Article to audio: How we’re giving a voice to our marketing

Discover how article to audio revolutionizes marketing, boosting engagement and content retention. Keep reading to learn how we add audio to blogs and give our marketing a voice.

William Sale
7 MIN|June 15, 2023
Overlapping soundwaves in 2 tones of orange, with a light background.

Listening to an audiobook can feel a bit like cheating on print.

While your bound copy sits on a shelf, dog-eared and dusty, audio is the slick alternative. Easy on the eyes (no "looking" required at all). Great travel buddy. Pleasing, sultry tones. Who wants to read when sound is around?

The answer to that is: a lot of people. In fact, 86% of people prefer the written word, compared to 14% who prefer audiobooks. Why? Control plays a bit part of it, with readers more easily able to flip back and forth or scroll through a written piece than a soundbite. And it's faster too.

As a content agency, we love the written word. But with the rise of digital voice assistants, audiobooks, social audio, and voice synthesisers, we want to give a voice to our words. We want to understand how audio can work alongside text.

Still image from Ask Us Anything webinar, of Barnaby, Martina and Stephen from Fifty Five and Five.

How is AI changing the audio content landscape?

As we explore the new frontiers of audio content, we can't overlook the pivotal role Artificial Intelligence is playing in this evolution. AI is completely transforming the audio content landscape in several ways. With text-to-speech technologies, AI can convert written content into audio formats with human-like voices, making it easier for users to consume content on the go.

AI-driven voice assistants and smart speakers are also becoming common interfaces, enabling users to interact and engage with content hands-free, thereby reshaping the user experience. Moreover, AI can provide personalized audio content recommendations, tailored to individual preferences and behaviours. This enhances content discovery and engagement, resulting in a more immersive and satisfying user experience.

AI's potential to create more accessible, interactive, and personalized audio content signifies a promising future for the audio content industry, bringing a transformative edge to our marketing strategies.

What does this look (sound) like? We're not sure yet. But we want to share our process with you.

Step 1: Research process

Donning our standard agency attire (hoodies and turtlenecks, what else?), we started to think about how we could add audio to blogs and make it an ally for our content. Here’s the short(ish) version:

Why are we doing it?

The first question is always: why?

And our simple answer is: to add value. It's one of our core behaviours at Fifty Five and Five. When we deliver any content, or have any new bright ideas, we always ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. Does a given action or piece of work exceed expectations?
  2. Are we delivering something our client cannot get elsewhere?

Two key areas that are key to audio: accessibility and availability. 

We knew from the get-go that the way we utilised audio had to be bold and go beyond the traditional uses of other websites. We wanted to give our clients a new way to digest our content and discover the delights of the B2B tech marketing world.

But more than that, we wanted to give a voice to our words. The amount of expertise that we put into action every day is something that we wanted to share. With audio blogs we hope to provide a personal way of engaging with our clients.

How is audio being used?

Or rather, how are other brands choosing to add audio to blogs?

Before we could put some ideas together, we looked at two areas that are key to audio: accessibility and availability. If we didn’t prioritise these criteria at the front of our new process, then we’d end up with reduced user engagement and audience. By looking at the brands below, we could see how they met the same criteria in their audio blogs:

  • The Times
  • Medium
  • The Economist
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • The New Yorker
  • Politico
  • Harvard Business Review
  • Bloomberg

You’ve probably listened to a few of them yourself. All a reader needs to do is click a button at the top or side of an article and then listen at their leisure. Nothing too complicated about that. Easy to access and available to users (as long as the articles are not behind a paywall).

I’ve used Politico’s audio option and I know our CEO (hey Chris!) often listens to articles from The New Yorker on his ride in.

But one thing has always bothered me about audio on blogs; the voices often don’t sound, well, human. Some of the examples listed above use artificial voices instead of human ones. When you want to listen to something, you want to be engaged. A human voice (that isn’t dry and plodding) can provide that. You want a voice that oozes charm (hence why Stephen Fry is on Audible so much!).

