“It takes a lot of bravery” to take the plunge into podcasting… but here’s how

PodPod editor Adam Shepherd gathered six brand and advertising experts to explore how brands can successfully invest in the audio sphere, from choosing the right advertising format to starting a branded podcast

When one-in-four UK adults say they listen to podcasts regularly in 2023, it’s clear that the opportunities for brands in the world of podcasting are huge. But getting started can be difficult. Experts from organisations including Spotify, EssenceMediaComX and branded podcast agency 18sixty joined PodPod’s most recent roundtable to discuss how brands can ensure their first foray into podcasting is a successful one.

For brands interested in creating a podcast advert, it’s important to get the format, content and timing spot on, otherwise you risk alienating your audience. Shaaf Tauqeer, audience and martech manager, easyJet says he finds podcast ads “slightly annoying” when they pop up in the middle of an episode and admits to being “pretty much zoned out” when they play as a result.

So what’s key to getting it right?

Anna Berry, managing director, EssenceMediaComX, highlights the importance of relevance. She says, “when it’s something very specific to me” she’s much more likely to buy it.

For Ed Couchman, head of sales on Northern Europe at Spotify, it’s about trusting the judgement of the person who’s advertising it to you. He listens to the podcast, The Rest is Politics hosted by Alistair Campbell and Rory Stewart. And when Campbell recommended the music of a jazz singer, Couchman checked it out and subsequently bought tickets to their concert.

In that instance Campbell wasn’t even trying to sell tickets, which shows the “huge influence” hosts can have, highlights Gareth Evans, founder, 18Sixty.

Victoria Handley, brand communications lead, Lloyds Bank agrees, stating the key feature which makes host-read ads so successful is that the presenters can “actually talk about their own experiences and make it really authentic”. The trouble she’s experienced recently though is when the presenters read them like radio scripts. “You have to bring your personality into it, otherwise you might as well just do spot advertising,” she says.

Comparing the merits of host-read ads and spot advertising, Berry summarises: “You can reach a niche audience with spot advertising, but if you really want to drive that depth of message, live-reads or anything more integrated [works better].” Host-reads are more conversational than a communicated message like spot advertising, she adds.

Be objective-oriented

When choosing the right ad format, it was suggested that this comes down to the objective of that particular advert. If your objective is an education piece that requires some explaining, then a host-read is better because you can create a narrative. On the other hand, if product awareness is the goal, then something more generic like spot advertising works well.

Evans warns against treating spot advertising like radio.“The podcast audience is different: listening to podcasts is generally a solitary thing, and an advert that really engages them on that spot-level [will do well].” He shouts out a great advert that was “in the middle” of a host-read and spot ad, produced by the US podcast, 20,000 Hertz. It combined the best features of both formats: it was read out by trusted voices, was relevant to the content of the podcast and had the scale of spot advertising.

Building on Evans’ point, Berry says not to load more than two spot adverts back-to-back (as opposed to radio, when there’s often three to five). “Even if they’re relevant… people are just going to switch off.”

Are branded podcasts the answer?

The table discussed that one way to ensure you don’t inundate your target audience with the same message over and over again, is to create a branded podcast.

PodPod editor Adam Shepherd points out two more advantages to branded podcasts: “There’s more space to build a narrative and to let your target audience engage with your brand on their own terms.”

At easyJet, the team are considering starting their own, so Tauqeer is keen to understand measurement and the opportunity to scale.

Caveating that the metrics for any given podcast should be dictated by the objective of starting it in the first place, Evans advises not to look at “sheer numbers” but to concentrate on completion rates instead. Berry agrees, advising: “Don’t necessarily use the short-term ROI to measure something that isn’t there to deliver on that objective.”

Spotify’s Couchman acknowledges that there has previously been a “lack of sophistication of measurement options”, but reveals the platform has just launched some free first-party analytic tools - Spotify Ad Analytics - for brand-lift studies.

“It takes a lot of bravery”

Despite the aforementioned improvement in measurement, Berry points out that it still “takes a lot of bravery” from the marketing or brand team to start a branded podcast because they don’t often deliver fast results. “We don’t often have the luxury of saying ‘give it a year and it’ll be good’.”

A change of perspective is required, according to Evans. Branded podcasts should not be considered campaign pieces, but as sub-brand extension pieces instead.

At Lloyds Bank, though, the branded podcast features in “every” campaign brief, and sits alongside its radio, press, TV and social coverage. Handley says that because podcasts are so popular, “there’s more of a natural understanding of the opportunity [of branded podcasts]” and they provide the scale you need for your campaigns.

For brands which are considering starting a branded podcast but don’t want to fully commit to one yet, a good halfway house is branded content. There are multiple ways to do this, which include being a guest, hosting or sponsoring an episode on someone else’s podcast.

A suggested benefit, is that brands can take advantage of an already-established and “credible listening group” straight away, bypassing the months it can take to build their own.

“It’s a safe way,” Berry says, “but you still need to get it right.” It needs to be interwoven, not forced, she explains.

Whatever avenue brands decide to take when entering the podcast industry, our experts remain steadfast on the key features of winning content: authentic, relevant and objective-led. Good luck!

• Adam Shepherd, editor, PodPod
• Victoria Handley, brand communications lead, Lloyds Bank

• Shaaf Tauqeer, audience and martech manager, easyJet
• Anna Berry, managing director, EssenceMediacomX
• Ed Couchman, head of sales, UK & Northern Europe, Spotify
• Gareth Evans, founder, 18Sixty