Marketing trends are always changing, and it's so important to stay relevant. What are the latest trends, and how does one stay abreast of them? Is it better to be an early adopter or to see which trends stick? To address these questions, we’re asking experienced CMOs and marketing executives to share their “Top 5 Marketing Trends That Leaders Need To Know.” As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Ciccarelli.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?
Twenty years ago, if you told me I would be the leader of a global company, I would not have believed you. My career started off when I completed audio engineering school at the Ontario Institute Of Audio Recording Technology in London, Ontario. After I graduated, I opened my own recording studio.
As it would happen, my studio was featured in a local newspaper. I consider this press feature to be a catalyst for a couple of things in my life at the time. It was through this piece that I met my wife, Stephanie. Stephanie was a trained singer, and after seeing the story in the newspaper, her mother suggested that she record her repertoire at my studio. We met, and after completing her demo, started dating.
That same article got the attention of businesses looking for audio recording services. It was just a couple of local businesses here and there, needing audio for a commercial, or a recording for their phone system. I asked Stephanie if she was willing to provide the voice over work, while I handled the recording and production. We made a great team, and soon enough, we started seeing some success with businesses in the community.
Then we thought, why not market our services online? We taught ourselves to code using resources from the library and got our website up and running. Soon after, we started getting flooded with messages from voice actors wanting to be featured on our website. Then, once we had featured a handful of voice actors, we started getting inquiries from ad agencies and creative producers for voice over services.
It was during this time that the concept for what Voices is now, became crystal clear. We saw the potential to become a marketplace to connect businesses with talent in an industry that had yet to be digitized.
Stephanie and I moved away from doing the studio work ourselves to creating a voice over marketplace with the purpose of positively impacting the world through the human voice. It was then that we started actively connecting voice-buying clients with professional and aspiring voice talent. Now, more than 15 years later, Voices is the leading voice over marketplace and has some exciting things on the horizon.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you made when you were first starting?
Years ago, when we were first starting out, we knew we needed to put some efforts into marketing to get on the radar of potential clients in the New York and Los Angeles area.
We decided to explore a direct mail campaign. After enlisting the help of a marketing agency, we set out to conduct a six week campaign, which included sending jumbo postcards to marketing professionals in NY and LA. We thought that if they weren’t already searching for voice talent online, we needed to reach them where they actually were—in their offices, working.
The agency’s mailing list had about 30,000 people. And to incentivize potential clients to register on our website, as part of the campaign we were doing a giveaway of an iPod Nano. Of the 30,000 recipients that received our postcards, we had two–just two–people register for the contest. It was so underwhelming and disappointing, but is funny to look back on now.
It was painful at the moment, but it served as a valuable lesson for us. Later on, we realized our mistake was an activity called “channel switching,” which is when a customer is contacted through one marketing channel, but the call to action directs the customer to a different channel. We made the initial contact through postcards in the mail, and expected recipients to log onto their computers, and type in a long URL to enter the contest. That was clearly not the best strategy, and it showed in the results.
The silver lining of what might be considered a failed campaign was the artwork that was created for the postcards. We used that artwork to help build our visual brand at the time and introduced the relatable characters from the campaign, Voice Girl and Ad Man, to our customers in various places on our website. For a long time, our kids actually thought that Voice Girl was Mommy and Ad Man was Daddy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
The first person that comes to mind is my wife and co-founder Stephanie. Our skill sets are different but complement each other very well, and having her by my side as a business partner and as a spouse has played a huge role in getting Voices to where we are today.
I also think we both have our parents to thank for their support. They’ve lent a listening ear any time we needed to talk through something. They’ve been a sounding board for us through so many major decisions and crazy ideas we’ve dreamt up throughout the years. I know they’re always there to support in any way they can, which I don’t take for granted.
Are you able to identify a 'tipping point' in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different?
When we started off, we were called InteractiveVoices. It was a fine name, and as we were just starting off, it served its purpose. But it was often mis-remembered. Sometimes we’d be referred to as “voices interactive” or “interactive voices.com”. The name also implied we only provided voices for interactive media, which wasn’t the case; our voice talent did so much more. So after a couple of years in business, we decided it was time for a rebrand.
