2023 was hard on many of us economically. We started the year with a rocky economic outlook, and that tone seems to have stuck all the way through to December (in fact, my first blog post of the year focused on a “looming recession”). So, this year we’ve decided to completely revamp our year-end post. Rather than gathering a collection of predictions for next year, we’re taking a decidedly positive spin and focusing on what went right in 2023. We’ve asked industry leaders to share their biggest lessons from the year in the hopes that these learnings will help us all get stronger, smarter and ready for a better 2024.
We’ve split this retrospective into three parts. You can check out the other two parts:
Podcasting is one of the fastest growing digital media channels, growing by more than 115% since 2020. However, podcast advertising revenue is still falling short of its potential. Many brands have embraced podcasting, but there still exists a gap between podcast listenership and dollars spent by brands on the medium.
What can podcasters do to fix this? Standardizing technology and measurement tools, maintaining the highest of production standards, and pushing the envelope on creativity will help attract more brands. Sharing our learnings with each other will help us create a united message to marketers: that podcasts are a powerful tool for brands, at every point of the marketing funnel.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How did your brand’s original podcast wow listeners in 2023?
… telling stories that inspire the target audience
“REI’s podcast shows (Wild Ideas Worth Living, Camp Monsters, and Hello, Nature) reflect our brand values and impact initiatives. The outdoor industry is evolving and instead of sticking solely to stories we knew would perform, we challenged ourselves to include topics that reflect where we’re headed next. Our intention was to inspire listeners to spend time outside while getting them curious about how they could be a part of making the outdoors more accessible for all. The result? We’re finishing 2023 with our highest completion rates to date. Curiosity piqued! If you want your brand to be seen as a leader in your space, don’t wait for your audience to point the way. Utilize your show(s) to share what you’re about and let your listeners journey alongside you as your brand, and the world, evolves.”
… making a gift especially for them
“This year, NASA Audio collaborated with the agency’s Spanish communications program to launch NASA’s first Spanish-language podcast, Universo Curioso de la NASA. This non-fiction narrative storytelling podcast, hosted and produced by Noelia González, takes listeners through NASA’s most impactful missions and the science that fuels them, through the voices and experiences of the Hispanic/Latino experts at the forefront of that work. Rather than simply translating one of our existing podcast offerings from English, we worked with the NASA en Español communications team to brainstorm and produce all-original audio storytelling tied to mission milestones from the agency. I think this direction really resonated with our target audience. Upon release, Universo Curioso de la NASA charted #1 in Science in Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Guatemala, and #2 in Science in Argentina and Peru. It broke the top 50 chart in All Podcasts in multiple countries as well, including Canada and Spain. We’ve learned from platform partners that there aren’t very many Spanish science podcasts out there, and we’re excited to see how NASA has been able to come in and narrow that gap. Tracking the impact of audio products is fundamentally different than measuring views on a social video, for example. To measure the success of our audio storytelling efforts, we look at the number of unique listeners we reach with our shows, as well as the amount of time those listeners remain engaged with each episode. Imagine you could speak to a room of thousands of people, and be confident that they’ll remain engaged throughout your brand’s 20 minute presentation — on a topic of your choosing. How valuable would that be? With NASA audio products, we often find that the majority of our listeners remain engaged through nearly 20 minutes of educational, STEM-focused content. Our podcasts allow us to have that deeper connection with audiences. That, to me, communicates success.”
… creating something surprising
“We launched our first brand-level podcast called Trustonomy: a richly narrative approach to stories around trust. The quality of the output was second to none: certainly not what the market was expecting from a data privacy and security software company! Plus, it took historical moments that had a throughline to what is occurring in the world today: big questions around breaking and building trust and its value to businesses (hint: it’s priceless).”
What worked in podcast advertising in 2023?
