The hunt for attention

by Cari Kesten, Spotify

It seems our days are getting longer and our attention spans are getting shorter. With a constant flow of emails, texts, and social media, and an equally demanding deluge of offerings from traditional media, it’s rare to see content that breaks through the clutter and captures our attention. In the midst of this cacophony, we’re continuously flooded with messages from brands vying to be seen and heard. One estimate states Americans are exposed to 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day. Attention has become a precious resource in high demand. And although marketers have started to focus on attention, many are still not thinking about attention in all its forms.

For instance, most research about attention studies the many forms of visual imagery that bombard us every day. In the analysis of linear and digital video, marketers might include audio as a derivative ingredient in an ad, but fail to consider audio alone. When it comes to attention, there is growing evidence that our ears deserve as much study as our eyes. That’s why it’s crucial to identify connections with your audience through sight and sound whether interconnected or as independent formats.

And while audiences may be found in reach and frequencies, attention is found in environments. The Attention Economy, a new way of evaluating how we buy and sell, invites the industry to take a step forward and evaluate not just the ad space you buy, but the environment you’re reaching. At Spotify, we strongly believe that your audience’s environment matters, and would argue not all impressions are created equal. It’s for this reason Spotify will be contributing to Dentsu’s Phase II of Attention Economy research, showcasing our high-quality environment and investigating how digital audio drives attention.

The power of audio

The past decade was dominated by the proliferation of visual media, which has led us to a moment of reflection as people are starting to show signs of screen fatigue and are shifting their attention to audio. Fifty-six percent of Gen Zs and millennials agree that audio is an escape from too much visual stimulation. The percentage of Americans who listen to streaming audio has doubled since 2012. And with the rise of podcasts, smart speakers, and connected cars, it’s not surprising—audio is now a companion to our daily lives. Watching a video or scrolling through Instagram locks us to our screens, but we can listen to music or a podcast while doing the dishes, riding the train, or even working. What’s more, audio enhances these screenless experiences, offering more moments for marketers to connect. This is why audio should be a larger part of the conversation.

Audio is flexible, ubiquitous and unique in its ability to follow a user throughout their day. Spotify’s users listen across devices for an average of 2.6 hours per day. Studies show that people use music to regulate their moods and emotions more than for any other purpose. People use music to run faster, get through breakups, and take them back to their favourite memories.

Personalisation and the role of environment

Spotify has created an environment that actively promotes the attention and involvement of our 271-million active users. Users trust Spotify to use their audio listening profiles to provide something of personal value back to them. We are careful to respect, rather than disrupt, their experiences. Essentially, there are as many versions of Spotify as users, each optimised to their tastes.

All of this data driven personalisation shows up as daily mixes with songs we know they like, helping users with a personalised mix of grounding motivational podcasts and feel-good music with newly launched Daily Wellness, or making sure the music never stops by automatically adding similar music once a playlist has reached its last song. Connect, build trust, personalise content—that is how Spotify has captured and sustained the attention of its users and how marketers can follow suit.

Spotify has built its advertising business on these principles. Audio ads are served between songs during active sessions, ensuring that marketers achieve 100% SOV. We use our rich, first-party data that we call our streaming intelligence to help marketers understand audiences and reach them with the right message at the right moment. In a recent study, listeners confirmed this approach, stating they expect ads to be aligned with the mood or moment they hear them in.

To help summarise Spotify’s success in building trust and attention I’ll borrow a phrase from Spotify’s Creative Solutions department, who borrowed it from Kendrick Lamar: Don’t kill my vibe. Although humorous, it’s a good guide for how marketers can engage in a user’s audio world and break through the clutter without interrupting the flow of the experience.

As marketers start to think about attention in all its forms, here are three things to remember about audio:

  • it is ubiquitous, offering more moments for marketers to connect
  • it enhances rather than competes with experiences, acting as a companion
  • its emotional nature can create high-quality environments that users engage with and trust.