JvM Green Papers #11


Brand-building goes screen-free

Related Expertise:Audio, Brand

Julian Krohn
Creative Director/Music, White Horse Music GmbH

Audio is making more and more moments of day-to-day life accessible to brands. That poses them with a dual challenge – they need to identify which moments are relevant, and then they need to create genuine value. But how? One way is by using the JvM audio journey, as Julian Krohn and Paul-Christian Brenndörfer explain in the third and final part of their series on audio marketing.

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A few weeks ago, there was a lot of buzz around the first “audio-only” social network. Until then, audio marketing (apart from voice) had been pretty much a one-way street. But now Clubhouse is showing how social media can work on an audio app.

To understand the hype around Clubhouse, you just need to briefly consider people’s media consumption habits. Most people spend the majority of their day staring at a screen. And so in the past decade the main challenge for marketers has been delivering the right message to the right screen. According to the German Association for the Digital Economy (BVDW) 1, Germans spend over 12 hours a day on their screens on average.

It’s hard to see how screen time could be maxed out any further. And so now the countertrend is growing. According to Bitkom 2, a quarter of users have attempted a “digital detox,” where they try to take some time away from the screens that are dominating every aspect of their lives. That raises many questions, but chief among them is: How can brands still connect with their audiences during their screen-free time?

The idea of the audio journey

But let’s start from the beginning. Unlike screen-based apps, audio doesn’t always demand our full attention. When they’re exercising, cooking, or taking a walk, users often don’t need a screen. They’re increasingly taking time away from their screens, during which it’s hard to reach them. So brands that want to grab people’s attention need to be familiar not just with their target group’s wants and needs, but also their daily routines.

In the JvM audio journey, we don’t just examine audiences’ demographic and psychographic characteristics, but also identify who likes to consume audio media, when they do so, and in what situations. Based on this chain of everyday moments, we try to find situations in which a given brand can credibly make an appearance, and to understand what needs consumers have in those moments. Building on this foundation, we can create value for both brands and people.

But there are certain conditions that have to be met. You can only create genuine value if you aren’t perceived as intruding on the screen-free time. To prevent that, you need to check your audio toolbox (see below). The basic element is sonic branding (i.e. the translation of the brand into audio), on top of which you have the other tools: audio ads, audio content (like podcasts), voice – and now also social audio as the fifth element of audio marketing.

The search for the right audio journey moment will often throw up multiple hits, and so to make the right strategic decision you need resources and perseverance. A new, voice-based service can create a lot of value, but the start-up costs are high and ongoing support is needed to unlock the full potential and sustain that value over the longer term.

Clubhouse: Hype or hero?

Let’s take Clubhouse as an example. Its content only exists live and in real time, making it the opposite of on-demand services. Critics think it’s all hype with no real potential, and predict that Clubhouse won’t last long. Why? Because, they argue, its linear character is out of sync with the times. They may have a point, but what these critics don’t mention is that Clubhouse is all about dialogue on an equal footing, by contrast with the vertical comment threads that are the norm on Facebook et al. Clubhouse adds an auditory dimension to the social media world, creating real, genuine value by finally enabling close, emotional connections. If enough people appreciate this value, the app will definitely carve out a niche for itself. And if not, other digital platforms can successfully harness the potential by integrating a social audio solution.

Whether platforms like Clubhouse succeed or fail, the potential of audio is beyond dispute. The digital media landscape is already anything but homogeneous: Snapchat and Instagram Stories likewise have content that generally disappears after 24 hours, while Twitch sensations like Knossi’s Horrorcamp start out as extra-long livestreams before appearing as best-of videos on YouTube. Our point is that these details can keep a media offering fresh or cause it to flop; a platform or format’s success ultimately depends on the quality of its content. That’s what creates value, sparks interest, and eventually gives birth to a community, which is what makes a medium attractive to people and brands over the long term.

Why it’s hard to get started

What can brands learn from all this? Firstly, social audio is a new way to invent audio content; the interactive element distinguishes it from podcasts. A brand that lends itself well to dialogue can create value using social audio, no matter which app ultimately comes out on top. Secondly, Clubhouse shows that the service needs to gel with everyday routine. Because of the pandemic, there are more opportunities than normal at the moment for audio to grow. But the same principle will apply in the future too: “Entertain, support – or fail.” Brands that follow this principle will be able to thrive even in screen-free times.

Audio used to be only a small part of marketing. But the ability to establish a place for yourself in screen-free moments is now a very attractive prospect for companies and brands. Audio media can do great things for your brands, if you know how to use it properly. Success in this field is generally measured by how long you keep users listening for, rather than clicks. That marks a contrast with the normal focus on performance in digital communications, and it’s an important corrective to the lack of emphasis given to image marketing. 

We believe that in times when digital detox is all the rage, audio marketing is a more important part of the marketing mix than ever. But to make a success of it, you need to be open to experimentation and new ideas. 


Jung von Matt 2020