can buy at Costco: no more tedious tapping on the keyboards when you want to bring up a movie or when you want to change channels: just click on the remote and request.
We’ll soon start seeing calls to action from packages, TV and radio ads, billboards and magazines, storefronts and supermarket aisles, which take users from exposure to a brand to engage with that brand without doing anything more than talking. The possibilities are as varied as the situations where our eyes and hands are busy. And if you think about it, and ironically in large part thanks to laptops, tablets and smartphones, we now find ourselves in exactly such situations almost all the time.
Related article: Start with the voice? Think mobile
Dr. Ahmed Bouzid is CEO of Witlingo, a McLean, Virginia-based startup that designs products and solutions that enable brands to engage with their customers and prospects using voice, audio, and conversational AI.