How to develop an audio content strategy
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
The way I see it, the audio revolution is a fact. In these fast times, people demand and rely on consuming content immediately. That’s where audio delivers, which is why a lot of brands and businesses are already dipping their toes in the water. From podcasts and audio articles to audiobooks and voice skills/actions, there’s more listening now than ever before, according to Edison Research.
As audience demand grows, this trend is set to continue. Without going into detailed reasons why an audio content strategy should be a part of your overall content marketing strategy (I don’t want to sound repetitive), I’ll lay out five key steps to a sound audio presence (see what I did there?):
Provide a listening experience
Personalize audio recommendations
Establish a presence on mainstream audio platforms
Have unique content channels on smart speakers
Offer customized voice-first capabilities
If you’re still thinking about audio-specific content marketing, now is the time to act.
1. Provide a listening experience
The rate of change among users’ media habits is growing so fast that in a matter of months, not years, it’ll be virtually inconceivable for publishers and content creators to offer an experience of reading alone. And that experience starts by converting your textual content into audio via a text-to-speech (TTS) solution.
There are quite a few reasons why I mention TTS as the starting point, starting with availability. To make the content audible, the process behind it has to be scalable, and TTS more than delivers in that regard. It takes just a few seconds to add an audio version of the existing textual content with the quality of voices as close to the real thing as possible.
It’s important to note the difference between native text-to-speech solutions and their generic counterparts. The former contextually convert a wall of text or blog posts into audio while the latter converts any written text on the website – not quite UX-friendly, particularly compared to the native audio option.
There is also an option to have professional newscasters record every story. This brings the best feel and nuance to the content, as well as a sense of uniqueness to a brand. However, as you can probably imagine, it’s an option only a select few large publishers with deep budgets can leverage (and even then, it makes sense to use a text-to-speech solution and narrate specific articles rather than all of the content).
In fact, more and more of big publishing companies are incorporating humanlike reader technology in an effort to provide a more ‘flexible way to explore stories and to attract new subscriptions’. These audio articles are cheap to produce as there are no additional costs to production, and every published article can easily be audiofied.
The way it works is this. A small piece of code is easily embedded in the article page, which then performs a quick scan of the page and automatically adds an audio version of the article. Further customization allows the player to fully adapt to the page’s look and feel without diminishing the user experience. It continues playback while the reader is away from it, freeing them to browse your other content while they listen.
See the player beneath this post’s title? It’s unobtrusive yet an extremely worthy addition as it provides a native listening experience of the content in question.
In terms of voice quality, our solution leverages AWS Polly, arguably the best text-to-speech solution on the market, as you can hear above (or are already hearing). In combination with our proprietary audio quality secret sauce, it easily transforms text-based content with minimal time-to-market. It’s also important to mention the AI-powered text analysis that determines which part of the article is the textual part ready for audiofying and which is not.
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 seconds to get the job done. I’ve recently written about how to monetize a news website so you might want to check out it too for ways to leverage audio articles into a model worth paying for.
2. Personalize audio recommendations
While it’s 100% true that audio adds convenience and creates a one-on-one connection that no other medium can compete with, it’s not the end. You can do even more and improve the experience if you introduce the relevance factor, which is where personalized recommendations come into play.
In a way, this falls under the jurisdiction of content discovery and recommendation with the goal of providing greater convenience. A separate unit aggregates various forms of audio content (audio articles, podcasts, radio shows) across an individual publisher’s ecosystem and the Internet. Then, it makes recommendations based on continuous learning of the user’s behavior, contextual analysis, popularity, and more.
Here’s an example of a website with both an audio player and a content recommendation unit (top right):
The process is the same as with most audio players. The code is inserted in a specific place on the page, providing enough options to get a look and feel that aligns with the website. The unit integrates with the existing audio content base through a dedicated CMS (as is the place with our content discovery unit Trinity Pulse). It acts as a central place for publishers to run the show from which they can create targeted playlists.
The reason why providing personalized audio recommendations is step #2 when creating an audio content strategy is because they make the users spend more time on the site, explore more content, and ultimately monetize via audio ads inserted into the content.
Paired with the option to continue the playback in the background, a content discovery unit expands the engagement of your audience in a seamless and natural way across desktop and mobile devices. Listeners stick around longer, having a direct impact on revenue while audio content becomes more accessible and leveraged in more than one way.
A quick summary of the first two steps:
Audio is something readers/listeners-to-be can consume everywhere;
It adds to the overall user experience;
It increases user engagement;
It can be tailored to users’ preferences.
In a nutshell, audio is a little bit of something extra that encourages users to stay longer and, in many cases – the X factor that provides an edge over other sites.
3. Establish a presence on mainstream audio platforms
Now that you’ve sorted out your website audio-wise, it’s time to move to other audio platforms, namely the likes of Spotify and Pandora.
These two are important due to their sheer popularity. Once again according to Edison Research, they together account for half of the monthly listening which registered at a total of 68% or an estimated 192 million in 2020. This doesn’t mean you should exclude the rest of the pack such as Amazon Music (particularly due to its smart speaker presence), Apple Music, and others who are mostly registering year-over-year increases but as it stands now, the difference between the two main audio streaming platforms and the rest is pretty obvious.