… pairing content integrations with additional resources
“We created a series of branded episodes talking about eco-anxiety called ‘Power Up For Change’. Alongside the branded episodes, Acast also created a series of audio resources that those who were affected by eco-anxiety can use to find out ways their actions can make a difference. A post-campaign analysis of the audio showed that 90% of the listeners surveyed after listening were likely to take action, with the three top actions being visiting the E.ON Next website, research eco-anxiety, and trying to reduce their own energy usage. Additionally, after the campaign, up to 91% of listeners knew more about eco-anxiety and up to 70%’s opinion of eco-anxiety changed.”
… collaborating with podcast hosts on endorsements
“We handled a six-month-long campaign for a leading athleisure brand, working with multiple podcast hosts on personal experience reads on their pod and their most active (popular) social media channel. The client selected the brand partners to align with by culling down a larger list that we prepared for them based on their demographic and content needs (ie: M25–34, clean, sports talk shows). The client invited all hosts to pick multiple pieces of a particular line of clothing (say shorts, pants or tops). The client encouraged the hosts to do their own reads for each of the pieces, very authentically, and talk about which elements of that piece they loved most. We had pixel/attribution tracking from beginning to end that showed the engagement and conversion markers were well above benchmark, exponentially. Using host reads for products that those hosts might actually love, can drive their loyal listeners to become your loyal customers. This campaign was proof of that."
… having the bravery to be transparent
“There was what I would call a ‘custom segment’ for Travel Canada on Work/Life with Adam Grant. It was a short interview segment — longer than a mid-roll spot — between Adam and a member of a First Nations band from British Columbia. The segment was remarkable because the interview subject was very up front about the problematic historical treatment of Indigenous people in Canada, while also making the case for why you should visit British Columbia. It was very deft, but also very on-brand for Adam Grant, a well respected thought leader and scholar on workplace culture, known for his articulate and humanist take on the issues he covers. The segment held my attention, in part because of its honesty combined with the sincere wonder for the natural beauty of British Columbia. It made the most of the extended nature of the segment, as compared to a typical ad, without wearing out its welcome or sounding too salesy. It was useful and engaging content on its own that was a good fit for the show. It also reminded me I need to get back to British Columbia soon.”
… focusing on micro podcast opportunities
“We stuck to our guns, focused on micro podcast opportunities while the industry pivoted towards impression-based selling. In turn, we waited out the storm and it seems like there’s been a shift back to episodic buying which has made our clients happier.”
How did you know your podcast advertising campaign worked?
… combining objective and subjective assessments
“Measuring the success of any campaign is multifaceted. We start by measuring ad performance through client feedback on metrics they tend to prioritize: Site Visits, Add-to-Cart, and Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) through conversions. As a sales team, we’re also paying close attention to the quality of each ad read through a mix of subjective feedback from clients and Gumball’s proprietary AI ad-scoring tool. From there, there’s a variety of data points that also indicate success: Renewal rates, audience engagement (e.g., social media comments/likes), third-party attribution tools like Claritas and Podscribe, and lastly through more high-touch campaign studies with partners like Nielsen and Veritonic to determine brand lift, affinity, and purchase intent.”
… running test campaigns
“Through the use of attribution platforms, we were finally able to truly run test campaigns; which is something I think the industry needs. Too often advertisers run one ad on one show OR spend a minimal amount of budget and when it doesn’t work then there is a general consensus that the whole channel doesn’t work when that’s not true! While our overarching genre is fiction — fiction has several sub-genres like Thriller, Horror, Sci-Fi, Romance so an advertiser running a RON campaign was able to tap into all of these sub-genres and gain further insight into what type of shows work best for them. An advertiser can get increased reach and frequency by testing a RON campaign with a network and then through attribution platforms, they can hone in on the shows that are hitting key success metrics for them; testing into a new space/exploring a different genre where their target audience resides.”