We spent hours brainstorming new catchy names like Vox and Voxio that could accurately represent our brand, but all the names we thought we wanted to go with were taken. Finally, we realized that the best name for us would simply be a shortening of our existing name: we’d cut our name in half and become Voices.com. A great idea! Unfortunately, the Voices.com domain was taken.
We had our lawyer approach the domain owner to see if they were willing to sell. The seller named a price of $50,000, which was way more cash than we had on hand. But we were determined to become Voices, so I went on a mission to set up meetings with every financial institution in London to raise money for our new name. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to raise any this way.
Thankfully, our lawyer had the great idea to go back to the seller and counteroffer $30,000, which we would pay off in quarterly payments of $5,000 for the next 6 quarters. That was much more manageable for us, and the seller accepted! So for a small investment of $5,000 upfront, we were able to relaunch in 2006 as Voices.com.
The rebrand was the start of a new era. Our website traffic practically doubled overnight, and big companies started to take us seriously. We also learned an extremely valuable lesson in the process: never take no for an answer. The process it took to obtain our name was more laborious than I would have expected, but our time and investment paid off. Sometimes you just need to ask, because if you don’t ask, you’ll never know what’s possible.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
The reality is that our voice talent community is the backbone of our success, and they're one of the primary reasons we’re still in business today. We’ve recognized this from day one, and that’s why as a company, we invest so much effort into ensuring they have the best experience possible and the resources available to succeed.
At the end of the day, it’s our talent community that brings our vision to life, and we at Voices are just the guide. This lens that we take on our business separates us from the crowd because we’re happy to have the spotlight on someone else. Success for us is seeing our talent succeed, and if we had to choose which of us got the limelight we would always choose them.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? Tell us about it!
Again, let me go back to our talent-focused lens. We’re always looking for ways to spotlight and award our talent, and make it easier for them to get noticed and book jobs. We’re currently working on expanding our Talent Achievement Program. We recently launched Top Talent Status on Voices, a designation voice talent can earn by completing a certain number of jobs and by maintaining a four star rating.
Voice talent that receive Top Talent status get a badge on their profile, which also shows up in search results when clients are searching for talent. We’re working on making additions to this program in the coming months, which is just another way to make hiring for jobs easier, and give greater recognition to talent.
Being at the forefront of the marketing space and leading diverse teams, what resources or tools do you use to stay abreast of the ever-changing landscape?
I find that one of our greatest resources are the people that work at Voices. Our team is incredibly talented, and we lean on our specialists for insights within their channel specialties. For example, if we need an opinion of what the social media landscape looks like at any given time, our community manager will be the first one we ask. Additionally, industry specific publications and reports from leading companies are also great resources to follow. In this example, Hootsuite’s Social Media Trends report would be a resource we would look to for trends on the digital media landscape.
In your experience, is it possible to forecast upcoming trends? How does this process work?
Yes, it’s definitely possible to forecast trends. Listening to our network is a great way to stay informed. Each year, we release an annual trends report geared towards clients, and a separate trends report geared towards our voice talent. To shape our predictions for each report, we keep open channels of communication with our clients and voice talent. Multiple times throughout the year, I’ll meet with voice talent, voice coaches, clients, and other industry players across the country. These conversations allow me to get a bit of pulse check of what’s going on.
For example, through conversations with voice talent, I can get a sense of what roles they’re being asked to play, what kind of jobs they enjoy, and concerns or observations they’ve noticed in the industry as a whole. It’s conversations like these that help me pick out overarching trends in the industry.
In marketing, would you say it’s better to be an early adopter of trends or wait to see if they stick before allocating resources?
For us, we’d prefer to be an early adopter of trends. We want to be seen as an industry leader, so we need to be comfortable putting ourselves in the position to lead. We’re very data driven at Voices, so when considering new strategies or campaigns, we like to look at data from what’s worked well in the past, and what hasn’t. We use those past insights as a starting point to guide us to trying out new things.
The pro of being an early adopter of trends is that if the trend sticks, it looks really well on us. I think it’s better to be an early adopter of new trends because it shows that we’re thinking ahead, and that we’re not afraid to take risks, try new things, or embrace change.
