What is audio content: the one post you need to read (or listen to) header

It has become my unwavering mission to promote audio content as a viable content marketing and advertising option. Little by little, I see people beginning to understand what this medium can do for them in terms of user engagement but there’s still plenty to both say and learn when it comes to audio content. 

Hence, I aim with this post to create a long-term and encompassing resource for all the brands, businesses, publishers, advertisers, and content creators of various sorts looking toward audio as the next frontier to conquer. From basics to finer details, let’s start with audio content creation:

How to audiofy your content

One cool thing about audio content is that it’s easily scalable if you opt for a tech-based approach, namely via text-to-speech software. A piece of code is inserted into a website, which transforms into an audio player that scans and automatically adds an audio version of the designated content. The quality of voices depends on the underlying speech engine used but for the most part, it’s high-quality stuff that is getting closer each day to becoming indistinguishable from the real thing. 

For instance, our solution leverages AWS Polly, arguably the best text-to-speech solution on the market, and our proprietary audio quality secret sauce to easily audiofy text-based content with minimal time-to-market. Another important part that needs mentioning is the AI-powered text analysis to determine which part of the article is the textual part ready for audiofying and which is not.

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I always make a point to say that this was once a technologically challenging and expensive process that took hours to produce the final result. These days, technology is affordable and takes only a few minutes to get the job done. The native player can easily adapt to the site’s look and feel without hurting the website user experience whatsoever. Plus, there are ample customization options like changing the gender of the voice, language (in some cases even the accent), playback speed, and more. Most players continue playing audio while the user is away from the website, allowing them to go through other content while they continue listening.

There is also the option of voice skills/actions/capsules (depending on which platform you use), which are capabilities that enable intelligent voice assistants to connect to specific hardware and software and perform certain tasks. These are typically easily digestible and shorter pieces of audio content that perfectly go in line with the execution of an increasing number of daily tasks that are performed via vocal cords. 

However, adding voice capabilities is more demanding. Depending on your technical savviness and available time, you can try to create these yourself or hire one of the numerous quality voice agencies on the market. 

Naturally, there’s also the option to hire professional voice actors and record live voice, much like how podcasts work. As you can imagine, this brings the best feel and nuance to the content (because it’s an actual person talking) and uniqueness to a brand (especially if coupled with sonic branding) but is also difficult to scale and potentially expensive volume-wise because it’s an actual person talking. Such process can also be automated, but it’s only worth exploring if you’re a large brand or publisher looking to create a brand signature voice (imagine Nespresso and George Clooney).

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Audio content benefits for users

These can be looked at from two angles: from the standpoint of the end-user and from the standpoint of the business offering audio content.

When it comes to your target audience, having an audio option is awfully convenient. It goes in line with the oft hectic nature of modern life with different formats and types of content suitable for almost any occasion. This especially holds true for people used to doing things on the go.

Want a short burst of information? There’s a flash briefing skill. How about a long story with developed narratives? Tons of podcasts are just waiting for you. News updates and daily posts? Audio articles have got you covered. There is audio content available in almost every topic and length, making for a portable and more accessible solution than text or even video. 

There are no restrictions as to how someone can consume audio content. You can listen passively and exert no active involvement. You can stream it or download it for later use, consume it all at once or in multiple takes – a huge reason why long formats like podcasts are so popular. There is so much flexibility as to how you can consume it. 

Lastly, and this is a big one – audio content is very personal. First and foremost – it facilitates a 1:1 brand-listener relationship that results in a more receptive and captivating experience. There is a direct connection between your audio content and your audience which opens all kinds of opportunities to deliver authentic stories in an innovative way. It’s difficult to quantify audio’s relationship with our brain. Maybe because it’s fairly instinctive for us or because we visualize a story inside our mind when we listen. Whatever the case is, the fact remains that audio content is creating powerful connections, often engaging emotionally and intellectually. 

All of this underlines the fact that audio is where audiences are gathering these days. For instance, 121 million US users listen to spoken word audio every day because it yields deep connections and involvement from its consumers whilst also turning to it for information, inspiration, entertainment, and companionship. Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, other types of digital audio content such as streaming music and audio articles have really found their footing, making the medium huge across the planet. 

We’ve got that covered. If you’re looking to create audio, what do you get?

Audio content benefits for businesses

For starters –  a new monetization option. Audio ad spending is constantly rising because advertisers and brands are recognizing digital audio as a creative medium that caters to an accessible audience receptive to deeper engagement. 

