How to Measure the Effectiveness of Podcasts

This article covers how to measure and evaluate the value of podcasts, both those that you underwrite and those that you produce yourself.

Podcasts? I confess I am a bit of a latecomer to podcasts. When all the millennials around me started talking about them a few years ago I rolled my eyes and thought, “Huh?” Then of course every marketing guru started one, and I was grateful to be a featured guest on many of them. But still, I never actually listened to them—other than to make sure I didn’t sound too whiny (sorry Luke Armour!).

Then my clients began to ask me to include podcast metrics on their dashboards, and that finally got my attention. I started listening to Serial and, like millions of Americans, I got addicted to the whodunit nature of the story. Then this year it was Pod Save America, put out post-election by Crooked Media, a group of ex-Obama communications pros that riff about all things politics on a regular basis. Their first podcast went from zero to over a million listeners in a little over a week.

So now I am a total convert. I share favorite podcast lists the way we used to put our favorite books or blogs on our websites. (Send me an email and I’ll be happy to send you my latest.) And I’m not the only one who’s excited about them…

Podcasts are big. Really big.

The growth of podcasting has been driven in part by the arrival of smart phones with more storage. Essentially, what TIVO and DVRs did for television, smart phones and podcasts have done for radio.

Podcasts are popular. More than one in five Americans over the age of 12 have listened to a podcast in the past month. According to Edison Research, podcast listening jumped 23 percent between 2015 and 2016. Here’s the stunner: Those who consume podcasts on a weekly basis listened to an average of five podcasts per week.

You don’t have to be an NPR nerd to have heard of the phenomenal success of Serial, the spin off from Ira Glass’ This American Life radio show. The 12-episode first season was the first podcast to reach 10 million downloads. This year’s S-Town, also from the producers of Serial, hit that 10 million milestone in the first four days of its release. According to Podtrac, This American Life/Serial last month generated 79 million unique streams and downloads with a monthly audience of 9.5 million. That’s more people than watch Monday Night Football!

The numbers for podcast listeners are roughly the same as for Twitter users. But the growth curves for the two are very different. Twitter growth stalled three years ago, while podcast usage has tripled in the last ten years and is estimated to rise even more rapidly in the coming year.

So you want to underwrite a podcast…

For podcasts, it’s not just the quantity of listeners but the quality. Podcast listeners have above average incomes, 41 percent making more than $75K a year. More than half have a college degree and 29% have gone to graduate school.

So the podcast audience has both money and brains. If that’s an audience you want to reach, then you’ll want to consider becoming an underwriter.

The best part of podcast underwriting is that it seems to work. According to an IAB-Edison research podcast advertising study, 65 percent of podcast listeners are more willing to consider purchasing products and services after hearing about them during a podcast. Even better, 60 percent state that, given equal price and quality, they prefer to buy products from companies that advertise on their favorite podcasts. Podcast listeners also frequently take direct actions during a podcast, either going to a website (45 percent) or gathering more information (37 percent).

How will I know if underwriting is worth it?

It’s easy for underwriters to track and measure every podcast. If you’ve ever listened to one, you’ve heard the producer say something along the lines of “…go to for a free coupon.” They’re not doing that just to get you to sign up, they’re also measuring the impact of specific podcasts. By using unique URLs they know exactly which podcast is driving what traffic.

For most podcasts, underwriting costs are minimal. The basic rate is $18 per 1000 CPMs, a.k.a. downloads. So, yes, underwriting Serial would require a seven-figure budget. But consider that an average niche podcast probably gets at the most 500,000 downloads. To sponsor a combination of pre-roll and mid-roll spots would cost $21,500. But if 50 percent of the audience (250,000 people) would now consider buying your $50 product, and 10 percent of them actually bought it, you’d still have a net gain of $103,850. For more on podcast pricing read this.

Use cost per acquisition to compare.

As with all such calculations, one needs context. Essentially, the reason you underwrite a podcast is to get more customers, or at least leads. So use the underwriting cost and the number of new leads or customers to calculate Cost per Acquisition of a lead or a customer. You can then compare this to Cost per Acquisition between different podcasts, and between podcasts and your other marketing or advertising efforts. Use these comparisons to plan your future commitments.

So your boss wants you to do your own…

If you have a complex message to get across, or need to educate your marketplace before they’ll consider buying your product, then producing your own podcast might be the perfect way to do it. Especially if you’re in the business of selling ideas, a.k.a. pushing your “thought leadership” onto your marketplace. Tech companies, financial services, and government agencies are all good candidates for podcasts—if the goals are clear and agreed-upon up front.

First, let’s be realistic. Your CEO’s thoughts about the impact of the election of a new French president on the soybean market are not going to get 100,000 downloads (unless of course you can somehow feature undisclosed details of his fairy tale marriage). But if your goal is to reach influential people with your good ideas and you manage to reach 300 of them, then I’d consider that a success.

How the Fed did it.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta was a pioneer in the space, starting a series of nine monthly podcasts back in 2010. Each features a discussion with the Bank’s economist and experts around the hot economic issues of the day, specifically as they impact the citizens and businesses of the southeastern U.S.

Their downloads may not rival S-Town’s, but their target audience is a lot smaller—mostly educators, bankers, and advisers in the southeast U.S. What’s important to them (and therefore measured on their dashboard) is that a surprisingly high number of people not only listen, but they listen to more than 50% of each podcast. What B2B organization wouldn’t want several hundred educated, engaged people listening to its perspectives monthly?

So how do I measure and evaluate my podcast?

If the primary purpose of your podcast is brand building, i.e., getting across to your audiences that your company or your CEO is a thought leader in your industry or field, then your desired outcome is an increase in the percentage of your target audience perceiving you as a leader. So, the first step in measuring your podcasting efforts is to conduct a survey and establish a baseline metric. You should ask questions such as:

  1. When thinking about the xyz market, who would you consider a leader in the marketplace?
  2. Again, when thinking about the xyz market, do any specific individuals come to mind that you would you consider a subject matter expert or thought leader?
  3. Have you ever heard of (name of your company)?
  4. If yes: On a scale of 1 to 5, with leader being 1 and 5 being laggard, where do you perceive the following companies (use your own company and one or two competitors) in terms of innovation?
  5. Have you ever heard of (name of your CEO)?
  6. If yes: on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being leader and 5 being laggard, how do you perceive him/her on thought leadership?

At the end of the campaign or the year, repeat the survey to see if you’ve moved the needle.

In the meantime, you’ll obviously need some interim metrics to know if you’re making progress. Here’s what you should be tracking on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, depending on how many podcasts you are doing.

  • Exposure of key messages. Make sure your key messages are featured several places in the podcast. At least as part of the introduction, the mid-roll, and the end. By tracking the percent of people who listen to the entire podcast (your podcast platform should report on usage for you), you’ll know that those who listened will have heard X many of your key messages.

—Total Downloads by Day/Week/Month. Even though you can’t guarantee that anyone listens to your podcast after they download it, it’s still a good indicator and can be used to correlate podcast data with other market activities.

—Conversions. If you have conversions already set up, make sure that your tracking code or URL can be tracked to any conversions that are made. If you don’t have them set up, create a specific site or page you send them to in the podcast so you can track if they’ve taken any action. See our video on how to set up conversions in Google Analytics. Set up a conversion path from the podcast to the completed action.

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