Should marketers consider adding audio to their marketing mix? For many types of organizations, the answer is “yes”.
While there are a number of caveats associated with this type of social channel and while it’s early in the game on several levels, there are a number of reasons to test the use of audio content for marketing purposes.
Deterrents to Audio Marketing
Let’s look at the current deterrents to audio content as a marketing vehicle from both the audience and the production perspectives. We’ll then look at how some of these deterrents will either go away on their own or how they can be resolved through direct effort.
1. Current Audio Consumption Levels
Well over a billion people globally now own a portable, streaming audio consumption device — a smartphone. However, a small percentage of people consume business or non-business audio content on their mobile devices. Music continues to be the majority audio consumption case.
As an avid consumer of non-music audio content (both business and nonbusiness), I regularly ask people across different age groups whether they listen to audio content such as podcasts. The answer is almost always “no”.
When I recommend audio content that relates to a conversation I’m having with someone, email them a link to an audio stream, and then check back with them a couple of weeks later to find out if they ever listened to the pertinent content, the answer is often “not yet”.
Arguably, audio content consumption has nowhere to go but up. With Chevrolet now offering built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi, and with Apple CarPlay coming to many automobile brands, the ability to listen to online audio content while driving will be just a button tap or a voice command away.
2. Lack of Traditional Call to Action Opportunities
Online marketing calls to action, such as the one at the bottom of this blog post, are typically image-based and designed to be clicked or tapped.
Audio CTAs present a challenge. Even those who do currently consume audio content on their mobile device are not normally in a situation where they can immediately follow through on verbal calls to action. They are driving, walking the dog, hiking or on an exercise machine. So, what are some effective approaches to audio CTAs? A few examples can be found below.
3. Technical Barriers to Creating Audio Content
While it’s often said that “audio is the most important part of video”, the reality is that marketers can get away with average audio quality within video content.
In video content’s simplest form, you can point a smartphone at someone, record for a few minutes and then upload the video to a service such as YouTube, Vimeo or Instagram. James Wedmore is someone who makes a living teaching business people how to make videos with just an iPhone, a tripod and a lavalier microphone.
It’s much more important for audio to be high quality when sound is the only signal. With earbuds and earpods, content is literally inside listeners’ heads, so listeners are more conscious of sub-par audio than they are with the audio that accompanies a video. Because of the need for better audio quality, it can require more technical steps to produce and post audio-only content compared to audio + video content.
Between XLR microphones, headphones, mixing boards, audio software, RSS feeds, ID3 tagging and iTunes, some self-training is required in order to publish good sounding audio. Free and paid education on software and gear is available on sites such as Podcast Answer Man.
Another option is to use a podcast agency such as Sweet Fish Media. Sweet Fish takes care of all the planning and logistics for B2B brands.
Types of Business Audio Content
Audio content can be divided into two broad areas — episodic and non-episodic.
Episodic Audio Content
The primary type of episodic content is an iTunes show, better known as a podcast.
The word “episode” implies committing to a schedule. If you launch a business podcast and then veer off course from a regular publication schedule, you will do so at the peril of losing hard-earned listeners.
Before starting a podcast, be prepared to commit to publishing a new episode weekly or monthly. You can, of course, record several episodes in one sitting and then stagger the publication dates. With many marketing priorities, a regular commitment to recording and producing audio content can have its challenges.
Many podcasters host their shows on Libsyn. They then either submit their Libsyn RSS feed to audio distribution networks such as iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. Alternatively, they first flow Libsyn’s RSS feed through Google Feedburner and then submit the Feedburner feed to the audio distribution networks.
Libsyn also provides several forms of widgets that can be embedded on a website. Here’s the most recent option:
Non-Episodic Audio Content
SoundCloud is perhaps the best platform for hosting non-episodic content. SoundCloud can be considered the YouTube of audio. While it’s best to publish content on a schedule, it’s not as important with SoundCloud. Many podcasters do, however, double down and supplement their iTunes and Google Play feeds with SoundCloud posts.
Non-episodic content can have many different formats, including a brief verbal welcome to a website page, which SoundCloud uses on several of its pages. Because of this, SoundCloud is a better audio testing ground than a podcast show.
The SoundCloud audio player can be embedded within a website in several different formats. Since each SoundCloud post can have its own image, the square embed code can be used to replace an image file on on your website with an image file that doubles as an audio player. Here are examples of the three types of embed code currently offered by SoundCloud:
Formats For Business Audio Content
Here are three examples of formats for audio content. These formats are not mutually exclusive, even within a single episode or post.
1. The Monologue
One form of podcast is the monologue, in which one person speaks continuously into a microphone for the entire episode or post (“dead air” is a killer with audio). Not everyone can pull this off. A gift of gab, deep subject matter expertise and extensive preparation are all prerequisites.
In the business podcast realm, Michael Stelzner effectively pulls off the monologue in his Social Media Marketing podcast.
An extreme example of the monologue is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast. Alone in a room (not counting his fictional producer “Ben”) Dan speaks into the microphone seemly without pause for over four hours — although he probably takes a break or two during the recordings.
2. The Internal Conversation
This is the principal format that Sam Biardo and I decided on for our CRM Talk podcast.
This format is a dialog between two employees or two colleagues who discuss industry topics that are relevant to a segment of their business audience. Since the co-hosts by definition know one another well, this format presents the opportunity to inject a bit of levity into the dialog to counteract the dryness that afflicts much business audio content.
3. The Interview
Another form of podcast is an interview with someone from outside your organization, such as with an industry thought leader. Interviews can make for excellent content. However, this format does require a fair amount of effort, as booking guests is time consuming. Being an effective interviewer requires practice. The more interviews you do, the better you’ll get.
The following video, recorded by professional podcast producer Ray Ortega, describes one of the easiest ways to record a high audio quality interview with a remote guest. Of course, it’s important that your guest is also using a quality microphone.
Inspired by Ray’s video, we created a similar setup, but one that uses a mixer. This allows for using a higher quality microphone, including an in-studio guest, and connecting an iPhone or iPad for inserting clips into the audio mix:
Calls to Action in Audio Content
What types of calls to action are effective for audio content? Verbal CTAs should be brief, relevant to the listener and memorable (literally). Here are some approaches used in business audio content.
- Include a short intro ad at the beginning of the podcast episode or SoundCloud post
- Mention your website’s URL and what your website is about
- Promote an upcoming event at least once during the episode
- Discuss a recent blog post you wrote and verbally expand on the content
- Subtly mention a product or service that your company offers by making reference to it during the ebb and flow of the dialog
Since content is communicated differently via audio than with other formats, calls to action need to take on specialized forms. When thinking about whether to test audio content as part of your marketing content mix, visualize all those people who will, in a few short years, be driving cars that give them the ability to access audio content with a simple voice command or button tap.