So, you can bet that I was all for using human voices (ok, maybe not my own) when it came to going from article to audio in this blog.

What are the benefits of adding audio to your website?

  1. Build a personal connection: Audio gives you another opportunity to connect to your audience, as well as convey emotion, tone and personality.
  2. Expand reach: Attract new audience members who prefer audio formats over written content and increase the overall consumption of blog content.
  3. Enhance user experiences: Multiple formats of content allow users to choose the format that best suits their needs and preferences.
  4. Create SEO benefits: Search engines are increasingly considering multimedia content for ranking purposes. Adding audio to blogs can potentially improve your rankings and increase organic traffic. (Check out the audio below to hear how our SEO expert, Maria, approached keyword research for this blog!)
  5. Repurpose opportunities: Audio content can be easily repurposed for use on other platforms, such as social media or in video format, extending its life and reach.

Step 2: Design process

Did you ever listen to the director’s commentary on a DVD or Blu-ray? A filmmaker, alongside members of the cast and crew, provides insights on the filmmaking process, drawing back the curtain on behind-the-scenes magic.

What about if you could have that, but in blog form? A writer (or an entire team) talking about the blog’s subject matter, adding more depth to sections or their own personal views/experiences. A series of buttons or widgets in the blog that give you extra snippets of information at certain key points, expanding the discussion further.

For example, let’s imagine we’ve written a blog about GPT-4 and other AI tools. But rather than covering just one writer’s view in the text, you have other Fifty Five and Five team members describing their own uses of the tools. You’re not getting a standard blog about generative AI, but a blog that has multiple personal perspectives and use cases. That’s just the start of what’s possible when we add audio to blogs.

How do you like the sound of that?

Creating the button

For the writer’s commentary to work it needs a button that users click to initiate the audio. As it would appear multiple times during a blog, ours needed to be distinct but not too distracting. On other websites, such buttons are obvious and only appear once, usually at the top of the blog or under the headline.

When designing the button, we thought about the following:

  1. Topical design: It had to look right and work within our own website’s design. An after thought or add-on would look too distracting. It had to fit the Fifty Five and Five brand aesthetic.
  2. Appropriate size: It couldn’t take up too much space on the page. The button needed to stand out but not take a reader out of the experience. It needed to immerse them into the subject further.
  3. Making it personal: If we’re adding our voices and personalities to the blog, then why not add our faces too? In fact, we’re already doing it. Every blog you read has a pic of the writer at the top of the page (including this one, with my shiny head). We’ll be using the same employee pics in the blogs, for every person that speaks – another way to make the audio more personal.

Why will this have a positive impact?

Here are a few reasons why we believe our choice to add audio to blogs through the “writer’s commentary” works:

  1. Expands content: It’s not simply reading aloud what’s there. Our solution adds to the user experience, opening the door to our company insights...if you want them.
  2. Uses natural, human voice(s): No robots here. Just a bunch of creative humans ready to passionately talk about what we love and even debate each other if needs be, all for your pleasure.
  3. No one else is doing it (yet): From what our research tells us, no one is choosing to add audio to blogs in the way we’re suggesting. We’re offering something that, so far, is unique. And we know how much people like to try out new things.

Step 3: The result

Guess what? This blog IS the result. A bold first step in how we develop our blogs. I’m sure you noticed the little buttons dotted around the page. Yep, these are the little audio snippets ready to excite your eardrums. Go ahead, click on the buttons and see what you get.

We sound like a great bunch, don’t we?

Going beyond words

“But does this new format work, Will?” I hear you ask. Well, you’ve got this far, haven’t you? You can see (hear?) how our decision to add audio to blogs brings extra value. But, just as importantly, it's all accessible and available with no extra hoops to jump through. There’s no pay barrier here.

We look forward to bringing you more expansive, audible content like this, and who knows, you could be a future participant.

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