As the Great Resignation puts the purpose at the heart of companies' concerns, they must transform themselves to redefine their identity. In this context, how to communicate without hypocrisy - both to employees and to customers? Audio paves the way to a more spontaneous, more fluid and more open communication in order to establish a trusting contact. A notion is emerging: the culture of listening.

Communication based solely on images and text is reaching its limits

The era of fast news - A locked communication

For the past fifteen years, the feed logic has profoundly changed the way we communicate. The attention economy has brought us into the scroll and short time society. Digital marketing is now based on a simple precept: each message must be effective in a minimum of time and a minimum of words. Our relationship with the screen borrows from Stakhanovism in its desire to give each second a usefulness. No respite for the eyes.

In fact, in order to achieve performing communication, all digital content is scripted to the word. Communicators - companies as well as individuals - take care of their messages, reread them two, three, four times before publishing them on the web. Every word is scrutinized, emojis are carefully chosen. In a word, the message is calibrated to produce an effect. Everything is under control.

This way of communicating is questionable, as it carries the seeds of a growing distrust of digital content. The general public knows that a brand publication is now controlled down to the smallest comma. This has led to two phenomena. On the one hand, communication blunders are perceived as controlled blunders, which explains the vehemence with which they are sometimes greeted by public opinion. The bad buzz is never far away. On the other hand, how can we not be perplexed when a brand highlights its alleged spontaneity when it has recruited a Community Manager to set up customer acquisition tools? The proximity effect fades, as does trust.

A picture is not worth a thousand words

To understand the communication problems we are currently suffering from, let's look at the role that the image has taken over the last fifty years. The massive adoption of television in Western homes has permanently changed our perception of the world by bringing into the living rooms of millions of people a projection of what sounded like reality.

The photographed image has since been considered the most reliable representation of the world. However, as early as 1961, the philosopher and semiologist Roland Barthes pointed out that the image is a language that has a very significant grammar (composition of the image, frame, light, posture of the filmed subject), which gives a distorted perception of reality. Nevertheless, the beliefs have the hard tooth and we are always to follow the precept of Saint Thomas: "Unless I see it… I will not believe it".

Thus, all modern communication has focused on sight, neglecting the other senses. This choice is to be questioned, and that for several reasons:

  • First of all for technical reasons: digital tools have made faking available to everyone, removing from the image its presumption of veracity.
  • Then for psychological reasons: the cult of the image tends to reinforce our bias of representativeness by leading us to form an opinion on the others from physical elements which are not necessarily representative of their personality. In this case, the viewer judges the messenger on his appearance rather than on his message.
  • Thirdly, for commercial reasons: One image drives out another. It is difficult for a brand to emerge on social networks using tools already overused by its competitors. It's like drowning a splash of color in a sea of paint.

Let's be clear: images are an incomplete medium for meeting the communication needs of companies, especially B2B. In order to find an authentic discourse in which the message would be preeminent, we need to be mindful. It is not so much a question of getting rid of images - an illusory hypothesis - as of filling in some of the gaps with a medium that is within our hearing range: audio.

What if we really listen to each other?

The podcast, a breath of fresh air

The recent success of branded podcasts teaches us that it is possible to communicate without images. A fact that was not obvious a few years ago, given the central place of visuals in corporate communication: logos, posters, advertisements, illustrations, motion design... The only reference points for the use of audio were often dreadful, garish and interchangeable radio ads. In short, we had come a long way...

However, at the turn of the 2020s, more and more brands started to reinvent their communication by using podcasts (Schneider Electric, LVMH, Danone, the SNCF...). Podcasts have opened up new narrative possibilities for companies: audio dramas, reports, testimonials from experts, talks... All these formats create a close relationship between the brand and its community.

Audio to consolidate your community

The notion of community that is the most meaningful in understanding the change in posture of brands in the Web 3.0 era. From now on, they no longer address the masses but individuals who are free to spend their time as they wish.

The podcast - often listened to alone with headphones - is therefore not used to convince a mass of consumers of the revolutionary character of a product, but to bring quality content (entertainment, information, social issues) to a community of free listeners. In the age of inbound marketing, brands must learn to become their own influencer. The authenticity effect of the voice leads to a more sincere speech, able to inspire trust.

