August 10, 2020

Navigating the Screenless World

By J.D. Crowley, Chief Digital Officer, Audacy

As we enter the age of ambient computing, brands have to think differently about audio.

A dramatic transformation is taking place all around us. Our relationship with technology is rapidly expanding beyond screens, as new innovations allow us to maximize the intuitive power of the voice. Consumers are quickly becoming accustomed to accessing vast amounts of information, and completing everyday tasks with little more than a word, while brands are being granted new ways to access their audiences—if they know where to find them and how to connect.

Consider how rapidly our routines have evolved as Smart Speaker and Wearable penetration rates skyrocket. When our Smart Speaker alarm goes off in the morning, our device can do much more than just wake us up – it adjusts the lights and temperature in the room while playing the day’s headlines from your favorite media sources. We order soap from the shower with a simple voice command. As we enjoy our first cup of coffee, we adjust our daily schedule, set reminders, and start up our favorite podcast, all without a screen in sight – in fact, it happens without even touching a piece of hardware.

Though these may seem like subtle changes to longstanding morning rituals, they represent a meaningful progression in the ways we interface with technology. Twenty years ago a person had to sit down at a desktop with a mouse and keyboard to read their emails, map out a driving route, order a product, and set their calendar. Ten years ago, it became possible to do all that on the go from your phone. Now, we’re approaching the next great transformation —the rapid adoption of ambient computing. Our ability to access and share information and simplify once-complex tasks is decoupling from screens, buttons, and the confines of hardware, as modern technology catches up with the oldest means of communication in human history: the voice.


This shift isn’t on the horizon—it’s already underway. 63% of Americans already use a voice-operated personal assistant1. By 2022, more than half of all Americans will have a smart speaker in their homes2, and this march of transformation has only accelerated this year as it has become imperative to move away from physical and tactile interfaces. Since the first quarter of this year alone, smart speaker listening has increased by 43% in the United States, and podcast listening 26%3.

In the words of Publicis’s former Chief Growth Officer Rishad Tobaccowala, “We’ve reached saturation of the eyes and now we’re looking at colonization of the ears.” so the quote graphic can be placed underneath it.

quote from Rishad

From the rising popularity of podcasts to the cutting edge of IoT in the home, screenless trends are all about consumers speaking and listening. Consumers are engaging with content anywhere, anytime, all hands-free. This is where the real opportunity of ambient computing lies: unprecedented connection. We are now effortlessly connected through smart speakers, wearables, and IoT devices from the moment we wake. These previously unavailable moments and surfaces present a unique chance for brands to connect with their audiences like never before.  But to be most effective, brands must fully understand how to engage consumers in these new environments.

First, brands must understand that the overwhelming majority of these connections will happen through sound. This will be a good thing for consumers and brands alike—at Audacy, we’ve seen that audio consistently yields the most engaged impressions. Sound is the most powerful tool available for deep and lasting impact, and brands will have more chances to use it than ever. Sound is marketing’s next frontier.

Second, brands must understand that these new sonic opportunities will require new modes of thinking. Brands must expand beyond a traditional, visual-only approach to carefully consider their entire sonic brand strategy in order to thrive in the era of ambient computing.

Sonic branding isn’t a new idea—jingles have been around for nearly a century—but the sonic brand of today manifests itself in a host of new ways. Some brands, like Intel or THX, have sonic identities with established legacies. Others like Mastercard6 have joined the game recently by comprehensively working a sonic component into their marketing campaigns.

Many brands have recently seen big results after updating their long standing sound strategy. State Farm, for example, recently reintroduced their brand name to their jingle and have enjoyed a jump to 81% correct brand association4, the highest in any category. Apple, meanwhile, continues to pioneer environmental sonic branding, thoughtfully considering every sonic touchpoint from the famous start-up sound of their computers, to the tap of a key on their keyboards, to the sonic environment of each in-store experience. With sonic strategies embedded in Audacy’s DNA, we’re helping our clients adapt in real time, advising them how to navigate the screenless world with an audio-first attitude.

Third, brands must recalibrate their approach to discovery. Future Today Insitute’s founder Amy Webb explains this well: “If talking is the new typing, then the new SEO (search-engine optimization) is VSO (voice-search optimization).” This makes unaided brand recall paramount – brands must help their customers “ask for them by name.”

As the screenless world reaches untapped corners of people’s lives, proactive brands should learn from these examples and adjust their strategies now. That’s because sounds exist everywhere, not just around the name of your brand. Transactions and transitions, entrances and exits—all these and more are opportunities for brands to make a mark on consumers with distinctive audio.

Now is also the time to go beyond a legacy, visual-only advertising approach by fully integrating your sonic brand into your marketing mix. Strong sonic strategies will be essential for any brand that wants to convert audio into action. At Audacy, we’ve been driving those conversions for years. With our community of 170 million monthly listeners7, we trace that aforementioned path into people’s ears and back out through their actions. What’s more, we’ve watched our listeners set up a beachhead for ambient computing—+ 21% YOY listening on our digital platform, with a remarkable +89% in smart speaker listening5.

Consumers have already plunged into the screenless world. It’s up to forward-thinking brands to embrace the power and potential of audio, develop comprehensive sonic strategies, and meet them there.

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1 Smart Audio Report Spring 2020, Inc
2 Juniper Research
3 Edison Share of Ear, comparison of May vs. Q1 2020.
4 Veritonic Audio Logo Index 2020,
5 Triton Web Metrics June 2019-2020
6 Adweek, 2.8.19, Sonic Branding Continues to Gain Popularity as Mastercard Launches Its Own Sound
7 Fall 2019, Nielsen National Regional Database, M-Su 12M-12M, 12+, 4-week Schedule Cume Persons​ plus Fall 2019 (Oct/Nov/Dec) Local ETM PPM Markets, M-Su 12M-12M, P6-11, 4-week Schedule Cume

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