The con is when the trend has a short shelf life, it’s tempting to feel like the resources, money, and time we’ve invested into this project are wasted. However, if we’re in this situation, we take a different lens. When we try new things, we’re ready to assume the risk that it might not play out as we had hoped. Even if the results we hoped for aren’t there, the experience serves as a good learning opportunity, and also provides more data that we can use to inform future campaigns.
What are some of the past trends that you embraced, and what results did you see?
Recently, we’ve really stepped up our content strategy and put a massive effort behind creating better and more video content. Short form video has completely taken off in the last few years. And if that’s how people prefer to receive information, we should make an effort to reach them that way.
After making a number of key additions to our content team, we started posting Instagram reels, posting more on our stories, we created a TikTok account, as well as started creating YouTube shorts to see how it would impact our YouTube channel.
The results have been amazing so far. These pieces have been really helpful in increasing our reach to the talent community. And because we post a lot of tutorials and educational content to help our community, the increase in views and engagement means we’re making even just a tiny bit more of an impact on our audience, helping them book more work.
Can you share a time when a strategy didn’t deliver the results you expected and what you learned from the experience?
In 2021, we expanded our service categories to offer a wider range of audio related services. In addition to voice over, we started to offer audio production services, translation, music composers, and singers. Unfortunately, the expanded services categories weren’t as popular with our community as we had hoped. The thought was that by including other audio-related services, which, if it did well, would ultimately lead us to claiming a great share of the creative services pie.
This experience showed us that as a company, we should double down on what we do best: voice over. Business on our platform for voice over has increased steadily over the past few years, and this experience taught us that success will come when we focus on what we do best.
What factors should leaders consider before jumping on a trend?
Aside from cost, the pace of a trend and the timeline of a company’s GTM strategy is a significant consideration. How feasible is it for your team to jump on this trend? Does it require significant planning, or onboarding new software? Can it easily be adopted into your existing strategy, or would it require a significant amount of extra time and resources? Finally, it’ll be important to consider how fast you anticipate this trend will pass.
Having reached this space, what are the top five marketing trends leaders should know about in 2023?
1. Audio routines: This year, our Annual Client Trends Report predicted that audio routines will be a staple in daily lives. This means we’re expecting to see more people incorporating audio content into daily routines. For example someone might throw on their go-to podcast for their daily dog walk, or an Alexa routine announcing the daily news roundup. Because of how prevalent audio content is now, I expect 2023 will be a record breaking year for the audio advertising industry.
2. Podcasting will grow: We know that short form video content is extremely popular, and the preference for longer video content has decreased. I feel consumers are reaching their capacity for visual content, and are turning to the audio medium for a form of longer storytelling that can’t be jammed into a 15 second video. Podcasts have grown significantly in popularity over the last few years, and I think brands and creators will start to incorporate podcasts into their content strategy, if they haven’t already.
3. Quality audio is essential for an engaging experience: A lot of times, we consume media (TV, TikTok, audiobooks) for fun and recreation. If we’re listening to an audio experience for entertainment purposes, a high quality experience is a must. Producers and content creators will want to ensure all aspects of their production–including audio–be top notch to provide the best experience possible for listeners or viewers.
4. Short form video: this style of content will continue to be incredibly popular. Investing in video content has done wonders for our brand awareness and our digital reach. Especially since social media algorithms push this kind of content, it’s a great way to get fast, digestible content to your audience.
5. Social media will get even more crowded: We know that short and fast videos are gaining popularity day by day. But shorter content forces people to consume more, at a faster pace. This means that brands and creators will have to create more content to keep up with demand. With so much content being pumped out daily, I think creators will really try to hone in on their target audience and own their niche.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to many people, what would that be?
Personally, I really like to embody the notion of shared success. It's an idea that I try to carry with me and inspire in others. For example, at Voices, the voice talent on our platform are the real heroes in our story. Their success is our success, so we work really hard to make their experience as a creator, entrepreneur, and voice over artist as easy and as fun as possible.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
There are a few ways readers can keep up with what’s happening at Voices. The best place to start would be www.voices.com. Here, we regularly publish blog posts, trend reports, and press updates. Of course, there are the standard social channels: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are all @voices, LinkedIn is /company/voices-com. Lastly, you can follow me on LinkedIn: David Ciccarelli.
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