As part of the WARC x Spotify “Getting your brand heard” report, Samrat Saran, Head of Client Solutions at Neuro-Insight US, explored the content and media synergy opportunities around digital audio plus how different levels of attention impact brand equity.

Headshot of Samrat Saran

Samrat Saran, Head of Client Solutions, Neuro-Insight US

How does digital audio fit within the complete marketing funnel?

We sometimes forget that one word can change the course of a nation, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve heard it or watched it. We have all seen the power of the spoken word in everyday  life, but when it comes to advertising we tend to forget that every medium can be equally powerful.

Conventional marketing wisdom relegated radio, print and digital to below the line, direct response or lower funnel metrics. It was easy to plan media when you thought in siloed buckets. But everyday people are interested in listening to stories regardless of format. The belief that equity building, long term brand affection can only be created by long form high production content needs to be challenged. The world of media can no longer be visualised as a linear spectrum that runs parallel to the marketing funnel. We have to start thinking in terms of stories, what do we want people to feel, to find relevant and more importantly to retain and remember.

So, in the funnel, Digital audio can come anywhere. It can work as a direct response technique or also work at the top of the funnel. It all depends on how you create and integrate your advertising with content and empathise with the mood of the consumer. All of this requires expertise and If you invest in it, you’ll see significant returns for a third of the cost.

Passive attention and active attention – what must marketers consider with audio when thinking about different types of attention?

Human beings are more prey than predators, despite where we are in the food chain, today. And thanks to this, the one sense we can’t turn off is audio. You can close your eyes or protect yourself from touch. But even when you sleep, you’re paying attention through audio. Whether it’s passive or active consumption, your brain is actively processing information that it’s hearing.

Why is it that you want a certain kind of music while running but a different kind while lifting weights? Audio is a very important activity; you are constantly listening to it. So, when you get served stories from brands, your brain is subconsciously encoding them into your memory. The subconscious always picks up more. Therefore, audio adds the kind of weight which you can customise to your mood. What you’re trying to listen to actually has a stronger contextual impact on consumers and advertisers need to pay attention to this.

Brand distinctiveness – an area where categories like telcos seem to struggle – is one of the fundamental principles of effectiveness. Why do you think telcos struggle here?

Looking at telco as a category, and the kinds of stories that are typically shared, it's either about saving costs, getting a new line or a phone launch. This way, the stories automatically tend to become much more transactional and rational, while hoping to convince someone to make a carrier switch. But humans don't change behaviour just because of a rational argument; we're emotional creatures who like emotional stories. We like storytelling that captivates, enthrals and inspires. And that's one thing that the telco industry has just not been focusing on. Almost every communication seems to be constructed as a direct response ad as opposed to building equity or purpose and driving deeper meaning.

Telco also believes that because theirs isn’t a touch-and-feel service, they cannot do things other brands can. That’s untrue. There are always stories a brand can tell that move people. Think about water – it’s something people can get out of a tap, and yet, people feel very differently about water simply based on the bottle’s label. If you can do it for a product like water, you can do it for telco, too.

What opportunities are there for telco brands around sonic branding?

You need to take a step back and think about branding in general while thinking about sonic branding.

Branding isn't just how you show up; it’s the environment, atmosphere and overall look and feel you’re using to connect with audiences. A brand isn't just based on a picture but actions, sounds, visuals and iconography.

We have seen that the same ad, with and without sonic branding, can have an impact of up to 30% in terms of advertising effectiveness. We did a study once where we tested six jingles for a client. For some reason, one jingle just kept coming back up as the top performer. From a musical instrumentation and operatic standpoint, it was very hard to explain why. When we told the client that the jingle inexplicably outperformed the rest, one of the gentlemen in the room laughed and said, “We used to use that jingle 20 years ago.” This showed us how people had attached memories of the sound to the brand. And even when replayed 20 years later, the memories of the brand came back up.

In a nutshell, your advertising is not effective without sonic branding. It goes much deeper in terms of memory creation and retention than the credit it gets.

How have you seen audio work well with other media? What would you advise brands and agencies to be thinking about when it comes to audio within their media selection?

There is this theory of iconic triggers. Think Lion King. Simba being held from the cliff top is an iconic trigger. If I were to put that scene in front of you without context, you’d still know it’s the Lion King. That's the power of an iconic trigger.

Advertisers haven’t completely understood that there are iconic moments in an ad’s story. You can deploy the iconic trigger across visual and audio media once you identify what it is. Creating a story that allows that moment to get re-highlighted enables massive content synergy between media. It also allows for much more effective branding, brand consideration and equity.

First, identify the iconic trigger in your ad and build the story with it across all media platforms.

Secondly, understand that within storytelling, things like screen size, length of content and the context in which it's being played all have different impacts. You have to remember this especially when you're creating an equity-based or a direct response audio ad. An advertiser trying to come in between two songs during a playlist should understand people’s moods. And then, create a mood similar to the songs that doesn't feel disruptive.

Yes, it's difficult. But nobody said marketing is easy. If it were, everyone would be making great ads. Technology has allowed us to understand moods, beats, instrumentality, vocalisation and feelings attached to certain songs. Advertisers can position their ads in a way that's in sync with the audio experience.

Don't just think about audio as a direct response. Yes, it works for it but also think about it in terms of equity-building.

What are the most exciting opportunities for telco brands looking to explore the possibilities of digital audio?

With technology, anything's possible. Telco providers are often the conduit for the transfer of information or music. They could do so much in terms of enhancing the audio experience.

There are simple options to consider: For instance, reminding people that the service is being offered through a particular provider. Or even trying to create dynamic advertising in places. There probably are also opportunities beyond the specific ad itself, like creating partnerships with digital audio providers to boost the experience on particular telco bandwidths.

I don't think marketing should restrict itself to just ‘what message can I put into an audio channel?’ A telco provider should ensure people realise that the enhanced audio experience is because of them.

Spotify allowed people to stream without any lag, making it one of the big reasons it took off. It was the product’s technology that differentiated it, allowing for its mass adoption. It all starts with technology. And no one is closer to the audio technology outside the digital audio provider than the telco company. I don’t think marketers pay enough attention to that part.