As the podcast space continues to rise, branded podcasts present themselves as a quiet opportunity to engage with consumers, but the question is – Are they effective? To answer this, a study was conducted titled Audio: Activated, by BBC StoryWorks, BBC Global News’s branded content division to understand the effectiveness of branded podcasts.
Communicate spoke with Hamish McPharlin, head of insights at BBC Global News, to understand more about the findings and methodology of the study.
What does this study mean for radio advertising?
The study never intended to say radio is ineffective in any way. It’s one of the oldest platforms that is very influential and is able to engage an audience and make them feel like they’re part of a community. But we can’t assume the podcast listener to be the same. We treated podcasts as a new platform, which is emerging, reaches a slightly different type of audience because it’s microtargeted. If you’re into cross-country skiing, basket weaving, chess, etc, whatever your interest may be, you can find a podcast for it.
What were the objectives of the study?
The times and places you’re listening to a podcast are different from that of radio. We found in our study that 94% of consumers listen to podcasts while they’re engaged in an activity such as exercising, vacuuming, etc. So there are two key questions that need to be answered:
- Are they really listening? Because it’s all very well to say you listened to a podcast before coming into work, but if it was a branded podcast and it mentioned brands, did you really listen or were you too busy doing something else?
- Are they able to respond? Are they able to remember or come back and act on it later?
What was the methodology behind the study?
We worked with a company called Neuro-insight, they’re a global neuro analytics company that developed their own technology for measuring memory. With the help of that technology, they’re able to measure second by second brain activity of the subject while he/she is consuming either audio or video content. For our study, we wanted them to measure three key measures which were:
- Emotional Intensity
- Long term memory
For the study, we selected a podcast series called Money Movement, which was created by the BBC team in New York for Blackrock, a financial institution based in the US. We also needed to recruit subjects who were finance enthusiasts. Since podcasts are very targeted, we couldn’t select people at random. So we recruited finance enthusiasts – people who were regular podcast listeners and were affluent, interested in finance and were all investors. We recruited a total of 264 subjects from four countries.
Once recruited, we divided them at random into two groups – One is the controlled group i.e. they will sit and listen to the podcast. The other group was the active group i.e. these people split their focus, they’d be either doing something with their hands, etc.
What we essentially found was that the active group had a higher engagement, emotional intensity and long-term memory with the branded podcast. This showed that when the subject is active, his/her attention span is elevated because the voice inside their head is distracted and allows the brain to relax and take in information. It also changes the way the brain takes in information through a process called, ‘low involvement processing.’ This process is also very energy efficient. Normally when you watch an advert, for instance, the little voice inside your head argues/scrutinizes with the advert, but when you’re distracted, your brain doesn’t worry about it so much because it’s occupied with something. So it allows us to take in information without being scrutinizing. Therefore, it was beneficial for Blackrock in this instance, that people were kept busy while listening to the branded podcast.
The ultimate message of the study was:
- It’s not a problem that people are active more so it’s a benefit.
- The active group had higher metric levels- awareness of the brand, brand consideration, brand favorability, purchase intent was all high during brand mention on the podcast.
- Since the intake of information involves low involvement processing which is energy efficient- it means the subject can listen and stay interested for longer.
Also, the study only tested for a 30-minute podcast, so we’re not sure how long the engagement lasts for an hour podcast.
What is the difference between branded podcasts and advertising on podcasts?
Advertising on podcasts involves selling ad spots on a podcast for brands to advertise. The BBC has over 500 podcasts and we hand them over to ACAST which is an advertising distributor, who sells the classic ad spots on our podcast.
Branded podcast is where the podcast series is sponsored by the brand and they want to communicate their key attributes in a non-traditional way. Take Blackrock for instance, they’re a finance brand who came to the BBC and said they want to be seen as an innovative brand, an educator and a [go-to place] for financial information. How do we do that? We create a podcast series about money markets, currencies, stock markets, etc which finance enthusiasts can listen to, but it’s going to be produced by Blackrock. So listeners get the impression that the brand is innovative and an educator on finance. They’re going to feel so, because technically the brand has helped produce this valuable piece of information on so and so topic but in reality, the branded podcast allows for opportunity to mention the brand.
Since there’s no official ad break, the podcast begins with the words, “Money Movement, brought to you by Blackrock.” Even within the episode, the host says something along the lines of, “Oh we’re talking about this particular finance product, Blackrock and the other banks produce this.” It’s organic and [seamless] and if you do a good job of it, it can come across really well.
We look at branded podcast as a bespoke series where we would collaborate with a brand to create something that is part of their community of interest, for their audience. The audience will walk away with the idea that the brand has created valuable content for them and the brand also gets a mention or two within the podcast content.
Does the language of the podcast have anything to do with the high metric associations?
Yes, one of the interesting things we realized during the study is that the language you use in a podcast is very important. It’s basically the only thing you have along with the music. Since we knew Blackrock wanted to be seen as innovative, we began counting up words and we found out that the word innovative was used in the podcast about 12 times. This wasn’t even intentional. Funny thing is the host wasn’t talking about the brand when she used the word, she was just casually using the words innovation, innovator, innovative, etc. This language was washing over the listener and because of repetitive use of the word, it ended up benefitting the brand. We tested the results through an implicit association test, which measures whether you subconsciously associate a brand with an attribute. We conducted the test before and after listening to the podcast and the results were positive, the subjects of the active group associated the word innovative with the brand.
What are the key elements brands should focus on when creating branded podcasts?
The first one is targetting. [Brands] need to start thinking about their objectives, find their audience and create content that is perfectly targeted towards them. For eg – if you’re a travel brand, then a podcast on 10 unmissable destinations might be perfect for you. But the whole key is to find your target audience, so the topic is very important.
The second one is to use an influencer in that space as the host. They need to present, talk and be authoritative in that topic to draw people in. They need to be very engaging because it has to feel like the listener has to feel like he/she has developed a personal relationship with the podcaster.
The third one is the language that is used, should be [in accordance] with the objectives of the brand. Whatever the objective is, brands need to think about topics that can discuss and use the language of those objectives. But you should also be authentic at the same time.
What are the limitations brands face when it comes to marketing on audio platforms?
The first barrier we found was that [brands and advertisers were unconvinced] about the effectiveness of the platform. I believe the study has presented a different picture, that it is effective if you do it the right way. Using the [elements] I mentioned earlier as keys, you can create a great podcast.
I think the other barriers are all around being creative. We need to have production companies that understand some of these principles, develop new principles and build up experience in producing them. When I talk about principles, I’m talking about things like the implicit association tests which showed the importance of language. Targeting is another principle because you can’t produce a random podcast. You need to think about who is the audience you’d like to attract for the brand, who is the person you want to put at the center of that podcast, to look after the audience, curate them and take them along the journey and build a community with them.