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Author: Alan Schanzer, SVP of Agency Partnerships, Pandora

Thinking Outside The Box: Advertisers Can’t Afford to Confuse Digital Audio with Radio

Posted June 1, 2017

Brands have picked up the beat when it comes to audio advertising. Marketers now understand that ads go better with music. And with just 44% of all music listening time now spent on the AM/FM radio format, more marketers are zeroing in on the earbud generation — individuals for whom the listening experience extends throughout their day and well beyond workday drive time.

Still, audio advertising remains somewhat misunderstood. The conundrum? There’s a big difference between radio and digital audio.

The buying community — and most of the listening community, too — still thinks of radio as a medium that “blares music” or “talks at audiences.” But radio is merely a device — not a sensory input. And it practically forces advertisers to “shout” if they want to be heard through all the clutter.

Digital audio, on the other hand, is an entirely different and more complex animal. At its core, digital audio’s power is very much about sensory input. For this reason, digital audio is exceedingly personal — for the listener as well as the advertiser.

Radio, which broadcasts generic programming to large audiences and only casts a wide messaging net, is hampered by its lack of data and targeting capabilities. Radio’s weakness, however, is digital audio’s strength. Perhaps the greatest differentiator between radio and digital audio is that only one offers a remarkably intimate, personalized experience not obscured by irrelevant ad clatter.

The ultimate power of data is that it provides vital information not only about exactly when listeners are logged in, but also what they are doing and what they desire in those moments. When you combine this with the recall power of audio, the mass consumer affinity for music, and a trove of data, one has something akin to a magic advertising key – a key that unlocks opportunities to personally reach the always-connected consumer at home, in the car, at work, and every conceivable place in between.

Digital audio’s pervasive reach across our lives and through our many connected devices affords advertisers a wealth of invaluable opportunities to create emotional connections with consumers. It’s enough to even make television advertisers jealous.

According to Nina Kraus, Ph.D. of Northwestern University in Chicago, there’s a direct correlation between sound and action. Unlike visual prompts, to which the brain reacts more slowly as a result of multi-layer processing and assessment, sound directly reaches the “action centers” of the brain, a biological construct to ensure prompt environmental reactions for the sake of survival.

For marketers seeking to build emotional connections and connect with the mind, the challenge is to invoke the theater of the mind, where audio doesn’t seek to paint an advertising picture for audiences. Instead, it ignites the imagination, inspiring listeners to construct their own interpretation and mind’s eye visual of the advertising concept offered.

By piecing together a personalized visual, the listener’s brain is more engaged. In the absence of video, one’s mind is compelled to connect the dots. Like reading a book, the content becomes inherently personal, deeply meaningful, and, in the end, far more memorable than other advertising formats.

That emotional connection-building is one of the key advantages of digital audio advertising. Delivered in a targeted, highly customized, and personalized experience — using an array of data that helps us understand a customer — we reach individual listeners in ways radio simply cannot.

Targeted audio is like a fine restaurant that delivers what a customer wants to eat, not a school cafeteria that delivers what the lunch crew choose to serve.

To be sure, radio’s days are by no means numbered. But advertisers are switching the dial to audio today for good reason. No other medium can deliver a personalized sensory message that imprints in a consumer’s memory the way that digital audio does now at tremendous scale.

Effective advertising has always resulted from thinking outside of the box. But that’s especially true today if the box you’re talking about is a radio.