For our ears only: Why thought leadership needs to be heard

Sean Kearns

We turn to news at times of crisis. The spike in traffic to FT.com shows we want credible sources of information, and the rise of coronavirus-related podcasts reflects our need to hear new and reassuring voices.

So we want to be informed and we seek certainty, but we also want to escape – from news alerts, from video calls, from family members, and from screens.

Speaking our language

When Audible made hundreds of audiobooks available for free at the start of the pandemic, it was to help with homeschooling, but it also met our innate need to experience other worlds – without a screen. And that company’s success shows that, whether fiction or fact, we like to hear stories told in the author’s own words.

Among the most powerful during this crisis have been audio diaries of NHS workers, which have given us a visceral sense of the human impact of the pandemic.

This power of the spoken word, is not lost on the world’s major news publishers. The UK’s Times newspaper is launching a new radio service in June. The New York Times Company has acquired Audm to turn its long-form journalism into audio content. And news providers, including the BBC, are exploring smarter ways to integrate their services with voice assistants.

Tech providers are quickly releasing new services and products as part of their audio strategy to meet this evolving demand. Spotify’s new API is designed to make it easier for developers to integrate Spotify podcasts into their products for example. Meanwhile Google Pixel Buds and similar products offer the promise of personalised audio on the go.

A number of global brands take their audio brand identities very seriously, developing soundtracks and employing composers as they seek sonic consistency. Some, like Basecamp, have well established, popular audio strands that explore better ways to run business. Others, such as Vodafone Business, have used Alexa Flash Briefings to bring new services to life.

B2B: A deafening silence?

Hearing business leaders speak openly about their ambitions and day-to-day challenges makes them relatable. It’s a shrewd tactic in a business environment that rewards openness and shared values.

But many B2B brands have neglected their audio strategy – if they have one at all. This is surprising. As we spend more time exercising and more time trying to really switch off at home, audio becomes more important in our lives. We seek out people and brands that we identify with; we want to hear from experts and from entertainers.

We lend them our ears. In return, we expect to be inspired, informed and influenced. And whether we’re part of an audience of 10 or 10,000, listening to those people and brands forms a connection that can be very powerful. B2B should make sure it’s not missing that opportunity.

Find your voice

Right now, most companies are adapting to new ways of working, and they are also thinking hard about their intellectual capital and how to exploit it creatively. That’s where having an audio strategy comes in. At a time of screen overload, it’s a welcome diversion – a chance to be creative, find original stories, reach new audiences.

Thought leadership in audio form used to start and end with podcasts. That’s changed. Audiences now want a mix of authoritative headlines, personal stories and data-led insights, and they want them at home and on the move. That demands a more-rounded strategy – one that has convenience and thoughtful curation at its heart.

Such a strategy doesn’t have to mean huge budgets and professional studio set-ups. For B2B brands with experts and expert storytellers, there are simple, affordable ways to get inside the heads of audiences. The Thought Leadership Network recently released an on-demand interview with marketing consultant Peter Field using audio captured at its launch event in February, produced by FT Longitude.

More and more people are willing to listen. B2B brands just need something worthwhile to say.

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About the author: Sean Kearns

As FT Longitude’s editor-in-chief, Sean helps ensure that we create thought leadership campaigns with influence and impact. As well as delivering high-profile programmes for our clients, he advises on thought leadership strategy, helping brands reach the audiences who matter.

Sean has 20 years’ experience of creating strategic content across a range of sectors and senior editorial roles.. Before joining FT Longitude, Sean was Editorial Director of communications agency Bladonmore.

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