Is demand for programmatic audio getting louder?

With digital audio advertising growing rapidly, Kate Rogerson examines the pros and cons of programmatic audio for B2B marketers

In today’s B2B world, programmatic display has increasingly been proving its worth as marketers take advantage of the efficiency and in-depth targeting it can provide. But another advertising channel is now fighting hard to make itself heard. This is programmatic audio.

Spotify is perhaps the most well-known player in this channel, becoming the first digital audio company to offer its audio inventory to programmatic purchase in July 2016. Partnering with three of the most established platforms in the programmatic industry (AppNexus, Rubicon Project and The Trade Desk), this move allows advertisers to bid on and purchase Spotify audio ad inventory in real time. In other words, with 70 million active users paying nothing to use its service, these audio ads allow Spotify to monetise its service.

Spotify isn’t the first to approach programmatic audio, and it isn’t restricted only to music streaming. Back in 2014, broadcaster Global launched its Digital Audio Exchange (DAX) to enable programmatic buying across a variety of streaming and podcast platforms. And a year before this, Triton Digital launched a2x, describing it as “the industry’s first audience-based programmatic buying solution for online and mobile streaming audio ads".

With these developments in mind, here's a look at the strengths of programmatic audio to see whether B2B marketers will embrace it, or if it will fade into the noisy advertising background.

The strengths

  • Obligatory listeners. One of the greatest benefits of audio ads is the guaranteed exposure. If a user is on Spotify for example, and an audio ad comes on, they are unable to skip it and so must listen to it for the 15 to 30 seconds it runs. The same goes for radio and podcasts. As a result, advertisers can be confident that every ad is gaining optimal exposure. And if you are concerned that this format will frustrate the listener and throw positive engagement to the wind, according to Spotify: “75% of digital audio listeners say commercials are a fair price to pay for audio content."
  • Wide reach. One of the greatest challenges for any B2B marketer is finding and reaching their target audience, envious of the channels and opportunities available to their B2C counterparts. But programmatic can provide B2B marketers with exactly this. There are a reported 94 million consumers listening to digital audio every week in the US alone. And what’s more, they reflect a huge range of demographics, allowing advertisers to target almost any particular audience with great specificity.
  • Personality. For any B2B business, expressing a brand image is crucial, and personality is central to this. If a business can create a strong personality, it provides its target audience with something they can engage and form a closer bond with. This is where audio ads can be so effective; by verbally speaking to the audience, audio ads can express this personality often more easily than through written word. As a result, ads can leave a more lasting and memorable impression – something no B2B marketer would ever turn down.
  • In-depth targeting. Imagine a user puts on Spotify most evenings at 6pm. They select ‘Ultimate Kids' Party Playlist’ on occasions. And on Saturday at 8pm, they put on a ‘Pre-going Out’ playlist. Analysing this music selection, an advertiser could infer many characteristics of the listener – they cook most nights at six, they have children who they need to entertain and they like to hit the town at the weekend. From this, Spotify can gain an extremely detailed picture of each individual listener, understanding their interests and background and use this information to deliver targeted audio ads that are more likely to be of interest.

The weaknesses

There are issues with programmatic audio that don’t exist for other advertising solutions. Take attribution for example. In its current state, it’s very difficult to attribute direct sales to audio ads because the in-app inventory is ‘cookie-less’ – the technology that makes it possible to attribute display ads, for example.

Another weakness of audio ads involves traffic. Though they can be highly effective in boosting brand awareness, they are unlikely to greatly increase direct web traffic. This is because even if the listener is interested in the ad, visiting the site would require disrupting and leaving their audio experience.

Overall the future of audio advertising in the B2B world looks bright. This year, digital audio advertising is expected to grow by more than 65%, and by 2018 a third of current digital audio buyers are expected to be trading programmatically. But it’s important to note that despite its strengths, audio advertising should always be used as part of a wider campaign for B2B marketers. It must work alongside other advertising streams such as programmatic display and video; when this is achieved, B2B marketers will realise its true potential.

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