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Advertisers are finding new places for ads with the rise of voice technology

We’re entering the fourth (screen) dimension.

A prototype of Apple's new HomePod is displayed during the 2017 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) at the San Jose Convention Center on June 5, 2017 in San Jose, California. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

This is a contributed article by John Trimble, chief revenue officer of Pandora.

Following another hectic CES — driven yet again by agencies, ad tech vendors and marketers searching for that next big thing — the notion of the “fourth screen” has become today’s hot buzzword. Google it, and Wikipedia’s definition blithely lumps it in with the “third screen,” which the marketing world has largely accepted as your mobile or tablet screen. Wandering the floor at CES, vendors want to convince you that it’s the driverless car or any other Internet of Things device.

To my thinking, the fourth screen encompasses all of that; it really stands for all the technology that makes our lives both easier and more complicated. Mobile devices surely have upended traditional media consumption in ways we couldn’t have imagined even a decade ago. Driverless cars and intuitive refrigerators also have the capacity to enhance our lives, either through safety or convenience.

The newest opportunity in the fourth screen’s impact on consumers lies in audio and voice. From Amazon Alexa to the Google Assistant, voice-activated devices were among the hottest consumer electronics sellers this past holiday season. In fact, an NPR and Edison Research survey (Smart Audio Report, Fall/Winter 2017) shows that 16 percent of Americans now have a smart speaker, a 128 percent surge since January 2017. Further, 7 percent of all Americans bought at least one smart speaker between November and December of last year. Clearly, America is catching on really quickly.

And so are brand marketers, who are rushing headlong into this fresh opportunity to get integrated into cutting-edge consumer electronics technology. Alongside their agencies, lifestyle brands face the challenge of properly cultivating a sonic brand identity that is actually responsive. (Radio ads have been around since the days of Marconi, but listeners to this day still can’t respond to an ad the way an Alexa user can interact directly with the device.) Though the creative world is hard at work trying to crack the code on using these platforms in a way that helps potential customers (without hijacking their content experience), there’s a lot more to be done.

Here’s where the media platforms that are already plying their business on smart consumer tech can help and lead. In a connected world, audio has the power to cut through the clutter — often with a more emotionally resonant and intimate message than other forms of advertising. That’s why the opportunity for brands is so ripe in this voice-first, audio-led era.

We have an amazing depth of data and knowledge about our users — after all, they tell us at Pandora what they want to hear, and we give it to them — that we share with our advertisers to craft the most engaging, contextually relevant messages possible, whether they’re heard through an Echo or the smart navigation system in their car.

The industry is taking a go-slow approach to unlocking the power of advertising on these platforms for many reasons. One, unlike online search advertising where multiple results are largely seen at the same time, with these voice-activated devices, only one ad is heard at a time. If that first ad heard is a paid search result, will the consumer asking trust that information?

Taking a step back, these platforms also want to ensure that the customer experience with voice interfaces is not hindered by advertising — a worry that has kept many a sales and product person up at night over the decades. Here’s where digital audio rides to the rescue: Advertising is delivered around the content the listener is asking for, but isn’t a search result.

What about the in-car experience? CES attendees certainly heard plenty about the entertainment opportunities created when the driver no longer has to worry about manning the steering wheel or pressing buttons on the dash. Cars are getting smarter — and, yes, they understand voice commands. Digital audio services already have a leg up here, given the ability to use mobile devices to tailor your personalized music experience upon entering the car. Advertisers wisely turned to the likes of Waze for info on local gas stations, restaurants and hotels.

Simply put, voice-activated content sits right at the heart of what consumers want: Control. The information consumers give us to exert that control over content informs our ability to deliver them relevant, engaging advertising. As programmatic options continue to get refined, the ease for lifestyle brands and their agencies to get results increases geometrically.

This is a pivotal time to be in the media business, thanks to the lightning-fast changes in technology that keep opening up new avenues — and screens — to the consumer. If you can stay on top of the changes and harness the screen that best fits your business objectives, while always remembering to keep the customer’s needs top of mind, the future will certainly be bright and audible.

John Trimble is the chief revenue officer of Pandora, and is responsible for all advertising revenue, strategic sales marketing and advertising operations. Pandora’s diverse revenue streams tap display, mobile and audio that reach consumers on their computers, mobile phones and consumer electronic devices. Trimble’s current Pandora lineup features the Counting Crows, the Dropkick Murphys, Kanye West, U2 and Jack Johnson. Reach him @JTrimbleNY.

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