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Power of the Pod: Why brands are tuning in to podcasts as part of their marketing mix

Power of the Pod: Why brands are tuning in to podcasts as part of their marketing mix 

Always looking to embrace ‘the next big thing’, the advertising industry is increasingly setting its sights on podcasts. A boom in popularity over the last 10 years has earned podcasts a strong position in the marketing mix, especially as content availability and adoption keeps rising. According to recent figures, the UK alone  boasts 14.6 million listeners , due to rise to 15.5 million in the next year, with an estimated two million plus podcasts covering everything from true crime to cooking, fine art to finance. 

This rapid expansion naturally presents a growing opportunity for brands and marketers to reach new, diverse audiences and take advantage of high engagement. Studies indicate that not only is familiarity with ads increasing — with 72% of surveyed podcast listeners having heard an ad while listening to a podcast – but 60% of listeners have also gone on to search for featured products. 

While we’ve looked at the benefits of podcasts as a marketing tool previously, it’s worth examining how brands are engaging with the medium (and its audiences) as the podcasting boom picks up pace. 

Listen up – why podcast advertising opportunities are catching on fast

While consumers are becoming increasingly discerning about the digital experience, and inclined towards ad blockers, podcast listeners are encouragingly open to promotion, with 40% finding podcast advertising less intrusive than other formats. A reason for this may be not just that ads are easily skipped, but also that messages are often read out by the podcast hosts in an engaging or offbeat way – sometimes even improvising and linking the ad naturally into the theme and content of an episode. 

Podcast advertising is being considered by many brands as a means of reaching the ‘elusive’ millennial audience, who make up over one third of all dedicated podcast listeners. Whether in this age group or not, podcast listeners are sought after as a group of engaged, educated early adopters with the potential for a high household income

There is also greater positive perception towards podcast advertising than other formats because podcast listeners understand and appreciate the link between the advert and the podcast they’re listening to – 78% of those surveyed said they didn’t mind advertising as they knew it funded the podcast. It’s also worth remembering that engaging with a podcast is entirely consent based –  they are personal; listeners have sought them out, may have grown to trust and value the hosts and content over hundreds of hours of listening, and this level of consent and trust may well extend to any advertising or brand partnerships. 

Feedback loop – how to make sure podcast advertising works

Podcast campaigns don’t always offer the same level of proof points and efficiency metrics that marketers have come to expect from wider digital and display advertising. There are, however, still many ways they can benchmark podcast based campaigns. Whether selecting a pre-roll advert slot (greeting listeners during the first 15-30 seconds), mid-roll slot (playing halfway through an episode, and the most sought after as listeners are highly engaged and less likely to skip an ad) or post-roll (before the closing credits), there are several ways to understand return on ad spend (ROAS) when it comes to podcasting. 

  • Promo codes: These codes (often a riff off the title of the podcast) are entered at checkout as part of a customer journey, giving the user a discount, and allowing the brand or agency to track a converted sale from a podcast listener.
  • Branded URLs: A dedicated landing page for podcast listeners to be sent directly to, allowing for a ‘head count’ to be performed on those directed from the podcast. 
  • Checkout surveys: A tick box, drop down, or question asked during the checkout process to allow listeners to flag that a podcast sent them off on their buying journey.

In fact there is evidence to show podcasts can drive valuable efficiencies. A survey by Podsights, for instance, demonstrates that the average ROAS for a podcast ad was $2.42 – putting podcasting within reach of the 2:1 ratio many marketers expect from their digital advertising spend. 

Grabbing the mic – Brands get creative with in-house podcasts 

While for most brands and advertisers the route to successfully leveraging podcasts in their marketing mix is to identify ones relevant to their target audience and place adverts there, some brands are taking a different approach – launching their own podcasts. 

UK pharmacy and beauty retailer Boots is launching a celebrity-hosted advice podcast on taboo topics in a bid to reposition the brand as a non-judgmental source for advice, rather than ‘just’ a retailer. General Electric (GE) has taken a left-field approach with its much talked about series ‘The Message’, which has engaged listeners with science fiction spectacle as well as provided a means for GE to serve native advertising. Similarly, recruitment firm ZipRecruiter, a name familiar to many listeners due to its place as one of the top advertisers on US podcasts, has launched its own, focused on business success and good interview technique. 

Branded podcasts offer a unique opportunity for brands and their advertising teams. By theming the podcast around a topic closely related to their brand or services – ZipRecruiter on interview success, and Boots on topics like sexual health – brands can position themselves as authorities on these subjects, seamlessly and naturally introducing native advertising. 

Self-hosting also presents an opportunity to engage audiences that may be different to a brands’ core demographic, or engage existing demographics in new ways. The general podcast audience skews younger, with half of listeners in the US aged between 12 and 34, and respond well to pop cultural references, irony, spoofs, and intertextuality. 

McDonalds’ self effacing ‘The Sauce’ podcast series, for example, reached this audience well, thanks to its clever play on established podcasting tropes. Creative techniques so far have included spoofing true crime podcasts in the vein of the incredibly popular Serial – a series that saw early adopters MailChimp leverage an advert to tens of millions of listeners – and cannily referencing a previous PR stunt by McDonalds tied to the TV series Rick and Morty. 

Pump up the volume – the number of listeners is increasing

Sources point to a steady increase of podcast listeners into the middle of the decade, with an estimated 20 million podcast listeners in the UK alone by 2024. It’s a growing audience, but also a captive and engaged one – 34% of surveyed listeners don’t do anything else while listening, with 32% listening while travelling, and a whopping 92% of those listen alone. A growth audience with a positive predisposition to being served advertising – few can deny that the podcast audience presents an exciting opportunity for advertisers and brands to bend the ears of. 

For creative, tuned-in brands and agencies, there’s a huge wealth of opportunity to explore in the podcast space. For creative, tuned-in brands and agencies, the podcast space holds many opportunities.Leveraging compelling and creative ads offers a chance to connect with varied and highly engaged audiences, including those that are often out of reach with standard advertising approaches. Combined with the ability to simultaneously boost their digital presence, it’s easy to see why this connective potential is enticing more brands and agencies podwards.

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