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Telling It Like It Is In Podcast Performance Marketing

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The podcast market looks very different across the pond.

Performance marketing comprises more than half of the $1.8 billion US podcast advertising industry (projected to hit $2.3 billion this year). But it makes up less than 20% of podcast ad spend in the UK, according to Christiana Brenton, co-founder of Telling, a new podcast media agency and consultancy.

Performance marketers have long backed the US podcast industry and contributed to its success, according to Telling co-founder Georgina Holt. Brands like BetterHelp, MailChimp and Casper have used their podcast marketing budgets to reach and convert new customers.

The UK podcast industry, on the other hand, leaned “hard on the brand dollars,” Holt said, with major holding companies and ad agencies driving upper-funnel spend with a brand-focused lens.

With a cloud of economic uncertainty putting pressure on CMOs and CFOs to deliver ROI for every dollar in their ad budgets, “we want to demonstrate that podcasts are a great tool to drive those lower-funnel metrics, those sales conversions,” Holt said. “We also know that podcasting can influence the whole marketing funnel if you do it in a strategic way.” 

Let me tell you

Telling, which launched in July as the first UK-based podcast agency, is setting its sights on high-growth DTC brands in the UK and European markets along with US DTC brands expanding their global reach.

The agency is already working with its first client, Myndlift, on a three-month US test campaign. The DTC consumer tech wearable brand bought three show sponsorships and is running audio ads against upward of 50 news and business podcasts, including the BBC, The Financial Times, The Economist and The Guardian. The brand is a “perfect client” for podcast advertising, Holt said, because the medium lends itself well to explaining the benefits of a technology. The campaign – Myndlift’s first podcast test – incorporates personalized endorsements from hosts and producer-voiced reads.

The agency will track CPA results via unique podcast discount codes redeemable on the Myndlift website and pixel-based attribution, Brenton said. Telling plans to share the insights from the campaign with Myndlift to scale its business by increasing trial and website traffic and subscriptions over the long term, including in the UK and Europe.

Telling is also working with other brands on live briefs specific to the UK market, Brenton said.

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For now, the only Telling employees are co-founders Holt and Brenton. Brenton takes point on advertisers and marketplaces, while Holt works directly with creators, publishers and agents.

Both founders are Acast alumnae and podcasting vets who have worked with US, UK and Australian media vendors, which they see as a distinct advantage over other agencies.

“We have been exposed to the results of hundreds and hundreds of podcast campaigns by virtue of working at the world’s biggest independent podcast marketplace,” Brenton said, and “two decades of tests-and-learns from DTC brands in the US.”

Though she declined to share the exact combination of podcasts, flighting parameters and ad creative Telling uses to maximize measurable growth for advertisers, she mentioned the importance of selecting the right hosts, having podcast hosts do product trials to personalize endorsements and recognizing that mid-roll ads outperform pre-roll ads.

Pushing programmatic

The podcast industry has been reticent to adopt programmatic podcasting.

“There’s certainly a conception in the performance world that it’s only host-reads that can drive those bottom-funnel sales conversions,” Brenton said. But at Acast, she saw firsthand how effective programmatic could be.

During an Orangetheory Fitness test case, the exercise chain ran a podcast test campaign alongside streaming audio. For the test campaign, it transacted its audio campaigns programmatically via The Trade Desk, using Acast’s historical first-party data and content signal reporting in the bidstream to optimize the campaign in real time. Podcasting yielded a 16% more efficient CPA than all other audio inventory tested, demonstrating the strength of accurate audience-based targeting podcasting tools.

“When planned correctly, with the right targeting and creative, you can absolutely deliver CPA” with programmatic ads, Brenton said.

Of course, in the UK and across Europe, Telling will run into GDPR restrictions that prevent the agency from doing first-party data onboarding. But Telling has a few workarounds.

For example, it can access Nielsen third-party audience segments to find lookalike audiences, work with local vendors (or directly with creators) to get insights on specific target audiences and try tactics like audience surveys and social profiling.

The agency is also interested in testing technologies that run the gamut from measurement and attribution tools to brand safety tech to AI. In particular, AI programs might enable more precise location-based targeting, which would allow advertisers to record myriad ad variations or personalize host-read ads. “Performance increases with greater relevancy and context,” Brenton said.

But performance is only part of the picture.

Podcasting draws in devoted listeners who spend “hours and hours with their beloved shows every single week,” Holt said. But marketer ad spend doesn’t match that focused attention, even though attention drives conversions.

“In the short term, it’s the performance marketing story,” she said. “And in the longer term, it’s the audio investment gap story.”

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