New research from Global’s ad exchange DAX and MTM investigated advertiser perceptions of digital audio media.

Digital audio listeners were already multiplying fast pre-pandemic. According to the MIDAS 2020 spring survey, numbers had followed a continuous upward trajectory for three years across all formats, including music streaming (94%), streamed audio (29%), and podcasts (82%). Growth, however, has undoubtedly accelerated since the pandemic – bringing with it not only bigger audiences, but also a wide variety of new listening habits.

With day-to-day routines and leisure activities significantly impacted, audio engagement has undergone a sizeable evolution. For advertisers, this makes it vital to adapt their digital media plans accordingly or risk missing valuable opportunities.

To provide insight into the growth of digital audio and the reasons behind it, Global’s digital ad exchange, DAX, commissioned MTM to conduct a survey of more than 200 manager-level respondents in media agencies and advertiser teams, investigating their perceptions of digital audio.

Here are the top takeaways for advertisers aiming to turn up their post-pandemic media effectiveness with audio.

1. Digital audio is a powerful tool for trust

The pandemic drove a shift in interest verticals dependent on the changing needs of consumers – whether through a desire for reassuring news and a personal connection, or a craving for comedy and escapism content.

Audio increasingly became the ongoing background to a wide variety of activities, offering constant company for listeners who were suddenly all working remotely. This is why 80% of respondents agree digital audio advertising is a great companion throughout the day, making audio a powerful tool for advertisers looking to create consistent one-to-one connections.

Whether consumers are listening to curated music playlists, tuning into their favourite radio station or immersed in a carefully chosen podcast, they have an active interest in the audio content they are listening to, which will reinforce the reputation of the brands advertising within it.

As well as keeping audiences entertained and informed through lockdowns, presenters built virtual relationships with listeners when they were looking to fulfil this need for companionship, leading 71% of respondents to consider audio a great way to build brand trust. By staying true to brand values, targeting relevant audiences and tailoring creative, there are plenty of opportunities for brands to position themselves as trustworthy partners consumers can depend on.

Podcasts in particular emerged as a useful way to target an engaged audience by defining their passion points and favoured subjects, with 79% recognising the influence a host had on their audience and 55% agreeing this makes podcasts a core part of their media strategy. Having a familiar host or household name personally deliver a message in this way is a useful tool to advertisers looking to deliver trusted authenticity to the listener, which they crave.

2. There are unique opportunities for creativity and contextual relevance

In a highly competitive attention economy, digital audio rates higher than any other media when considering interesting creative opportunities, providing an especially suitable platform for unique messaging and campaigns. This perception of creativity is largely based around digital audio's other key characteristics, such as environment and targeting.

The study showed that advertisers appreciate the targeting solutions available to them via digital audio advertising, with 80% agreeing it enables them to provide strong contextual relevance. While traditional audio channels reach listeners in a range of locations and circumstances, digital audio amplifies that contextuality and allows marketers to plan a relevant connection to content that a listener has specifically selected or activities the listener is partaking in. Brands can therefore engage consumers in a more meaningful way and provide messaging that resonates with their audiences at scale.

Despite a reduction in homeworking, with UK employers asking people to be in the office between two and four days a week, digital audio marketing remains highly contextual, especially in relation to hybrid working models. It is likely that consumption timing will change; with more listeners commuting, audiences will be tuning in at more defined drive times, rather than the more widespread continuation of consumption through the day, as seen throughout lockdowns. This, however, will give advertisers the chance to harness more refined tailoring in line with particular demographics switching on at different times throughout the day.

3. Advertisers appreciate audio’s resilience and flexibility

Looking towards the future, the report highlights an encouraging intent towards increased advertising spend over the next year, especially in audio streaming (+43%) and podcasts (+41%).

With successful podcasts now equalling the listener numbers of some radio shows, it is no wonder that advertisers are including the channel in their plans to reach a wider audience with brand-safe alignment alongside high-quality, trusted content, to build their brand long term.

As we emerge into a post-pandemic world, respondents point to the importance of flexibility (70%) to accommodate marketing needs. This is, perhaps, one reason the majority (75%) of those surveyed found digital audio advertising effective over the course of the pandemic. More broadly speaking, this flexibility also creates a resilient option in a digital advertising industry facing much continued discussion and uncertainty around long term privacy-safe advertising options in a post-cookie world.

Considering the increased marketing activity on digital audio channels prior to, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, it now features as a core element of a media plan to reach mass audiences in a targeted fashion, giving the best value to advertisers as part of a digital media plan.