After spending the last few weeks attending a string of podcast events, including the first ever west coast podcast Upfronts, as well as the On Air Fest (a great event celebrating audio for a third year in NY with an inspiring lineup of creators and entrepreneurs), and speaking at one of the top film schools and learning how excited students are about the medium, I’m more bullish than ever about the wide world of audio. Add to it the significant investments flowing into the industry (hey, Spotify), the rapid adoption of smart speakers (faster than the early days of smartphones), and the fresh data showing audiences both young and old are listening to podcasts more than ever, and the idea that we’re in the golden age of audio seems to be much more than a pithy marketing cliché.
Perhaps no other stat is more telling than this: 40% of people aged 12-24 are now listening to podcasts (Edison/Triton Infinite Dial report – the most widely respected industry analyst). This is the demographic often referred to by those in the media industry as ‘the unreachables,’ and podcasts are proving to be one of the most efficient ways to reach them.
As someone who’s building a business focused on creating highly entertaining podcasts with the intention of attracting audiences and advertisers, I’m certainly biased. However, after more than a decade in the agency world and a few years as a marketing executive on the brand side, I can’t help but consider what I’m learning through the lens of the modern marketer. It’s easy to see that audio – and podcasts especially – should be a major consideration for your company when it comes to content marketing, media planning, and talent development. Given all the industry activity and data, that fact might seem like a no brainer. Yet the entire podcast market remains incredibly small compared other segments within digital marketing and content.
Amazon’s Chief Alexa Evangelist, David Isbitski, recently stated on the heels of new data showing huge advances in the adoption of voice enabled devices and podcast consumption that “voice is the new HTML.” Stop for a minute and digest this. In regards to these new advances in audio technology and AI, Isbitski went on to say “There’s a utility that happens with voice that’s very different than visual. […] Typing, touch—all that is very low bandwidth compared to speed.” These statements have massive implications.
I’m deliberately conflating all things audio because they are built upon common foundational principles. First and foremost, voice-enabled devices, audiobooks, streaming audio platforms and podcasts rely very little on screens and visual interfaces. They also have a clear value proposition in terms of making life more efficient, more entertaining, more inspiring, and more connected. This is in no way a replacement for TV (especially not with the final season of Thrones launching soon), but audio is on the verge of playing a much bigger role in our lives and most of us are going to continue welcoming it.
From a marketing perspective, there are many ways to invest in audio. The most important thing is simply to get in the game. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on podcasts. This is because podcasts are where I’ve been spending most of my time over the last two years and where I see the most immediate and efficient opportunity for brands and creators.
To some of you this likely sounds obvious, especially those currently investing in podcasts. A recent Digiday poll showed that ninety percent of marketers currently buying podcast advertising plan to grow their investment in the medium this year.
Yet others are still making the mistake of placing podcasts into an ‘experimental’ bucket (often the first to get cut) and not giving this medium the respect or attention it deserves. Looking at the top line numbers shows most brands are not heavily investing in the medium just yet. To put that in perspective, PwC projects $659 million in podcast ad revenue by 2020, but overall digital revenue is over $200 billion according to eMarketer. Similar studies show radio monetizes listeners at a rate ten times that of podcasting.
So why are some marketers reluctant?
These days, marketers have a lot of data on their hands. One of the knocks on podcasting is that the medium lacks advanced measurement tools, and there’s certainly some truth to this. As Dan Misner of Pacific Content recently noted, it can be challenging to label and quantify podcasting data points such as ‘subscribers’ – yet in other mediums, such data has already been standardized. He explains, “It’s a simple question: ‘How many people have opted in to be notified about new episodes from my podcast?’ There should be a simple answer. But there isn’t.”
So, yes, there’s a lot of work still to be done. Those deep in the podcast space are appropriately advocating for consistent advancement in metrics. However, I believe the idea of waiting for the medium to catch up is more an excuse than anything else, and is symptomatic of a larger gravitational pull in marketing towards the status quo. I recently heard a Fortune 500 executive proclaim that their company needed more podcast data to continue investing, yet I know this brand invests double-digit millions in legacy media – broadcast TV, radio and outdoor – most of which provide less clear-cut data than podcasts. It’s time to stop pretending we have ample data for legacy media and admit that we don’t scrutinize these channels as much as we intend (or ought) to.
In most cases, we continue investing in legacy channels because we’re in the habit of doing so. This isn’t about old media vs. new, as there’s still room for both in many media plans. At the end of the day, it’s a bit different for every brand. However, staying away from podcasts because measurement hasn’t matured is a misguided opinion and may be indicative of a larger challenge in terms of an organization’s ability to evolve.