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Thanks to technology, it’s now possible to integrate a text-to-speech software with the site’s CMS and tap into ad servers that dynamically insert ads. It can add or stitch custom targeted audio ads into the audio stream, based on the user’s listening behavior and a multitude of data and insights. And if you’re wondering how audio ads fare among the general population, Adobe has discovered that 38% of people find audio ads less intrusive and more engaging than their online, TV, and social media counterparts. 

There is also room for experimenting with your own content and delivery if you’re open to it. You can play a bit with different content formats and distribution: audio exclusives, full articles or episodes, audio snippets derived straight from the content for immediate use, short stories, and so on. In a nutshell, audio advertising is a huge opportunity to increase ROI by offering users a more engaging, tailored, and intuitive experience – arguably one they’ve come to expect so far.

There is also a huge demographic to tap into – people with vision impairment or blindness. According to WHO’s data, there are 2.2 billion people globally that have trouble reading. By being audio-friendly, you are removing several accessibility barriers these people face and increasing your traffic and engagement by people for whom a screen is not an option. And – you’d be doing the right thing. 

When you look at it that way, offering better user experience results in improved customer satisfaction. You’re removing friction for them and increasing the amount of time they spend on your website, as well as attract and keep new visitors. This particularly relates to Millennials and Gen Z-ers who perceive audio as a nice escape from too much visual stimulation

In other words – you’re meeting your audience’s expectations. Audio content means they can consume it how they like it, when they like it, and where they like it through a variety of devices. That’s something audio can boast with that other mediums can’t match. 

It’s important to note the role of ConTech (content technology) – the symbiosis of content and audio via technology. It complements the listening experience while providing more value through content aggregation and recommendation based on constant learning of users’ behavior. By offering them content they are most likely to consume, they will spend more time and explore more of your content. 

One more thing: as Google is making audio content more searchable by focusing on incorporating audio metadata into search results, you can also have better indexing

Audio content use cases

One thing audio content has in common is its applicability to various contexts and situations – something I touched upon when talking about the medium’s benefits. Audio for content creators is largely the same as that for publishers, it’s just a matter of context. 

The biggest use case is podcasting, audio’s blockbuster star. Without bombarding you with numbers, perhaps what best highlights the magnitude of podcasting’s success is its representation in Google. The search results are displaying podcast episodes that can be played directly, in addition to regular search results when users are specifically searching for podcasts. You know something is special when Google dedicates this much attention to it. 

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Podcasts offer significantly more intensive listening experience than other types of audio content, much like audiobooks. Many of us (myself included) rarely have the time or will to sit down and read an article worth 10k words – not when we can listen to it in chunks during our commute to work or all at once if it’s presented in an entertaining way. Heck, you might not even read this blog post the entire way through, which is why we have an audio player at the top (practice what you preach kind of vibe).

It’s also important to note that audio content is so much more than podcasts. Audio articles have become a staple in many publishers’ efforts to amplify reach and boost retention. They seem to particularly fare well with news outlets that feature context-rich stories, as well as news-oriented synthesized speech like Amazon Polly Newscaster voice that makes narration sound even more realistic. The success of audio articles is also due to their portability as a 5 or 10-minute audio content is easy to fit into a busy schedule. 

Voice-enabled content such as flash briefing skills and voice capabilities also account for audio content. As smart speakers have been growing in popularity, some use the term ‘content for smart speakers’ to refer to these bite-sized formats. 

A great example is a flash briefing – concise and informative piece of pre-recorded audio that provides a quick overview of various types of content. Basically – it’s a shorter version of a podcast-like audio experience. Other examples include real-time traffic updates that make perfect sense as you’re driving but also obituaries which are a very unorthodox choice for audio content, yet successful.

With these voice apps, voice assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant, Bixby, and others are not only smarter but also gateways to amplify your content through smart speakers, smartphones, cars, and other smart devices. 

It’s worth noting some publishers are experimenting with audio push notifications which alert users when there is a new story available. There is plenty of room to experiment and innovate. Naturally, not all content is created equal but even if you are just repurposing online content in your content marketing – you’re adding value. 

Final thoughts

In many ways, audio content marketing is the future of content. I don’t see the world slowing down any time soon (despite the coronavirus giving its best shot), which means a lot of activities will be performed on the go. Daily life will continue to be frantic at times, and as a medium that reaches out to so many platforms, audio will mean consistency over a fragmented readership and viewership. 

It’s also very helpful for people who are blind, visually impaired, or afflicted by any type of condition that makes reading impossible or improbable. With increased connectivity and more and more players entering the audio landscape, audio content is only going to grow in size and importance. People lean in – they really listen. It’s something to think about. 

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