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New Study Shows Listeners’ Brains Remain Engaged With Digital Audio Even While Multitasking.


New research from Spotify is shedding light into how consumers interact with not only the streaming app but digital audio overall. The updated Sonic Science study relied on biometric research to study the effects of digital audio on the brain to determine how personalization and interactivity make it a highly engaging, emotionally provoking, and memorable medium – more than television, digital video, and social media.


“Findings from this study provide concrete evidence of how listeners use Spotify to enhance key aspects of their daily lives — and how brands are able to connect with audiences in their most meaningful and immersed moments,” the report says. Among its many findings is that three-quarters (75%) of listeners are open to listening to ads on digital audio if the tone fits what they’re doing at the time.


Measuring Attentiveness


Researchers at Spotify analyzed thousands of hours of audio over the course of more than five weeks among 426 participants in the U.S. and U.K. in an effort to go beyond the eye-tracking, dwell-time tracking, and recall surveys to measure the engagement and whether they were likely to be paying attention. In doing so, Spotify says it was able to measure whether the audio content they heard, including ads, caused emotional arousal, and therefore whether they were likely to be paying attention – both engaging with the content and remembering it.


“This study is, to my knowledge, by far the largest study of how humans consume audio in daily life... and it enables an unprecedented glimpse of the role of audio in our lives,” said Josh McDermott, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, who advised Spotify on the study.


For this year’s Sonic Science installment, Spotify partnered with psychophysiological measurement company MindProber on a groundbreaking study measuring the electrodermal activity of Spotify users. Using hand sensors, MindProber collected participants’ physiological data over hour-long listening sessions as they tuned into Spotify throughout the course of a normal day, e.g., while commuting, working, going to the gym, cooking, and relaxing at home. Participants chose when, where, and what they listened to, mimicking their typical audio-streaming habits. During these sessions, participants heard music, podcasts, and both real and mock ads. They completed surveys before and after each session to capture their activity, mood, ad recall, and purchase intent.


Audio Day Grows Longer


The study found participants were bringing audio into their lives literally around the clock. It says nearly two-thirds (63%) said that the app is important to their daily routines even as they do activities like walking, reading, cooking, studying, and sleeping. Researchers say the study participants are bringing audio into “screenless moments” when they can’t, or prefer not to, engage with TV, movies, or video games. That is putting streaming audio on the center stage as much as it is a backdrop to doing other activities.


“Studying, working, and reading were the most common activities, with one in four listening sessions happening during these times. Chilling was the next most common activity, with an 18% share of listening sessions,” the report says.


Sonic Science study participants reported that after the majority of their Spotify listening sessions — regardless of when they listened, what they listened to, and what they were doing at the time they got a “mood boost.” The report says not only were users’ moods lifted, but those positive feelings lasted well beyond the listening sessions. A third of study participants said they felt “happy” or “cheerful” after listening to Spotify, while a quarter described feeling “calm.” The mental health benefits may be an added bonus for some, but for others, it’s the whole point. Many Sonic Science participants reported tuning in to Spotify with the goal of changing their mood, the report says.


Solid Engagement With Ads


Yet it is the engagement data that will have even more impact among advertisers. Researchers found that even while Spotify listeners were doing activities that demand high levels of focus, like studying and working, participants were highly engaged in the audio they were listening to. Spotify says 60% of listeners’ ad engagement carried over from the audio content heard immediately before, including podcasts and music.


Listeners also remember the brands they heard. “Sonic Science study participants were able to recall the brands they heard very effectively,” the report concludes. One in five study participants reported looking up a brand or product online after hearing about it in a Spotify ad, and 30% said they are likely to purchase a product or service that they heard about on Spotify. What’s more, people stream Spotify content on the same devices they use to shop (mobile, desktop, tablet), creating a smooth funnel from awareness to sale.


The report also says that by studying acoustic attributes of the content, there is a 30% increase in accuracy in the ability to identify listeners’ physical context. That has implications for marketers by helping them reach listeners at exactly the right time and place. And while data from this year’s study is based on electrodermal activity, it corroborates findings from the early Sonic Science study that showed the brain’s response to Spotify content also continues into what ads listeners hear. “Advertisers benefit from an environment where both mind and body are engaged,” the report says.


Download the second edition of the Sonic Science report HERE.

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