Headphones make you more persuasive
Listening with headphones (vs speakers) make messages more persuasive. People were 2x more likely to respond positively.
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You’re listening to your favorite podcaster. They’re promoting their new book.
When would you be most convinced to buy it?
a) While listening from your speaker while cooking
b) While listening from your headphones when walking to work?
Scientists from the University of California discovered that the difference is much larger than we thought. Here’s what they found.
P.S.: Whether using a speaker or headphones, don’t forget that high audio quality is crucial - it can make you sound smarter and make people like your content more.
Headphones persuade better than speakers
Channels: Audio Ads | Podcasts | Ads | Retail Stores
Research date: April 2022
Try to get your audio messages (e.g. podcast or radio ads), to listeners through headphones - not speakers.
For example, an ad on a podcast - listened to with headphones - will be more effective than the same ad on the radio listened to from a car’s speakers.
People will feel closer to you, and will be more convinced about the benefits of your product. It’s especially useful when you want to feel more warm and authentic.
People feel closer, physically and socially, to speakers when listening to them on headphones versus speakers. This creates a better impression of the speaker, including feeling closer and more empathetic to them, and more persuaded by their message.
As part of a series of 4 experiments, researchers found:
People were more likely to believe an audio message that “using your phone while driving is dangerous”. They were 23.7% more likely to agree it’s extremely dangerous
People were more than twice as likely (30.2% vs. 13.9%) to write a letter supporting someone they heard on headphones versus on speakers. They were also 68.2% more likely to ask for information on how to help the speaker
The benefits of using headphones were stronger when headphones used 8D audio technology that makes the listener feel surrounded by the sound.
🧠 Why it works
Being able to localize the direction and distance of sound helps us move around safely and protect ourselves from potential dangers.
Using headphones, instead of speakers probably gives the feeling of the voice originating from our own head. This makes us feel the person we’re listening to is physically closer to us, leading to feelings of emotional and social closeness as well.
This leads to feeling more warmth and empathy for the speaker.
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The experiments looked at audience responses to evocative negative content (e.g. the impact of COVID, traffic accidents, and homelessness). They did not test rational or positive messages.
Because of the enhanced emotions when listening via headphones, the effect may backfire if the listener finds the subject controversial.
If the speaker has a robotic or monotone voice, or is already familiar to the listener (e.g. a podcast host they listen to regularly, the effect may not be as strong.
🏢 Companies using this
Americans listen to 4 hours of audio daily on average. For this reason, audio advertising, (e.g. on podcasts), is growing rapidly.
93% of podcast listening is done alone, with a large share likely done via headphones, especially in the 16% of the time people listen to podcasts while working or studying or 19% while walking or commuting.
Museum or exhibition audio guides are likely enhancing their experience by offering headphones with their tours.
Companies don’t seem to be experimenting much in this space (e.g. with in-store headphone experiences).
⚡ Steps to implement
Advertise on podcasts, since people are likely to be listening with their headphones.
If you advertise on radio, try to focus on timings when people are more likely to be using headphones. For example, during work hours or commuting hours.
In retail stores, try to set up “experience stands” next to your product displays, with headphones and pre-loaded audio content explaining your product.
Your audio message should focus on evoking emotions related to the experience of using your product. This would likely work best for items being bought for pleasure or an experience (e.g. premium products, a holiday), compared to items bought for practical utility (e.g. a drill).
You can maximize how persuasive your speaker is by having them speak in a focused, low-pitched tone.
Remember - high-quality audio can make you sound almost 20% smarter and make your content seem better and more important to people.
🔍 Study type
Online experiments and field experiment (with 228 students on University of California’s campus)
A Voice Inside My Head: The Psychological and Behavioral Consequences of Auditory Technologies. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (April 2022).
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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