How Do You Know if Your Branded Podcast is Working?

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Branded podcasts are flipping the script on the publisher/advertiser relationship. They have quickly gained traction—and big budgets—from Content Marketing departments looking for new and deeper ways for brands to engage with their customers. The most recent IAB/PwC IAB Podcast Ad Revenue Study estimates that branded podcasts accounted for more than a 10% share of all podcast ad revenue in the 2018 calendar year, up from just over 1% two years earlier.

What’s less clear is how you can tell if your branded podcast is delivering full bang for those bucks. The challenge is that traditional advertising effectiveness studies don’t fit a model where the content comes first. It’s one thing to put together a podcast that fits your brand; it’s quite another to produce a podcast that your target consumer will pluck from the haystack of podcasts out there. Most important, the content has to knock it out of the park.

At Signal Hill Insights, we’ve been fortunate enough to have a front row seat on what a successful branded podcast looks like by working with Pacific Content and their clients. Pacific Content collaborates with a brand on the conception and development of the podcast. Then, they add a layer of world-class storytelling and their podcast marketing know-how to develop an audience of engaged and loyal listeners.

One of the Pacific Content podcasts is Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson for Dell Technologies, which focuses on tech-driven disruption. The podcast fits nicely with Dell’s efforts to shift from being a computer manufacturer into a thought-leader helping business leaders manage technological change.

Another is Hackable?, produced with Response Marketing for the security giant McAfee. Here, Here, the host challenges a cybersecurity expert to replicate a hack from TV or film, and interviews them about how accurate Hollywood depictions of hackers really are. Its purpose is to reach those who are interested in online security and engage in their playful side.

Intuitively, it all feels right. Podcasts are intimate and immersive; they deliver a unique opportunity to build a connection with your brand. But how can you prove the podcast is working?

It usually boils down to two sets of questions:

  • How is the content being received? Is the podcast something your customers will listen to? Will they spread the word about the podcast? Will they come back, amplifying the impact and engagement? Who, exactly, is the podcast reaching? How do listeners feel about the host, the topic, and the tone?
  • Is the podcast having the desired brand impact? Is it helping to move the needle on awareness, brand favourability and perceptions?

The typical brand lift study isn’t going to be able to answer all those questions. With content being King, Queen and Jack, branded podcasts are a special breed. Each branded podcast usually brings with it its own set of questions. That takes a custom approach and often a bit of innovation. Here are a couple of approaches we have taken with our brand lift studies for branded podcasts:

A controlled exposure study

A pre-profiled sample of podcast listeners listen to a full episode of the podcast and are asked questions relating to appeal of the podcast, diagnostics, brand linkage and brand perceptions. The results of the brand questions are then compared to those of a matching control group who did not listen to the podcast.

A listener study

Here, a call-to-action is placed directly in the podcast inviting listeners to complete a survey to “tell us more about who you are and what you would like to hear on the podcast.” From this, you can develop a profile of your most engaged listeners and what they like (or don’t like) about the podcast. By taking that listener profile and recruiting a pre-profiled panel sample to match those demographics, you can add a follow-up control survey of non-listeners, allowing you to compare brand awareness and perception to check the brand lift the podcast is generating among engaged listeners.

So what do Brand Lift Studies on branded podcasts usually say? What have we learned?

Using a light brand touch—little more than a couple of “brought to you by’s” —our brand lift studies typically show brand recall and a lift in brand metrics that meet or exceed a traditional ad-based approach, even with a single exposure. If the appeal of the content tests above benchmarks and is on target, the brand impact will end up being even greater. Not to mention the long-term benefits as each episode builds repeat listening and a community of loyal listeners around an interest that’s central to your brand mission.

This speaks to the on-demand nature of the medium. Listeners are picking your podcast from an almost unlimited range of options. They appreciate a brand that creates a space for them to indulge in something they are passionate about but isn’t peppered with ads. It’s the difference between creating a space with freshly painted walls or than one that’s plastered with a bunch of posters.

I really like the way Dave Beasing sums it up. Dave heads up Sound that Brands, the people who produce the popular Inside Trader Joe’s podcast, and pegs the advantage offered by branded podcasts as giving brands the chance to “be the content, not the interruption.”

Thinking of all the brand lift studies we’ve done for branded podcasts, it comes down to one takeaway: If the content is interesting to your target listeners, they’ll remember who gave it to them.

Invest in your branded podcast, and your listeners will invest in you.

Signal Hill Insights has conducted brand lift studies for branded podcasts from The Atlantic and WNYC Studios, as well as Pacific Content.