The comeback of long formats

Among native digital content, podcasts are reintroducing extended formats with episodes during 5 to 120 minutes. This comeback is made possible by the nomadic dimension of podasts. They are mainly listened to within transportation, while practicing sport, cooking, cleaning… During all those moments when sight and hands are busy, but the ear is available for a long time. Take a deep breath, launch your podcast, and combine business with pleasure.

In many ways, the comeback of long podcasts is good news. They are less subject than short formats to the requirement of a sustained rhythm, and they encourage discussions that go deeper into the issues. The boom in podcasts dealing with economic and social issues is no accident. Whether it's Génération Do It Yourself, Les Couilles sur la Table, Backseat or Le Climat en Question, the length of these programs allows the speakers to express themselves without having to oversimplify their remarks. Therefore, it allows them to deliver their personal vision of the world without caricatures.

The proof is in the audio

Just listen to a few brand podcasts to realize that one format comes up very often: the testimonial. Whether it's to highlight employees, partners or customers, companies do not hesitate to give their stakeholders a voice. An exercise that lends itself very well to audio, given the relaxed and reassuring nature of the microphone, less solemn than a camera.

If audio gives confidence to the speakers, it is the same for the listeners. Less formatted than video, the podcast is still considered as a reliable medium that goes back to the simplicity of the message. The absence of images focuses the listener's attention on the speaker's words. The resulting active listening creates a privileged relationship with the speaker, which is fundamental for creating a link.

Beyond the podcast, audio to understand each other

Beyond the podcast, audio has recently taken a prominent place in private conversations. Why are voice messages so popular? The reason is simple. Some messages benefit from being told by voice rather than in writing: good news, anecdotes, feelings... In short, audio brings vitality to the message, and above all adds a range of expressiveness through the speaker's prosody to avoid misunderstandings.

Let's take a very concrete example to illustrate this point. Let's imagine that you are having an agitated discussion by message with someone close to you (your spouse, your friend, a relative). As the exchange goes on, the disagreement between you grows. Each of you is looking for the right words to be as forceful as possible and to make your point of view heard. Suddenly you receive the following message: "You're right". After many minutes of confrontation, this signal disturbs you. Does the other person take a step towards you, or is he or she sulky? Is their attitude hostile, neutral, friendly?

The problem with a written message is that there are many interpretations of it. If you give a play to a hundred actors, you will get a hundred different readings. In the present situation, you are missing an element to decode the other's attitude and formulate an appropriate response. The mutual understanding is partial, and the misinterpretation almost certain.

On the contrary, a simple voice allows both of you to understand the state of mind of the other person and to adapt your speech accordingly. This brings us to a central notion for the next decade: developing the culture of listening.

The culture of listening, a project for society

As you will have understood, the purpose of this article is to expose the key role that audio is taking in the communication of organizations - both internally and externally. The concept of a listening culture is particularly eloquent in this context, as a means of rebuilding relationships and stimulating a collective dynamic. Here are the outlines.

Firstly, the culture of listening is based on the desire to understand each other better. This implies approaching subjects with a certain humility and being aware of one's own prejudices in order to avoid the Dunning-Kruger effect.* With this precaution in mind, the word of the other is welcomed with a certain benevolence, accepting that the world is more nuanced than a slogan. In fact, the culture of listening carries with it the transposition of wisdom into interpersonal communication.

Secondly, the culture of listening requires us to take the time, to slow down the pace in order to give important subjects the time they deserve. It is demanding because it means interrupting the continuous flow of occupations and distractions in order to concentrate on what the other person is saying. It means allowing oneself to take a few moments to reconsider the situation from a new perspective. Therefore, the culture of listening gives a special place to silence and meditation.

Thirdly, the culture of listening is placed in a cooperative logic. As listening implies openness to otherness, it obviously admits disagreement, while opposing the narcissistic logic of clash. It therefore implies putting down one's posture and respecting the opinion of others, even if it is radically opposed to one's own.

This culture is by definition part of an approach of openness and letting go. It is in the interest of companies to seize this transformation to strengthen their ties, both with their employees and with their customers. A silent revolution is underway, giving voice an echo it has never known before.

* In 1999, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger highlighted a cognitive bias of overconfidence. Individuals have a natural tendency to overestimate their competence in the areas in which they are least proficient, and therefore to base their initial analysis on unfounded certainties.