Insider Intelligence’s data shows Spotify becoming the audio streaming platform with the highest daily engagement in the US last year, with time spent increasing from almost 8 minutes a day to just over 10 in 2019. In 2020, growth is expected to slow down due to the pandemic but will still increase slightly to 10.3 minutes a day, with Spotify making up 12.7% of digital audio time in the 18+ demographic.
More and more brands are turning to these audio platforms and treating them as social media, basically. In looking for places to reach their audience and connect, brands are clearly labelling the likes of Spotify and Pandora as must-consider locations to be due to their potential for organic distribution and awareness. This particularly can be helpful when engaging users and increasing organic reach with user-generated and/or branded playlists that act as audible representations of a certain company or its product or service.
The point with mainstream audio platforms as another link in the content strategy is to try and leverage the scope of listening experiences they offer. Some use it to listen to digital music, some tune in to digital radio, while others opt for on-demand audio content such as full shows/podcasts, particular segments, and standalone stories or clips. Adding your content to audio distribution platforms will position it closer to the ears of wider audiences while also helping you get around the audio discovery problem.
For example, you can distribute audio content via TTS solutions like Trinity Audio that convert the textual content and then create specific playlists according to that content. Just having a presence through additional audio channels is part of the perfect listening experience and you should treat it as such.
4. Have unique content channels on smart speakers
Smart speakers are the new smartphone, it seems, as their popularity is not slowing down.
Consumer survey by Voicebot found that 87.7 million U.S. adults were using them as of January 2020. This means the installed base of U.S. users is up 32% over January 2019 and is 85% higher than January 2018. On a global level, sales were up 8.2% in Q1 2020 over the comparable quarter in 2019.
Over the past five years, these devices have become the most important new consumer electronic device segment for businesses as people want voice technology that powers it in their lives. It perfectly mimics the behavior and habits of modern users, where multitasking is almost an essential skill. Much of the actions are performed on the go (which is why audio content is so big), and voice as an interface brings a high convenience factor.
What’s perhaps more impressive is the fact that since the COVID-19 crisis, the usage increased significantly. The Spring 2020 Smart Audio Report from NPR found out that:
35% of U.S. adult owners are listening to more news and information, and 50% of those aged 18 – 34 say the same.
Usage of voice commands in general has increased, with 52% of voice assistant users saying they use voice technology several times a day or nearly every day, compared to 46% before the outbreak.
As such, smart speakers present a unique way to enrich your content strategy by reaching customers and facilitating voice-based experiences, especially as a conduit for news and information. They provide an unassuming way for content to be consumed without having to be focused on a screen of some kind or a hearable device. The growing usage and aptitude of voice assistants will likely continue to drive the demand for this technology in other areas such as vehicles once things get back to the ‘old normal’ (if they ever do).
So, the idea is to release your audio content to be consumed via these devices through Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant (as the two leading voice assistants), or some other option like Siri, Bixby, Soundhound’s Hound, and so on – one will make more sense than the other.
The focus should be to deliver content within a shouting distance of the nearest Amazon Echo or Google Home through a customized set of voice skills or actions within. There are plenty of examples of businesses using smart speakers to get more out of their content and marketing strategy:
NPR has an interactive game/quiz that lets you answer fill-in-the-blank questions from news of the week, as well as a skill that delivers five minutes of news, updated hourly, with additional video content on compatible devices;
personal finance website The Motley Fool lets users check specific stock prices;
Last Seen Exhibition acts as an audio aid to enhance the experience of the Last Seen art exhibition;
Stephen King Library provides a reading list of the author’s books best suited to the user’s preferences;
and so on. It’s definitely something worth considering.
As for how-to part, Amazon and Google are among the companies who have provided toolkits and resources on how to develop skills and actions for their respective voice assistants. However, pairing with a third-party specialist agency who can launch the voice-enabled content on multiple platforms might be a better and quicker strategy, especially for small(er) publishers. At Trinity Audio, we automate the creation of flash briefings out of existing publisher’s content so that’s another option you can consider.
5. Offer customized voice-first capabilities
Along the lines of smart speaker presence comes offering voice-activated abilities for users.
One of the best references in regard to the advancement of voice as a user interface is that it’s the new HTML. I feel that’s exactly how publishers and businesses should perceive it: as the next, increasingly important building block of content strategy.
The aforementioned NPR’s report also found out that more than two-thirds of voice assistant users say they ‘make their lives easier’. By all means, this should include allowing your target audience to discover and interact with your audio content using voice commands.
This is something we’re working on as part of an overall vision where in the near future voice technology will be deeply embedded in websites, which users will be able to engage with by asking it to read the latest news, trending or specific content, and so on. Sounds science fiction? It’s a lot closer than you think!
I don’t consider myself a strategist, just a guy who’s seen his fair share of how both the publishing and adtech industries work, which provides me a very good vantage point.
Take this post as my sincere attempt to create a bridge between audio content awareness and content marketing strategy. There are more than enough opportunities to leverage audio and voice technology – audio articles, podcasts, skill, actions, news flash briefings, interactive content, and the like. With the continued listening patterns and the growth in the number of devices people have in their homes, it’s clear there is an audio strategy that will work for everyone.
Make sure you’re following me on Twitter for ongoing updates, tips, and industry takeaways!