successful branded podcasts

What We’ve Learned About What Makes a Successful Branded Podcast

Side-by-side with the explosion in podcast listening over the past 10 years is the mini-explosion of brands using branded podcasts as a pillar in their content marketing strategy.

Podcast ad revenues are forecast to have grown by 26% in 2023, according to the IAB/PwC U.S. Podcast Advertising Revenue Study. Branded content, which includes branded podcasts, is projected to represent 12% of that revenue, up from 7% in 2022.

We’ve had the opportunity at Signal Hill Insights to take a front row seat for that growth over the past eight years, having conducted dozens of brand lift studies for branded podcasts.

We’ve tested many successful podcasts by brands – podcasts that take full advantage of the deep engagement you can only find with podcasts; and we’ve studied some that missed the mark. 

Aligning Brand Objectives with Listener Passion

Success for branded podcasts almost always comes down to starting with a clear purpose. There’s no shortcut to the painstaking – sometimes painful – process of setting a North Star for the podcast. What is the brand looking to achieve for the podcast? How can you line that up with valued content for the listener?

The brand needs to identify the brand perceptions the podcast can shape or amplify. The depth of engagement of a podcast offers a massive range of possibilities and associations. In addition to standard KPIs like awareness, favorability and consideration, here are some specific objectives we’ve seen brands address: thought leadership for B2B brands; driving innovation; a reset on brand reputation; a rebrand for a company that needed to build meaningful relationships with a new target; humanizing a brand that only transacts online; even a brand looking to shine a fresh light on their CEO.

Above all, the podcast must deliver unique value to the listener. What will make your brand’s podcast stand out from all the other podcasts offering similar content? No matter what topic area you choose, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of podcasts covering the same territory. Not to mention other media. What will make your podcast different and better so that it will earn the listeners’ attention?

And you need to understand the target audience for that podcast. How do you find them? What do they listen to now? There’s a lot of spadework involved.

When the brand’s values and audience interests intersect, magic happens. A few years ago, Steve Pratt, co-founder of Pacific Content and currently co-founder of The Department of Differentiation, used the Venn diagram below to illustrate the sweet spot that sits at the centre of brand podcast strategy.

Podcast development strategy

Sometimes, the intersection between brand goals and audience interests can be very large. Probably the best example is the hugely successful Inside Trader Joe’s. It’s a podcast for Trader Joe’s fans (of which there are legions) who can’t wait to hear about the latest products to grace their shelves. Pacific Content mined some of that same gold with Bring Back Bronco, a podcast that celebrated the re-launch of the Ford Bronco by telling the Bronco cult the full backstory of the pioneering SUV.

Most brands are not so lucky. It can be hard to find that one place where it all comes together.

Measuring the Success of Podcasts by Brands

The good news is that, once you’ve aligned your brand objectives with listener passions and published your brand’s first episodes, you can measure how they’re performing with a brand lift study.

By playing an episode to a sample of potential listeners and comparing their brand perceptions to a matching control sample who didn’t hear the episode, you can check the extent to which you’re moving the needle on your brand goals. And you can find out how you’re meeting your content goals by also probing how they felt about the episode they just heard.

Benchmarks of Success

At Signal Hill we’ve studied more branded podcasts than anyone else, giving us an unmatched view on what works, and why. Now we’re sharing some key stats and insights so brands, agencies and producers can benefit, leveraging evidence-backed strategies. Spoiler alert: there is no magic formula or one-size-fits-all set of instructions. But there are clear trends and correlations that we believe provide clarity, direction and inspiration.

Click here to download our 2024 Benchmark Report: Branded Podcasts.

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