It wasn’t so long ago that conversations were all about ‘sound off and subtitles on’, with social platforms seen as the most exciting new way to reach consumers.

However, developments in tech and trends in media consumption have combined to catapult us from this silent screen arena into a new voice economy powered by speakers. It’s time for brands to say ‘hello’.

Thanks to a few different factors, namely the growth of in-car DAB, the resurgence of the podcast and the birth of voice assistants, there are now more listening touchpoints than ever before.

From an advertiser’s point of view, these tech developments build upon the established benefits of using radio in the comms mix (cost efficiency, ability to build an emotional connection, and flexibility) and layering in the additional advantages of incremental reach, sophisticated targeting and dynamic creative.

These new listening opportunities have kept audio consumption robust, with the average UK adult listening for 3hrs 9mins each day. While many predicted that new tech developments would lead to an ebbing away of the time spent with traditional media, the opposite has occurred for audio content.

Radiocentre research has found that the most common use of an Amazon Echo is to listen to radio or on-demand music services, with over two thirds using their speaker for this.

The opportunity posed by voice was raised at Advertising Week Europe this month by James Poulter, Head of Emerging Platforms at Lego, who asserted that “by 2020 most major brands will need some kind of audio or voice strategy in place, mainly because it’s becoming the primary [online] access point for many people in the home around content overall”.

It is now possible to target ads specifically to voice assistants via Global’s DAX and 69 different Bauer Radio stations, and these platforms offer a particularly interesting opportunity as a new broadcast channel.

Research published by DAX last week found that two thirds of advertisers recognise this potential and plan to create ads specifically for voice-activated devices in 2018. Consistent sonic branding (straplines, music, and voice) across channels has been found to drive brand recognition and likeability – the question for advertisers is how to take these learnings and capitalise on the fact that they can now tap into a new listener interface which is embedding itself intimately into peoples’ daily lives.

Voice now also goes beyond what a brand says in ATL advertising, and Poulter referenced the need for developing a ‘brand presence’ within audio. To reframe the importance of this, let’s consider that historically a consumer would generally only look to speak to a brand to complain; customer service teams in call centres and in charge of community management for social platforms would be equipped with a brand bible which dictated tone of voice, but few brands had an established consistent audible voice.

Voice assistants now pave the way for positive one-to-one dialogue between a brand and a consumer, but the question is what does this sound like? Many brands who were first to market with creating their own Echo ‘skill’ have rushed onto the platform without creating a strategy to find and protect their brand’s voice. This is a missed opportunity, proven by the fact that most branded skills use the generic ‘Alexa’ voice, and as such have lost out on the potential for a rich brand touchpoint.

With a rapt audience, there has never been a better time for brands to recognise the important of voice, not only within their ATL strategies but within the full marketing mix to protect brand equity long-term.

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