By: Scott Klass

Look at the smartphone that’s likely in your hand right now. Think about how fundamental a role that the phone plays in your life. No one need remind you that it’s one of the most revolutionary innovations ever. The smartphone changed the way we all live.

Now think about this: people are adopting smart speakers faster than they adopted smartphones in a similar, early phase of their existence in the US. That’s remarkable for a lot of reasons but focus on this: everything – from the way people consume media to the technology that facilitates it – points toward our present and future being about sound.

Happily, for marketers, media platforms, show developers or anyone else who leverages audio, there is, in fact, a sonic path forward.

“Your eyes are busy, but your mind is free”

When Audible CMO John Harrobin made the above statement in a recent panel discussion with our CEO, he summarised audio’s power perfectly: it touches us in ways other media cannot. Modern consumers, perpetually distracted and on-the-go – who Pandora recently dubbed as living in “the earbud era” – are more exposed to audio’s influence than ever, and even when they don’t intend to be; a recent Nielsen Neuroscience study found, for example, that TV ads aren’t seen 61 percent of the time. But they’re heard.

As a result of—or catalyst for—that shift, audio technology is a force to be reckoned with. Supporting stats abound, but consider this one alone: by 2020, more than 50 percent of all searches will be driven by voice.

Marketers need to be ready. But getting tangled up in technology hurdles is not their thing.

Maintaining seamless, lifelong relationships with their customers – and doing it in the most cost-effective way possible – is their thing. The way they connect to people through those technologies – the stories they tell and the way they tell them – is paramount.

If you believe that, then you also have to believe that the creative consumers’ experience (from voiceovers to music in ads) as both the primary vehicle for how those brand stories get told – and as the driver of nearly 50 percent of ROI – is the fundamental thing to get right.

Audio creative gets more effective starting now because we have data

For some reason, data around the impact of audio creative has been the neglected stepchild of the ad industry. In 1963, David Ogilvy famously said: “The most important word in the vocabulary of advertising is test.” When it came to everything except for audio creative, marketers followed the rule. Whether audio creative was neglected because the simple tools to do it at scale had been missing, or merely because people like debating audio too much, is anyone’s guess. The point is that responsible marketers now need to make the same data-driven decisions about audio creative as with everything else.

The good news is that this data – around people’s emotional response to audio creative, their intent to purchase based on that creative, and more – is now readily available, and it’s revealing things that will transform the market. That includes debunking long-accepted practices.

“we’re going to get a lot smarter about creating audio that drives sales” – Pierre Bouvard, CIO Westwood One

Several recent studies leveraging that kind of data have shown, for example, that despite the fact that most ads typically feature male voices, women overwhelmingly prefer female voiceovers. How fundamental a finding is this? Consider just one study (from IPG) that found that women impact more than 90 percent of purchases for vacations, new homes, food, and medications.

When hard evidence becomes available, whether it’s correcting for grand misperceptions in the market or helping to determine the best creative, that data becomes a catalyst for marketers to get things right – and for growth.

Audio creative gets more personally relevant

As the opportunities to reveal this “sonic truth” increase with new data, so do the opportunities for each type of audience to receive their own sonic truth – the audio creative that resonates with them the most. Here again, that sort of personalization has been around for a long time in display and other advertising, and audio is finally following suit.

And it matters. A recent study we did with Pandora proved that dynamic audio creative outperformed generic creative by 15 percent. So if you listen to the data around day-parting, for example, you’d know that delivering certain audio creative to men too early in the morning will fall on deaf ears, and you’d change course. That power obviously becomes amplified with programmatic — another area where audio is finally catching up to the rest of the market, as evidenced by activity like Pandora’s recent purchase of AdsWizz.

Combine the new availability of long-awaited audio creative data with the ability to bring personalized audio messages to audiences at massive scale – in the context of a market shift toward an audio-centric world – and it becomes clear: the revolution is sonic.