Sonic branding to be critical in the world of Voice & Audio in times to come

Guest Column: Niraj Ruparel, Head of Mobile & Emerging Tech, GroupM India; Head of Voice, WPP India, writes audio OTT platforms allow advertisers to create sonance that triggers brand association

e4m by Niraj Ruparel
Updated: Oct 23, 2020 3:16 PM
Niraj Ruparel

India is in the midst of an audio revolution with our audio OTT market projected to explode to 400 million in the next couple of years. Data also shows that Indians are spending 21.5 hours every week listening to music, against the global average of 17.8 hours. However, 9 out of 10 Indians are unwilling to pay for an audio OTT subscription. Most stream music and other audio content in free, ad-supported brand-safe environments.

Given that this inclination is likely to continue, it presents Indian marketers and media planners a huge and scalable market to tap. Until now, brands have leveraged vanilla audio ad formats like audio-only ad spots, display, or content integrations like sponsored playlists or podcasts to facilitate positive brand interactions. However, as the world becomes increasingly voice-controlled, it is high time for brands to bolster their sonic identity, given leading audio OTT platforms offer new and powerful ways for advertisers to create sonance that triggers brand association.

The importance of sonic branding in today’s audio world:

As concepts go, sonic branding isn’t a new one. Remember the Windows 95 startup sound (98 is my personal favourite) or the Play Station’s startup sound - with and without a disc? That’s sonic branding right there - the use of various auditory elements (music, voice, and sound effects) to brand a product or service. So why are we talking about it now? Well, the huge advances in voice and voice-enabled technologies are changing the way people interact with the environment. Customer experiences and communication are evolving, largely driving the seemingly sudden focus on sonic branding in the audio OTT universe.

In that regard, sonic branding represents a big opportunity to integrate every audio touchpoint into a brand’s storytelling and spark emotion to drive audiences to action. From audio ads to conversational AI, it’s important to note that a short-term tactical approach likely won’t yield long-term equity. Without neglecting the customer experience, brands need to create reusable and authentic sonic assets that drive recognition at all touchpoints, which is only possible via a sonic branding strategy. These sonic assets are generally easy to remember and understand, humanizing often trivial and “hidden” aspects of a brand’s identity along the way. They are crucial in cultivating brand recognition in the long run and as such should be a no-brainer for every brand.

After all, hearing is our fastest sense despite us being a predominantly visually-oriented species. We are all cognizant of brand logos, colour schemes, and various other imagery we relate and equate to their identity. However, we also perceive sound faster than anything else, which means there is every reason for the next campaign to sound more memorable than it looks.

Over the past few years, the tech ecosystem has done a pretty good job when it comes to monetizing their products and services via audio content and audio ads. Leading audio OTT players have introduced new products like DCOs that harnesses contextual and programmatic ad inventory served in real-time by tagging parts of commercial scripts based on age, gender, location, weather, time, music preference, device, and other 3rd party data. This means partner brands will now be able to create millions of permutations for each creative depending on the characteristic differences of each individual.

Thanks to constant technological innovations, there are more and more ways to harness and deploy sonic branding in order to create a unique, more intimate experience at scale both for listeners and advertisers trying to reach them. This primarily refers to conversational AI, a huge step forward in delivering a 360° media experience.

We’re already seeing functional examples in rural India where voice technology has become a necessity. In terms of advertising, leading ad tech firms are enabling people to talk to adverts and receive an AI-driven voice response just as you talk to Alexa or Google Assistant.

The dialogue-based ads offer the opportunity to tell meaningful stories via sonic branding whenever a brand’s sonic identity is heard. This is part of a broader effort to generate better brand engagement through audio, building on the existing experience where listeners had to say a verbal command in order to take action on the ad’s content. Thanks to 24/7 connectivity and access, any brand now has the ability to interweave its unique sonic signature into a consumer’s everyday life, from simply opening any sound-enabled app to listening to any piece of audio content.

‘Brand voice’, ‘sonic DNA’ and ‘conversational tone’ have become the new watch words for brands extending their reach to an interactive audio world where consumers want to converse with brands and the technology exists to enable increasingly natural conversations between brand and customer. This throws up a whole new range of issues and opportunities for brands. We saw Mastercard dethrone McDonalds earlier this year with its new holistic sonic identity but as conversational interaction with brands moves from early adopter technology the mainstream brands are having to decide what their voice identity sounds like at scale.

Already 27% of the global online population uses voice search on mobile and as consumer expectation increases technology has stepped up to meet the demand.

With interactions that go beyond the simple “yes or no” responses, interactive voice dialogue ads are poised to become more dynamic. Advertisers will be able to retarget listeners with new ad content optimized with full knowledge of each user’s engagement history with a campaign, along with their responses to each advertisement.

This provides real-time insight into user intent and a high degree of nuance previously unseen where advertisers understand the degree to which a user is interested and, as importantly, why a user might be uninterested.

Use cases:

Godrej Consumer is one of the early advertisers to activate innovation to run audio spot for voice promotion through Google’s programmatic arm – DV360. The objective of the campaign was to drive awareness and interaction for Godrej HIT content hub on Google Assistant. The HIT action is built with CMS on which queries can be updated real time. HIT voice skill also integrated the Platelet donor data, which can now be accessed through Google Assistant.

On Audio OTT, the FIK binaural audio is custom made into conversational ad. End to end user journey was mapped on Audio + Voice i.e User is listening to audio content on OTT and is being served a conversational audio ad which lands onto godrej google assistant skill.

Recently, a Tetley Green Mango Tea voice ad campaign that was run in both Hindi and English language showed English language with’ higher voice engagement than in Hindi providing geographic and age related insights into customer preferences.

We’ve seen some great examples of this in India with the launch over the summer of interactive voice ads. In one campaign for Pizza Hut users were asked to participate in an offer. Users who responded positively were able to place an order. Users that responded negatively where retargeted with a follow up ad that was adapted to their first answer. A significant percentage of users changed their minds and decided to place an order.

As the Godrej Ezee’s Winter campaign went live, the industry saw its first ever massive dynamic audio ad execution wherein more than 88,000 unique audio creatives  successfully created on the fly, and precisely served to audiences based on their location, and time based  temperature of their location garnering 6mn+ impressions.

By using artificial intelligence to build an extended dialogue between the brand and a consumer based on previous exchanges, advertisers can engage listeners with diverse dialogue scenarios tailored to optimally respond to their level of interest and specific appeal.

Our assumptions about voice tech are proving right: since voice is the natural way to communicate in the physical world, it should also be the case in the digital world. It was just a matter of tech catching up. Now with the right technology in place and friction removed, advertisers can experience one of the highest levels of engagement of any marketing channel while at the same time, users feel empowered to engage when and how they want.

As voice technology becomes better in language support, accuracy, and simplicity, we can also expect these ads to be more vernacular. Increasing digital penetration and cost-effectiveness of smart mobile devices have driven vernacular content diversity in India. In turn, voicetech and adtech combined will enhance the user experience through local languages and accents not only across ads but across channels and publishers. This reality will feel seamless to the user and brand and evolve the market from one of brands blindly chasing users across the web to a nuanced dialogue that feels like, well, just like a real conversation. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.

 

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