How Voice And Audio Have Become The New ‘Touch’

Prior to a panel discussion at CES, Pandora's Susan Panico discussed building compelling, contextualized experiences for a voice-first world.

Augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and the voice-first revolution have the potential to redefine how fans discover and experience music, as well as related brand experiences — and this shift is happening today, not in the distant future.

But according to Susan Panico, SVP of strategic solutions at Pandora, what marketers really need to focus on is how human intelligence can scale artificial intelligence — not the other way around.

“[Marketers] have to remember that there isn’t really a more personal geo-location than [someone’s] home, right?” Panico said. “And as more people adopt a connected home devices, it’s really important for marketers to think about that you’re in a very intimate environment.”

GeoMarketing: We all like to play with VR headsets, but what have you seen at CES that’s really affecting your business at Pandora? And, in a broader sense, what do marketers then need to know about these trends?

Susan Panico: One of the biggest trends isn’t even really a trend — it’s here and now: Voice. We’re really seeing everything being controlled with voice, and audio becoming the new touch.

And, for Pandora, we’re now on 2,000 connected devices because we want to make sure that people can get their music wherever they are. We’ve also seen tremendous growth in [listening] on voice activated speakers: We have 300 percent year-over-year growth there.

But what becomes really interesting is — when you think about all those buzz words of AR, and AI — for us it’s a lot more about human intelligence, and how that human intelligence can scale artificial intelligence.

And the implication of all of this as a marketer is, well, I don’t think that there’s any more personal geo-location than your home. Right? And as more people adopt a connected home devices, it’s really important for marketers to think about that you’re in a very intimate environment.

There’s a lot of co-listening opportunity, and the way that you speak to people has to be very authentic and very natural, and it becomes a lot more important to think about “what’s your sonic identity?” What’s the sound of the brand? What’s the voice that you’re going to use to talk to? Just think about the things that you do in your home, or apartment — you don’t want that experience to be jarring. You don’t want someone shouting to you like you’re on the radio, and you want something that’s a lot more contextual, connected, authentic, and natural.

So it’s interesting because so many marketers think about what their visual representation is, and now they really need to start thinking about their sonic representation.

You’ve been evolving a bit at Pandora. What trends do you see in how people are listening to their music, and how has that changed since Pandora launched? What are you thinking about in terms of taking the company forward?

What’s really interesting is that we sit on about a billion data points a day. Not only do we get people’s age, and zip code, and that sort of data through registration, but they’re persistently logged in all the time — so we’re able to see and match that behavior. Also, what’s become really interesting [determining] the ideal time to serve an ad.

No two Pandora stations are alike, right? My station wouldn’t be the same as your station because of how you thumb up and thumb down. And what we’ve seen from an advertiser or brand standpoint is that when you interrupt that listening experience is just as important as what the actual message is itself.

All that data and  intelligence that we’ve taken around serving up the next perfect song that is going fit what you’re wanting to listen to is just as important when it comes to when and how you serve up the ad.

For example, a lot of young people, younger millennials, they take a lot of time to settle into what they want to listen to. They’re changing stations around; you don’t want to interrupt them during that time. Whereas people like myself, who are the Gen X side, they know exactly what they want to listen to.

So, all of that science informs what we do. It’s not about just the data points; it’s about the human on the other side.

What kind of ads or brand experiences on Pandora have been most successful or compelling, in your mind?

Well, audio is the primary media platform that we use, of course, but one thing that we’ve seen that’s been really interesting over last year is this idea of value exchange. A lot of brands giving the gift of an experience, or of some kind of value, in exchange for time spent listening. And what we’ve seen is that in exchange for watching a 15 second ad ,or interacting with an ad, that you can give an hour of uninterrupted listening, you can give more skips — and then, with our premium access, is you could get on-demand tracks in a free experience.

That’s been a really powerful platform for us, particularly with multi-tiered service that we have for all sorts of listeners.

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Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.