You don’t even have to dig into the data to understand my point. Any podcast listener knows that you’ll often hear ads from the same set of brands on multiple shows time and time again, month-over-month and year-over-year. They typically utilize specific discount codes and URLs to track results, and many of these are direct marketing campaigns that live and die on ROI. If these brands are reinvesting, we know they must be seeing results.
Between the data we do have, the case studies that are readily available, and the anecdotal evidence of success, the opportunity is clear. It’s about time we seize it.
We’re all sick of this term, but it’s pervasive for a reason: It works. People trust people more than they do brands. Today, smart marketers realize podcasters are influencers. They provide value for their listeners and fans, and if you develop a partnership with a podcaster that fits with your brand – meaning you have shared values, goals, and target audiences – you’re buying some of the most efficient influence available in today’s media landscape. If micro-influencers are your bag, then this works equally well. Do your research and you’ll find endless options to reach the exact communities you’re appealing to with your product, service or experience.
Old School Advertising
Ads in podcasting range from your standard spot (think radio commercial) to full season sponsorships, to my favorite – host-read ads. These function more like true endorsements when they are done well and are even more impactful when brands give hosts/creators room to make the message their own. I.e., provide the key copy points and the CTA, but then get out of the way. And make sure you’ve sent your product to the host, or invite them to try the service or take part in the experience. Have a meeting or a call and talk about the fit you’ve identified. If it’s there, it will be obvious and the audience will reward the effort by engaging with you.
Another way to get in the game is to create an original show. Like all marketing investments, this effort can scale up or down. You can buy a few mics and record conversations in your office like my colleagues and I did back in 2008-2011 (RIP, Theater of Public Influence podcast). You can rent or build a studio and outsource production with the help of a partner like Podcraft. You can also hire an outside creator/producer who develops high quality audio content like Jay Acunzo of Unthinkable Media, or you can hire an agency that specializes in ‘making original podcasts with brands’ like Pacific Content. These brand-led podcasts are growing in popularity, but it’s still early – there’s room for you to carve out your own niche as long as you have a specific point of view and genuinely deliver value. It goes without saying (maybe not!) that if your show just sounds like a long advertisement, you’re dead on arrival.
I’m now going to contradict my last point a bit with the following: there is, in fact, a scenario where you can create a show and primarily talk about your own company. This is when you’re using the medium for what’s been dubbed ‘employment branding.’ That’s a fancy way of describing marketing efforts that are meant to position your company as a great place to work. Again, you must deliver value to your audience, but in this case your audience is prospective employees who actually find this kind of content valuable. Podcasts are a great way to bring some humanity to your logo and give folks a sense of your culture.
I’ll leave you with this: When it comes to this marketing trifecta, Netflix is the Netflix of podcasts. The brand has been slowly advertising shows from their OTT streaming service on a wide range of podcasts. At the same time they are developing original podcasts about their shows – like You Can’t Make This Up, which takes listeners behind the scenes of Netflix docs, and originals about popular culture such as Strong Black Legends, a show about African-Americans who’ve had an effect on Hollywood and entertainment. Last but not least, Netflix is now making investments in a slew of podcasts aimed at employment branding – like WeAreNetflix, which features interviews with current employees.
Should we really be surprised about their leadership in the podcasting space given the growth of the brand and their impressive approach to marketing taken over the past decade? If you haven’t been following, do a quick search and check out the marketing of Stranger Things. This is modern marketing at its best, including some extremely creative collaborations (Leggo my Eggo!).
Netflix is just one example of a larger marketing movement that’s prioritizing podcasts. Now is the time for you to figure out the best way for your brand to play.
This synopsis of opportunities within the podcasting space is by no means a comprehensive list, and it’s certainly a good time to start thinking about more advanced, interactive audio opportunities that you can use to build your business and brand. However, I’m hoping that after reading this you are curious enough to do a little more research and test the viability of podcasts in your work. If you’re already in, you probably understand the value and are exploring new ways to keep evolving your strategy.
I believe the smart play for many brands is a diversified one that utilizes all three approaches outlined above: Paid ads (host-read, a.k.a. true brand collaborations), original shows (a.k.a. branded content) and internal shows aimed at current prospective employees (a.k.a. employment branding).
Whether your first step is a relatively small one, or whether you plan to allocate a significant portion of your budget to audio, don’t forget to prioritize fit. Do your research, align your brand, and don’t be afraid to get in the game.
Brady Sadler is the co-founder of Double Elvis Productions, a media company creating podcasts for those who can’t resist the rebel yell. He’s also the author of the book Collaboration is King: How Game Changers Create Marketing Partnerships That Build Brands and Grow Businesses.