It’s been an unpredictable year, to say the least. As we close the page on 2020 and look forward to what 2021 brings, we cast our thoughts ahead to prepare ourselves for what’s next: the trends that will define the sound of 2021.
It’s been a year of radical change and growth for the industry, with many consuming more audio content than ever before.
Digital audio currently commands just under 37 million listeners in the UK, with the average user consuming four hours of audio content a day.
A recent report predicts an astonishing 84% growth in digital audio ad revenue for 2025 compared to 2019, but audio currently commands only 2% of ad overall spending. The effectiveness of audio-based media has rarely been in doubt, but industry needs to be adept at reacting to these opportunities.
Big brands pour a lot of money into creating the most engaging experiences possible, but too often marketers focus solely on visual elements, failing to acknowledge the power of audio to engage, entertain, inspire and build a more human connection.
How can brands truly harness the power of sound in 2021?
The rise of the Audio Strategist
A whole new role will emerge as the most forward-thinking advertisers adapt to the need to prioritise audio on a par with visual channels. Audio Strategists will utilise specialise knowledge to articulate the complex and layered emotional messaging that audio can provide, working in tandem with other channels to ensure sonic branding is part of overall marketing strategies, rather than an afterthought.
Consistent brand identity and understanding the role audio can play in wider marketing plans will be key signifiers in this new world. Audio Strategists will translate the abstract qualities of your company attributes into actionable insight. Choosing the right song, sound logo or voice to represent your brand can demonstrate genuine understanding of your consumer, their values and needs.
The children are our future: marketing to Gen Z
People all over the world listen to music more than ever – 18 hours a week on average.
Gen Z in particular listen to music almost constantly, while working, exercising, studying or during free time.
Gen Z and Millennials are a formidable force for marketing professionals to contend with, valuing authenticity beyond much else. Their economic power will only increase in 2021, so choosing the right music to connect with your audience can be the difference between a brand achieving instant icon status, or being written off as forgettable and try-hard.
Song, melodies, and rhythms create connection points to current or past headspaces and emotions, so it’s important to understand and curate what your choice will trigger.
Joining up big data
The possibilities for customisation and localisation are expanding rapidly- brands could target users with ads customised to their location, weather conditions, device or even name, using sophisticated stitching capabilities to create potentially infinite versions of a single, with the listener served only the version most relevant to them.
There are opportunities to engage audiences with audio ads that ensure the same ad is not served multiple times, but that a story is developed. Users can also be retargeted when near a sales outlet, to help drive action, as well as awareness. These new creative possibilities of sound and data are set to become extremely important over the next year.
In the same way that music producers used to take a copy of a record to listen to on their car speakers before signing off on a mix, we now need to be acutely aware that currently half of television and video is consumed through mobile devices, and this number is only set to grow. This means our sound needs to be tailored to these conditions:
While it can be incredibly tempting to mix and master for lush home systems, this is simply not how most consumers will experience the ad.
Optimizing audio content for mobile will be crucial in capturing consumer interest, as well as maintaining the brand’s credibility and premium brand experience.
One on one
Audio advertising has the unique opportunity to literally be the voice in your ear, connecting on a personal level that tv and online ads never will. The para-social bonds we form with our favourite podcast host, the calming host voice from our meditation app or the uplifting energy we get from our favourite genre of music can all be leveraged to deliver a compelling brand value message in this intimate environment.
Painting a fuller picture: emotive storytelling
Audio has the power to evoke visceral emotional responses in the temporal lobe in the same way that smell and taste does. We will increasingly see brands harness this for greater emotional connection with their audiences.
Brand loyalty tends to be a low priority for Millennials and Gen Z, so making use of the power of sound to provoke emotional response is a way to forge a more lasting connection.
In 2021, advertisers will harness this by shaping our audio content with the information we know about the user, and to intuitively mirror them, as humans do when interacting face to face.
In store and immersive
In the coming year we’ll not only see brands starting to prioritise audio in their digital experiences, but also being much more strategic in their use of audio in brick and mortar stores to create full experiences. Audio is a highly emotive tool for connecting with customers across all environments.
Immersive sound tech will also become more wide-spread, with opportunities for brands to evoke emotion beyond the means of visual communication and language.
More brands will develop signature sounds to build brand recognition and trust.
Find your niche
This year we’ve seen massive growth in the world of podcasts- both from creators and listeners. This brings great opportunity to harness micro influencers to send extremely nuanced, targeted messages to well fitting audiences.
Listener growth can partly be attributed to a desire to seek entertainment away from screens as people attempt to partition their leisure time differently while working from home. Being able to engage a listener at a distance, as they engage in DIY or go for a run, opens up a whole world of opportunities.