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Stefanie Hinten-Reed

Business Director, MOI Global

Audio: the antidote to Zoom Fatigue?

August 19th 2021


4 min read

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Audio: the antidote to Zoom Fatigue?

It’s a term we’d never heard of 12 months ago, but the struggle is real. When reliance on digital channels to communicate with everyone – from friends and family to communities and businesses, to colleagues and customers – has become our everyday life, then it’s not surprising that “screen fatigue” or “Zoom fatigue” has entered our common vocabulary. 

Nor is it surprising that as a result, organisations are starting to look for alternative ways and different channels to engage with their audiences. Shifts in B2B marketing trends and practices have been the accepted, even predictable norm for some time now – but no one could have foreseen the kind of change that 2020 would bring. Nor the speed with which it came. 

It’s why WARC produced its Changing Channels in B2B report. The study, in conjunction with Spotify revealed four major trends, one of which being a major exploration of new channels by B2B marketers, and in particular, a renewed experimentation with audio. 

The report quotes IBM iX Chief Marketing Officer, Corinne Sklar, who says: “Everybody’s got Zoom fatigue, and just doing your typical B2B marketing isn’t really going to pay off, so now is the time to experiment. It’s about trying new ways of leveraging the screen and other channels, like podcasts and audio as well.” 

A massive 85% of study respondents agree that the pandemic has driven their company to explore new routes for lead generation, with 50% saying they’re actively experimenting with channels they’ve never tried before.  

Karen Hochhauser, Senior Director, Global Brand Campaigns at ServiceNow backs this up:  
“We’re seeing this on two fronts. First, as another medium to reach our audience with podcast advertising. We’ve done some testing with partners like Megaphone and Audiology and have seen some great early results. Second, we’re testing podcasting as an owned platform for ServiceNow, with our first thought leadership podcast series.” 

They’re not the only MOI client currently trialling podcasts, but MOI Business Director, Stefanie Hinten-Reed adds: “Personally, I think they could be experimented with more, and be added to more traditional channels within demand gen campaigns as another way to engage with customers. Crucially it’s about giving audiences as many ways as possible to interact with a brand.” 

Podcasting in the pandemic 

According to Digital Doughnut, a survey by Sortlist of 500 CEOs and managers of European SMEs found that 76.2% of people who consume audio content said their consumption increased due to the pandemic. And with 30% of all new post-COVID time online spent audio-streaming, it’s understandable that 66% of respondents to the WARC study say they plan to increase spend in digital audio, while 56% specifically identified podcasts as an area where they’ll allocate more budget. 

The Business Insider Podcast Report explains that several factors have fuelled podcast growth – a proliferation of shows, involvement from celebrities, investment from the likes of Spotify, and the spread of technologies like smart speakers, have all helped. Business Insider predicts that 77.9 million people in the US will listen to a podcast at least once a week, meaning weekly podcast listenership has more than doubled since 2016. And eMarketer puts a number on it, estimating that the number of US podcast listeners will increase 16% year on year to 106.7 million. 

But as Stefanie Hinten-Reed points out, podcasting was already on the rise. “Podcasting was starting to grow before Covid” she says, “there was a steady increase in the two years leading up to the pandemic –  most likely as a medium which fitted easily into daily routines such as the commute or drive to work, and one which has overtaken radio listenership as a preferred way to use this time.” 

So why are podcasts potentially so effective for marketers? 

For Karen Hochhauser, it’s the depth of engagement that’s key.  “Data shows that podcast audiences are very engaged. There’s a built-in, host-listener relationship; ads are considered less intrusive, and we have found consumers have high ad recall.”  

And podcasts are proving their effectiveness for advertisers. Spotify’s 2020 Entertainment Study found that 60% of consumers pay attention to audio ads, while the Audio: Activated report from BBC StoryWorks found that brand mentions in their podcasts deliver on average 16% higher engagement and 12% higher memory encoding than the surrounding content. This particular study also found that podcasts delivered unique cut-through with ‘ad avoiders’, suggesting that branded podcasts are an effective way to engage this hard to reach group. 

Its effectiveness is such that in the US, Business Insider predicts podcast ad spending will surpass $1 billion in 2021, and reach $1.61 billion by 2024, more than double its current level. 

What’s the outlook? 

It’s still early days. Karen Hochhauser believes that to reach its full potential as a marketing channel, podcasting needs to improve in several areas. “Currently, there is limited targeting, inadequate measurement, and an often expensive inventory. Additionally, because some programs mandate host-read ads, this limits the ability for advertisers to run their own commercials.” 

And could there yet be a black cloud on the horizon in terms of audience habits? Could the shift to home working potentially spell the death of a key listening opportunity – the commute? 

Stefanie Hinten-Reed thinks not. “What’s interesting is that, in the move to remote working, with commutes all but obliterated, podcasts have continued to rise in both production and adoption, which I think is down to screen fatigue for sure, along with the widespread ownership of smartphones and investment in the medium giving marketers the confidence to include them in their marketing mix.” 

Karen Hochhauser, drawing on one of podcasting’s key advantages: its mobility. “Podcasts are mobile. They create an “always on” opportunity for marketers and can be easily integrated into your audience’s lifestyle. We know, for example, that more and more people are listening to podcasts and other audio sources while exercising, travelling, etc. We even know that 37% of C-Suite professionals listen to podcasts weekly.” 

And going forward, the future continues to look positive for podcasts.  

“I would expect the move to hybrid working and the re-introduction of the commute to increase podcast usage once again,” says Stefanie. “But even outside the commute, I think in what has been (and continues to be) a period of volatility and uncertainty, people are searching for a way to immerse themselves in a medium and ‘allow’ themselves to have this uninterrupted me-time. And providing a medium which gives audiences the option to ‘switch-off’ from their screens will continue to be a real benefit of podcasting.” 

She also sees a role for podcasts beyond advertising: “I think the medium would work well for internal comms too – a great way for the CEO to update employees on business growth but also to engage employees and get their feedback as part of talent retention strategies”  

With people’s everyday habits well and truly disrupted, communications are steadily being rethought, which means there are more and new opportunities to reach end-users… So is 2021 the year of the podcast? 

“We are still very much in exploration mode,” says Stefanie. “However once social channels start to optimise for podcasts, I think we will see much wider adoption.” 

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