Proving the Power of Podcast Advertising – What’s Next?

podcast adveertising

We might be biased but you can’t deny, it’s a great time to be doing podcast studies.

Podcasts are on a roll. Listeners keep growing. Ad revenues are doubling every two years.

Perhaps best of all, there’s still so much to learn.

As podcasting stands ever taller on the audio landscape, it keeps changing. Going back just five years to our first Canadian Podcast Listener study, the most popular podcasts have shifted from those rooted in public radio to a much broader mix of entertaining, informative and engaging podcasts. Even where people get their podcasts has changed, from iTunes/Apple Podcasts leading the way to more of a three-ring circus with Apple, Spotify and YouTube all centre stage.

One thing that is catching up with this change is the podcast ad format. Podcast ads are still typically host-read ads for a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand. While there are hundreds of personalized and creative host-read ads out there, they all follow much the same formula: the host extolls the features and benefits of a brand that sells its products or services on the Web, often with a special promo offer.

Podcasting Advertising 1.0 – Driving Sales and Conversions for DTC Brands

Podcasting has served DTC brands well. Host-read podcast ads have been super-effective for DTC brands looking to drive immediate sales.

Dozens of DTC brands have built their business on the backs of direct response ads. And they keep coming back for more. Just look at the Top 10 advertisers in Magellan’s Q4 2021 report and you’ll see many of the same DTC advertisers you might have seen five or six years ago— brands like HelloFresh, and ZipRecruiter.

To a large extent though, the widespread use of these direct response ads is a legacy tied to what were once huge measurement gaps for podcast ads. Prior to 2017 and the release of the IAB Podcast Measurement Technical Guidelines V2, there wasn’t even a commonly accepted standard for measuring downloads, audience size, and ad delivery. In the absence of reliable audience measurement, the only advertisers comfortable buying podcasts were direct response brands who could use web visits or sales conversions from promo codes to track ROI and optimize their campaigns.

Thankfully, a lot of those measurement gaps have since been closed. This is in part due to the IAB Guidelines, but also due to increasingly sophisticated attribution studies for podcast ads from companies like Podsights and Chartable. Attribution companies like these have enabled advertisers to track web visits and sales conversions without relying on whether listeners remember a promo code.

Podcasting Advertising 2.0 – Building Brands for Major Advertisers

Direct response ads for DTC brands will no doubt remain a big part of podcast advertising well into the future.

However, podcast advertising is growing beyond direct response advertisers. In the same Magellan Q4 report, they tracked 2,200 new brands trying out podcast advertising. An increasing share of those advertisers are coming from outside the DTC world. Looking at Magellan’s last three quarterly reports, direct response brands as s proportion of all podcast advertisers has dropped from 44% in Q2, to 37% in Q3 and 34% in Q4.

Most of these new brands starting podcast ads are less interested in driving web traffic or online sales. We’re talking big brands like Molson-Coors, Ford, or McDonald’s. They are far more interested in building brands that will be top-of-mind when you make your next purchase in their category.

Speaking to that very point, Pierre Bouvard, Chief Insights Officer at the Audio Active Group at CUMULUS MEDIA and Westwood One, was recently on the Sounds Profitable podcast with Bryan Barletta. Looking at the average conversion rate of 1.4% from the most recent Podcast Advertising Benchmark Report from Podsights, Pierre made the observation: “What that means is the other 98.6% of that impact is on that brand. So, all advertising is brand-building despite the fact that you may have a product code.”

Basically, Pierre is implying that all podcast advertising can be impactful for the growth of your brand, immediate conversion or not.

The major brands now testing podcast advertising need to know whether their podcast campaign is moving the needle on that other 98.6%. Is it building awareness, brand salience (i.e., awareness during the actual purchasing decision), favorability, or purchase consideration? 

And these same brands need to learn how to use podcasting most effectively to deliver results against those top-of-funnel measures. Is it the same host-read ad formula that’s been so effective for direct response podcast advertisers? Or is it something else?

Unlocking Podcast Advertising 2.0 with Brand Lift Studies

Brand Lift Studies are the key to giving the brand advertiser the confidence and learning they need to fully embrace podcast advertising.

Why a Brand Lift Study? Only by surveying listeners on their brand perceptions can you understand the effectiveness of the campaign on how people think and feel about the brand.

The type of Brand Lift Study to use depends on the size and nature of the campaign, the podcasts being used, and the brand’s objectives. Here are approaches that we at Signal Hill Insights have used to deliver successful results:

  • Pixel-based Studies offer the opportunity for large campaigns to capture brand lift in real-time. Pixels are served to listeners exposed to the campaign and a matching control group with each group completing a follow-up survey to compare brand metrics.
  • Pre-and-Post Studies can follow your media campaign, comparing brand perceptions before and after the campaign. These can be combined with playback of the ad in the post- survey to gain insights on the creative.
  • Controlled ExposureStudies recruit pre-screened podcast listeners to listen to a podcast with your ad to simulate the exposure a consumer would have to your actual campaign and compare how they feel about your brand with those of a control group.
  • Multi-Sponsor Ad Effectiveness Studies allow you to conduct controlled exposure studies for multiple brands at the same time, helping to trim the cost of your Brand Lift Studies. Using the exposed group for one brand as the control group for the other streamlines the process.

What’s Next for your Podcast Ads?

Like all good marketing campaigns, your podcast ad campaign begins with the end in mind. Having clarity on the goal of your podcast ads and their place in your marketing strategy is crucial to the success of your campaign. Armed with that, you can choose the Brand Lift Study that suits your goals, to better measure and understand what success looks like to you. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to Brand Lift Studies for podcasts. We’re happy to have a conversation with you to figure out what will work best for you.

Happy podcast advertising!

Pixel-Based Brand Lift Study for an Auto Manufacturer