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With podcasts and music streaming on the rise, it’s little wonder that purely audio marketing is back on the radar. But what does this mean for other forms of content created for a traditionally visual sector like travel?

It’s 7 AM and you wake to the sound of your radio alarm clock. An hour later, you’re listening to a podcast in the car on your way to work. On your lunch break, you pop in your headphones and psych yourself up for a run with a playlist of eighties power ballads…

Digital audio has long been woven into our daily lives. It reaches 24.3 million people weekly (all figures cited here are from the UK unless otherwise noted) and those listeners rack up on average 10 hours each a week*. Now that’s a lot of listening. We use a variety of connected devices to consume audio, from radio to mobile to smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa. In fact, the way we consume audio has evolved so much over the last decade that it’s transformed entire industries. Starting with artists changing the way they release music because of streaming services like Spotify.

Audio and the Travel Audience

The average consumer might find it difficult to imagine a travel ad without imagery. Most travel content (websites and magazines) rely heavily on beautiful photos. But as marketers, we know that audio can form part of that ecosystem too. Sometimes, a piece of content can be even more powerful without imagery. With a little help from audio, our imaginations can do an impressively bespoke job of painting a picture. If you hear the gentle crash of waves, the shushing of palm leaves and the trill of an exotic bird, your mind doesn’t need much help to fill in the blanks by transporting you to a tropical beach. The beauty of audio is that we fill in the visual blanks and create our personal paradise.

In a recent workshop hosted by IAB, I experienced this sensation myself by listening to high-quality 3D sound recordings with noise-cancelling headphones and a blindfold. The effect was really quite remarkable. Here are a few SoundCloud recordings so you can try it out for yourself. Turn up the volume, hit play and close your eyes.

What do you see in your mind’s eye?

A Mobile Audience

As smartphones aggregate everything for the modern travel consumer, 40% of U.S. travel site visits come from mobile users. Customers turn to their devices in each of the four travel micro-moments identified by think with Google (see below), from ‘I-want-to-get-away and ‘time-to-make-a-plan’ moments, to ‘let’s-book-it’ and ‘I-can’t-wait-to-explore’ moments. That means audio content should be on hand every step of the way offering inspiration, offers and entertainment.

Think with google micro moments travel customer

A TouchPoints survey found that Brits listen to audio while going about their daily routine 92% of the time. This means marketers are able to speak to audiences at particularly influential moments wherever they are. Listening to a travel ad while queuing for the bus on a drizzly Monday morning taps into a mindset where people already wish they could be at the beach.

Virtual Reality for the Ears

In marketing, particularly with travel, we constantly push the boundaries of traditional visual mediums like animation and video, making full use of technologies such as VR. It goes against the grain to pare back. But standalone audio content provides powerful opportunities. As Digital Audio Exchange (DAX) put it in a recent seminar, it’s “virtual reality for the ears” and can be just as immersive in the right situations. That leads us to the most important question: beyond traditional audio ads, what does good audio ‘content’ look like?

Are Podcasts the Answer?

The main reason people listen to podcasts is to expand their knowledge, and this is reflected in the top podcast categories: documentary, comedy and factual entertainment*. A recent study found podcast listeners to be loyal, affluent and educated, active on social media, and more likely to follow companies and brands on their social channels**.

Some publishers are already trialing written content in an audio format. The Financial Times tried converting text articles into audio to gauge whether its readers had any appetite for listening to features instead of reading them. (They did, and so the FT launched listen.ft.com as a prototype subscription service). This transition is affecting longer-form reads too. According to goodereader.com, last year audiobooks were the fastest growing segment in the US digital publishing industry, while e-book sales for HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House declined by around 5%.

Ultimately, audio – from ambient sounds to long-form entertainment – can help us deliver content in the moments that matter. People may have shorter attention spans and less time, but audio offers opportunities to reach people in new, more personal ways, whether they’re driving, exercising or dreaming of exotic getaways at the bus stop. At the very least, audio is an effective complement to an existing content ecosystem.

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*Source: DAX
**Source: Podcast Insights