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Perhaps you know marketing professionals suffering from "Hot New Platform Exhaustion." The malady typically affects members of a marketing team who spend endless hours retooling content to fit specific platforms. Just as they begin to get the hang of things, something "hot and new" comes along with an entirely different set of publishing criteria, and they need to pivot... again.

That feeling of frustration is completely understandable. However, the hard reality every marketer must face is that we are living through an ongoing evolution in media consumption. Fueled in large part by new technology, customer lifestyles are changing rapidly, and marketing teams must adapt to keep up.

There is no longer much validity to the idea that we can market to a "captive audience." People listen to preselected content as they jog, drive, or do the dishes. Viewers pick which shows they want to watch and when they want to watch them. They also tend to fiddle with their smartphones or tablets whenever things get dull or predictable; if they don't like what they are seeing or hearing, out pops the smartphone and off they go.

Spending on audio marketing jumped from $1.1 billion in 2016 to $3.09 billion in 2020, according to Statista. That's a nearly threefold increase in four years' time. Clearly, if your company isn't currently producing audio content, it's time to dive in.

The successful marketers will be those who prioritize capturing eardrums while maintaining content for their eyeballs.

The Four Most Popular Audio Content Marketing Platforms

If your company is relatively new to audio content marketing, there are four basic categories that have been gaining significant traction for the past few years.

1. Voice search

If your company has the capacity to invest in only one area of audio content marketing, make it this one. The reason is that the availability of voice search will soon be prioritized on search engine results pages (SERPs) in much the same way that "mobile-first" website design now receives a significant boost in search rankings.

Sometimes referred to as "voice-enabled," voice search allows potential customers to find what you have to offer by phrasing their requests for processing by Google Voice Search, Amazon Echo, Siri, Cortana, and a host of other AI-powered technologies.

There's a noticeable difference between written search strings and what people say out loud, so optimizing your content for voice search is important.

2. Podcasts

The word to keep in mind before you jump into the podcasting craze is episodic. You might decide to release a new episode once a month or twice a day—whatever you can manage—but you must commit up front to a regular schedule of audio production and release.

If you don't have the resources to commit to a consistent schedule, hold off for now.

Successful podcasts feature tips, tricks, and interviews all organized around a shared topic of interest. Ideally, any branded podcast will center on something that plays right into your company's area of expertise.

3. Audiobooks

Don't let the word "book" throw you off. Although audiobooks certainly include published works of fiction or nonfiction spoken aloud in their entirety, the audiobook format is not limited to those. Anything that has been printed or published online—and received enthusiastic attention—has the potential to become an audiobook.

As an example, a popular blog might be retooled to offer an audio version of every published entry. That way, fans are freed up to listen with headphones instead of being glued to a laptop or forced to stare at a smartphone.

4. Audio Ads

Audio ads in the age of the Internet are not so different in form from the types of ads you might hear on a radio station. The difference is that broadcast radio ads are roughly equivalent to taking a "shotgun" approach—you might hit something—whereas audio content ads might be thought of as a sniper zeroing in on a specific target.

Audio ads can be throttled for delivery to specific demographics, geographic areas, or audiences prefiltered into groups most likely to be interested in what the advertiser has to say. The format allows businesses to produce ads that reach the ears of interested listeners, not just whoever might be tuned in.

Think Big, But Start Small

There's really no reason for businesses to shy away from audio content marketing. Chances are good that you're already doing some form of it, whether you know it or not. If you are verbally answering customer questions, that's audio content marketing. Whenever someone consults you for your opinion or expertise, that qualifies, too.

One quick trick is to crystallize the things you hear yourself or your staff saying every day and turn them into helpful online audio content. Here are seven steps to help you get started.

1. Determine the area of greatest need

Many business owners reflexively respond to this challenge with something like "Make more sales." There's nothing wrong with that, of course; but when approaching audio content marketing, it helps to flip the emphasis.

Focus on the greatest identified need of your current and prospective customers. Why do they do business with you in the first place? What questions do they frequently ask? If they decide not to buy your product or service, where was the breaking-off point in the sales funnel?

Your job is to offer up valuable insights, give suggestions for overcoming common problems, and trust that listener loyalty will translate into future sales.

2. Set a reasonable budget of time, talent, and treasure

Just as you would add a line item to your monthly budget for print, TV, radio, or other marketing channels, add audio content to the mix and assign a dollar value to that venue. Include associated staff time, targeted media buys, and production costs.

Audio content marketing can't be relegated to "whenever I find the time." If you're reluctant to invest on a regular basis, ask yourself why.

3. Start with the low-hanging fruit

Start looking around for "found" high-quality audio. If your business has already been producing videos, you might already have some high-quality audio content in the can. More than a few companies have leveraged their previous investment in marketing via a branded YouTube channel by exporting audio tracks to other platforms.

Or, if you have a supplier who is already producing high-quality audio, you might enter into an agreement to republish their content with a header and footer that identifies your business as a trusted local vendor.

4. Get outside your own head

It's all too easy to succumb to thinking inside the box as your work away in a silo. As you move your business toward audio content marketing, take time to ask other people what they think about your industry as a whole—not necessarily your specific company. Jot down comments, questions, and ideas from a wide variety of people.

Siloed thinking can cause us to immediately reject an idea we've already considered and fail to listen to what's being said. One way to get around that is to invite someone who knows absolutely nothing about your business to tag along for conversations and casual interviews. They might hear things you would miss.

5. Collect and analyze objective previous data to guide future expenditures

As you release your audio content out into the wilds of the Internet, pay close attention to what's working and what isn't. The audio content you think is your "worst effort" might become the most popular.

Schedule regular times to review your website, podcast, and social media analytics with one or more of your top marketing people. Decide in advance that you are OK with your "best" material falling flat. Clickthrough rates can tell you only that someone cared enough about what you were saying to check it out; they won't tell you exactly why.

Adopt, Adapt, and Improve

As you move through the audio marketing process, pay attention to the audio content you encounter from others that you think works well for their niche. Learn what you can from their approach.

When you engage with the feedback you receive online, pay attention to the positive and negative responses you receive. Can you modify your approach to answer a legitimate complaint or area of confusion without allowing your messages to end up on a rabbit trail?

As analytics guide your marketing team to tweak and refine, expect that you won't hit home runs every time at bat. That's OK. In the new online marketplace, sincerity trumps slickness. If your audio content stays focused on answering real questions—and not setting up phony questions as promotional tools—your audience will be quick to appreciate it and pass it on to others.

More Resources on Audio Content Marketing

Six Ways Content Marketers Can Use Audio Marketing

Your New Content Marketing Engine: Podcasting

Audio Marketing: From Radio to Clubhouse [Infographic]

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image of Mikel Fields

Mikel Fields is a managing partner of Castello Branco Fields, a brand strategy and consulting company.

LinkedIn: Mikel Fields