There's a reason why many are claiming we have entered the "golden age" or "renaissance" of the podcast. Though ad spend may still be lagging behind other, more traditional forms of media, podcast advertising has certainly emerged as a force to be reckoned with. In a much-cited study, Edison Research reported in 2014 that an estimated 39 million Americans listened to a podcast in the past month. With podcast listening reaching a new high last year, advertisers are beginning to pay attention more than ever.
Podcasts advertisements are known for high CPM, and they are typically direct-response ads featuring call-outs to visit a specific URL or make a purchase using a promo code. This burgeoning digital media format has been a favorite for direct-response for a number of years, but according to an article in The Atlantic, the prevailing marketing strategy for podcasts is beginning to change. Large companies have moved past calls-to-action for signups and orders with the hope of something bigger: creating positive associations with the brand. And it would be understatement to say this new strategy has potential.
Midroll, a podcast advertising network that acts as a middleman between advertisers and podcasters, has grown to learn a few things about what works in the podcast ad business. Adam Sachs, chief executive at Midroll, says the key is that its ads are read by the hosts themselves. "When you listen to a podcast regularly, you really get not only invested in the show, but also in the host," Sachs told Slate. "They're in your ear every day for weeks, and you start to develop a really intimate relationship with the host. And because all our ads are host-read, they work."
Midroll says these placements are, in fact, "native ads" fitting in with the flow and tone of the show. "We have an incredible 97 to 98 percent renewal rate from our ROI-driven direct-response advertisers because the audience responds so well to these spots." he told Digiday. You'll often hear podcast hosts shifting seamlessly into a message about a sponsor in a way that keeps listeners engaged. And, of course, it doesn't hurt when the podcast has built up impressive credibility and popularity. The cult-like following surrounding a show like "WTF with Marc Maron," for example, makes the host's voice incredibly valuable.
If you're no stranger to podcast listening, you've likely noticed that a handful of sponsors pop up again and again. You'll no doubt remember hearing about companies like Squarespace, Audible, and Mailchimp, who seem to dominate the digital airwaves. Mark DiCristina, the director of marketing at Mailchimp, told The Atlantic, "People tend to have warmer feelings about advertisers on podcasts than other media, and they tend to remember us a lot more than on other media."
So why are we rarely hearing from other, larger brands during podcasts? Well, some advertisers are calling the medium a kind of "best kept secret" they would rather not share just yet. "I think it would make sense for larger companies, although selfishly, I would like for them to stay away, because I enjoy being a big fish in the pond," DiCristina said, adding that big podcast sensations like "Serial" will likely be the primary draw for brands. The future of podcast advertising remains to be seen, but it's certainly becoming more difficult to ignore.
As an article in Slate put it: "At a time when consumers are increasingly cynical about advertising, the idea that podcast listeners could laugh at and enjoy podcast ads should be music to advertisers' marketing-attuned ears."
In the meantime, marketing professionals would be wise to get familiar with this intimate and fast-growing media format. So we're bringing you a small sample, in no particular order, of some relevant and insightful podcasts every marketer and advertiser can learn something from. Download them on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you prefer to get your podcasts.
Alex Blumberg hosts "StartUp," a podcast chronicling his personal experience launching the podcast network Gimlet Media. Best known for "This American Life" and "Planet Money," Blumberg shares his entrepreneurial insights with the mission of showing listeners what it's really like to start a business. In Season 2, co-host Lisa Chow joins the show to follow a new company called Dating Ring. The founders are young women facing challenges in the male-dominated Silicon Valley. While this podcast may be more relevant to the startup world than marketing, this transparent look at starting a company can inform anyone's career, and the unique peak into the podcast business in season one is invaluable. Interestingly, Ford signed on to sponsor the second season -- an uncommonly big brand for a podcast.
"The BeanCast" is a weekly round-table podcast hosted by Bob Knorpp. Knorpp is director of client development at the media planning and buying agency Mediassociates, as well as a speaker, writer, and consultant with a 20-year career in marketing behind him. The show features notable guests from marketing, advertising, and public relations. Alongside Knorpp, they discuss the latest industry news marketers should know about. The intelligent voices showcased on the podcast provide commentary on marketers' biggest challenges, offering engaging conversations and fresh perspectives on the issues of the day. Sample episodes include "Touching A Naked Millennial," "Bringing Up Trump," and "Going Native."
The full title is "Social Pros Podcast: Real People Doing Real Work in Social Media," and this podcast features Jay Baer of Convince & Convert and Jeff Rohrs of Salesforce highlighting actual people doing the hands-on social media work every marketer seeks to understand. Knowledgeable professionals appear as guests each week, such as Carmen Collins, professional social media enthusiast for Cisco, and Natanya Anderson, global director of social media, CRM, and customer service at Whole Foods, who shared how the brand uses social media to address customer needs. The show also brings listeners social media and content marketing case studies, insider advice from real-world social media managers, and weekly social media statistics.
"Marketing Over Coffee"
"Marketing Over Coffee" covers both classic and new marketing topics in a delightfully casual and intimate format. Hosts John J. Wall and Christopher S. Penn record the podcast in a Boston coffee shop every week, and the show goes live each Thursday morning. Wall is vice president of marketing at EventHero and Penn is co-founder of PodCamp. Episodes are a digestible 20 minutes in length and are filled with valuable marketing tips, tricks, and insights brought to you with an approachable tone that gives you permission to step outside that office mindset and let the creative juices flow. Notable interviews subjects include Seth Godin, David Meerman Scott, and Simon Sinek.
"The Growth Show"
Whether you're interested in growing a business, a team, a movement, or simply an idea, you're sure to learn something from "The Growth Show." The podcast from HubSpot is a must for anyone interested in driving growth and hearing new perspectives. Each episode dives into the results of an impressive case study or successful company, as well as the work that made it all happen, with high-profile guests and brands featured each week. Sample episodes include "Harvard Business Review and Venturebeat on the Future of Publishing," "How an Event Grew from an Idea to 10,000 Attendees," and "How to Compete With Google: Inside This Startup's Plan to Disrupt the #1 Search Engine," featuring Gabriel Weinberg, the founder of DuckDuckGo.
Chloe Della Costa is a contributing writer for iMedia Connection.
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"Podcasting" image via iStock.