By Tammy Greenberg
Video didn't kill the radio star. Neither have multiple forms of media that have emerged in the last few decades. Perhaps more important, radio has spawned the dramatic and ongoing rise in voice technology that has captured consumers' imagination and then some. According to the Smart Audio Report from Edison Research and NPR, 53 million people over age 18 in the U.S., or 21 percent of the population, now own at least one smart speaker, while the total number of devices in homes has increased 78 percent year-over-year. And it's not just one smart speaker: 22 percent of people own two smart speakers and 30 percent own three or more.
Voice technology is becoming ubiquitous. The automobile, of course, provides a highly unique environment for voice-activated experiences. Nearly every new vehicle on the market today offers the driver the ability to control many features, including in-car entertainment, with the sound of a voice. With voice controls, the driver can also request where to tune in. What's more, the possibilities to respond to advertising calls-to-action are becoming quite real.
Imagine hearing an ad on the radio and using just the sound of your voice to tell your vehicle to drive you there, or asking for the information to be sent to your smartphone via SMS or text.
Radio is audio and audio is sound. Voice is sound and sound is audio. It entails opinion, attitude, expression, a means to convey desires, and answers. The power of voice continues to rise with the insurgence and adoption of AI-based technology and other online tools.
A Renaissance for Radio
What do people do with their voice-activated technology smart devices? First and foremost, they listen to music — roughly 74 percent, according to Adobe. Asked what they have requested their smart speaker to do in the past week, both first adopters and mainstream smart speaker owners said playing AM/FM radio was No. 1, the Smart Audio Report says. Simply put, smart speakers bring radio back into the living room, the bedroom, the kitchen, and the office.
Consumers are also using the devices to check the weather, get sports scores, conduct basic research, peruse recipes, ask fun and trivial questions, and buy lots and lots of stuff. In fact, by 2022, voice shopping is expected to jump from $2 billion to $40 billion, according to an OC&C Strategy Consultants study. The study adds that voice commerce is the next major disruptive force in retail.
People use their voice to garner whatever desired response they want. There's no need for a keyboard or a button — just the sound of a person's voice and the proper audible cue (or command).
As the market evolves, radio stations and their brand partners have an obligation and a tremendous opportunity to ensure they're delivering on their consumers' voice requests, their desires, and their commands.
Radio Is a Major Platform for Brands to Build Audio Identity
Consumers' voices are louder than brand voices. However, 81 percent of smart speaker owners are open to skills and features created by brands for smart speakers, per the Smart Audio Report.
Radio stations across the country continue to ensure their listeners know how to ask a voice-activated device to play their favorite station, tune in to hear a certain radio personality or specific radio broadcast, enter a contest, or request a song.
Indeed, radio is the only platform for brands to successfully establish an audio identity among the masses and drive awareness for their voice commands and skills.
Sonic Branding Is About to Boom
Think about sounds, tones, melodies, or jingles wedded to major brands. Intel's four-note bongs, McDonald's' "I'm Lovin' It" refrain, Taco Bell's bell, NBC's three distinctive notes, and Little Caesars' "Pizza! Pizza!" are prime examples. Another recent example is the Mastercard melody, which is flexible and adaptable as it crosses use cases, genres, and cultures.
There has been an exhaustive amount of research conducted throughout the past several decades regarding the power of sound and how it impacts moods, influences product sales, influences consumer spending, stimulates our brains, aids in healing, keeps us company, and triggers myriad emotional reactions.
According to Harvard Business Review, the strategic use of sound can play an important role in positively differentiating a product or service, enhancing recall, creating preference, building trust, and boosting sales.
As numerous studies indicate, sonic branding connects hearts and minds, familiar music cues generate memories, the speed of sound sparks faster responses than visual imagery, and audio signatures convey a brand's emotions.
For the past three years, Veritonic has published a report that quantifies the value of audio logos. Key findings from the reports include:
- Jingles increase success
- Brand audio logos/cues enhance uniqueness of message
- Clarity and focus on a product drives purchase intent
- Multiple product mentions in a single spot diminishes impact
- Emphasis should be on the company's products, not the competition
- Millennials respond more positively than older adults
The Veritonic Audio Logo Index, which was released in early April, not only reaffirms the above findings, but also found that when brands, including Honda and Xbox, played their audio logos at both the beginning and the end of their ads (instead of just the end), they achieved stronger results.
The report also revealed that audio logos with melody outperformed those without by almost 25 percent and were more than 50 percent more memorable. What's more, the study found that including the name of the brand in the audio logo proved to be a powerful tactic for brands, including top scoring Liberty Mutual. And companies that include the brand name had a 14 point higher overall score, averaged 25 points higher for recall, and 53 points higher for brand identification.
Audio Cues Are Key
Radio has proven itself to be a call-to-action medium time and time again, driving store traffic, web traffic, search activity, and leads and sales for brands large and small. An audio cue, a command that triggers a response from a smart speaker or a connected car, is simply a call-to-action that should be included in radio advertising alongside the sonic identity that represents the voice of the brand.
For radio broadcasters, it is critical to continue to have their radio station brands found and discovered on smart speakers. To ensure that happens, broadcasters use their megaphones across platforms — and it works. Throughout 2018, CUMULUS Media ran promotional spots across its portfolio of 445 radio stations, once per hour for three-and-a-half months, educating listeners about how to enable the voice skill and request their stations. At the end of 2018, 19 percent of the broadcaster's streaming listening was occurring via smart speakers.
The company continues to run an average of eight promotional spots per day across its various stations, as listening surges. In another example, KSFI, a Bonneville radio station in Salt Lake City, heavily promoted its live skill during the holiday season because the station strictly plays holiday tunes toward the end of the year.
As a result, the station saw 27 percent of streaming sessions during the holidays coming through smart speakers. And according to Kurt Johnson, SVP of programming at Townsquare Media, "Townsquare's 321 stations have been steadily educating listeners and vigorously refining our smart speaker invocations over the past two years. The results are significant: Our Alexa listening is up 12 times in the past year."
Radio stations consistently educate their listeners about new technology, fresh ideas, and innovative ways to access the radio station's content and, when they do this, listeners react.
Giving Power to the Brand's Voice
Audio identities, audio cues, and instructions are critical for brands in a voice-activated and increasingly audible world. The only way to effectively build exposure for these signatures is through the power of the massive reach and scale that radio provides. And the best way to drive action among virtually every demographic is through radio's influence, appealing to listeners' hearts and minds while in their homes, their cars, at work, almost anywhere, in markets from coast to coast.
Tammy Greenberg is the SVP of business development at the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB), a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.