… combining measurement methods
“The breakage endemic to offline channels means that measuring results based only on direct performance is an incomplete way to gauge success — there’s no quicker path to a false negative. This is especially true in podcast advertising. To enable best in class measurement for customer acquisition campaigns, we recommend integrating HDYHAU/post purchase surveys into a company’s user flow as an overall barometer of success and a way to measure the overlap and indirect attribution of different channels. Also, though a survey based approach often gives us the best understanding of incrementality, we are proponents of triangulating performance via multiple methodologies. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to measurement for offline channels, it’s really about the right mix of measurement tactics that ensure the most accurate read possible in the channel."
What innovations have you excited for the future of podcast advertising?
… AI-powered contextual targeting
“We’re bullish about the advances in contextual targeting for podcasts over the past year. It’s about more than helping advertisers find a brand safety harbor. With the help of AI, contextual targeting opens the door to smart run-of-network and programmatic campaigns that reach down into the long tail, finding the episodes and conversations that provide the right fit. At the same time, the brand isn’t limited to a tight vertical where there’s little inventory or opportunity for reach — pets or food for example. On top of that, contextual targeting is cookieless and doesn’t rely on PII, making it future-proof.”
… growing use of attribution solutions
“In 2023, we saw an influx of brands, agencies, and platforms embrace creative testing and attribution solutions. The data from these solutions led not only to more relevant, engaging, and high-return audio ads in-market, but to an increase in confidence in podcasting as an effective and resonating advertising channel. Additionally, marketers and agencies came away with a renewed appreciation for the value and insightfulness of full-funnel performance data, and were able to trust, understand, and utilize the data more than ever before to optimize current [and inform future] audio campaigns.”
… brand suitability technology at scale
“Two moments stood out for several reasons. The first was when we partnered with ArtsAI and we simultaneously monitored 3 different campaigns, demonstrating the potential of the still stealth-mode tech. Transparency at scale is a powerful tool for building the advertiser trust required to grow investment in podcasting! Another successful campaign was towards the end of the year, after so much incredible engineering, when we were able to activate our monitoring solution programmatically with SXM & TTD for a large national advertiser and process over 100k episodes each week to keep up with the largest impression volume we had yet managed as a brand suitability and contextual intelligence solution. That same month, we were able to target millions of impressions via our Audiohook integration simultaneously. It was a pivotal moment when I realized how powerful the programmatic ecosystem is becoming and how crucial our technology is in that future. None of our team’s wins, and the industry wins we created would be possible without our most epic podcast community.”
…enterprise solutions to create more competition
“2023 has no standout technological advancement, which filled me with complete dread during the year, but now as we end the year it signals one clear thing: the competition is on for next year. I expect to see some of the mid-tier hosting platforms, those with more managed dynamic ad insertion solutions, close the gap with the enterprise solutions, providing even more options. The plug-n-play monetization options for many of those enterprise solutions are producing less results due to the sheer amount of inventory those platforms have access to. Which ultimately means publishers will find themselves looking for solutions with better technology to empower them to sell their own inventory at a premium, vs settling for technology that falls short but comes with consistent ad demand. I’m most excited to see innovation around frequency capping, reporting & analytics (specifically forecasting), VAST as a creative format, Prebid/Header Bidding, campaign yield optimization, and tools focused on solving the cross marketing needs that are the backbone of in-industry listener growth. Things are about to get a lot more competitive.”
Pacific Content’s Take
“You know a brand storytelling project is a success when it makes people feel something deeply. Nothing is worse than leaving people completely neutral. There are lots of brands making great things or providing great services, but knowing that a brand cares about what you do — that’s where real connections begin. If you look at a project like Rocket Mortgage’s Home. Made podcast, you see an undeniable expression of shared Values with their listeners. An episode like the one about Detroit’s Birwood Wall, which tackled the impacts of systemic racism on housing and community building, speaks to a real desire to give space to important conversations. You see the payoff in the completion rates, where the audience has showed that it agrees with that choice, by committing its time and attention.”
– Karen Burgess, Executive for Production, People and Culture, Pacific Content
Special thank you to Wanyee Li for exceptional editing of these posts.
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