Podcast ads: a primer for B2B marketers

Podcast ads: a primer for B2B marketers

This post is part of a series about new mediums for B2B marketers. This week, we're covering podcast advertising.

You've probably heard a lot about podcast advertising, with the steady growth of high quality shows and new networks in the past year. If you're a podcast fan, there's no doubt you've memorized the ads for Squarespace or MailChimp. While podcast advertising is still a relatively unknown quantity for most B2B marketing teams, some B2Bs like Citrix, LegalZoom, and Igloo are having huge successes.

In this post we'll cover the basics of podcast advertising.

What are podcast ads?

There are three types of podcast ads, their names are based on where the ads appear in the show: pre-roll, mid-roll, and post-roll. Then there are two styles, which can be used with either type: live reads and produced ads.

The combination of ad type and style really depends on the show's format, so ask what's available depending on your needs.

Types of ads

Pre-roll

These ads are at the start of a show. They're typically 15-30 seconds and useful for building brand awareness. When these ads are simple and memorable – think of the MailChimp (Mail...Kimp?) ads on Serial – they can be very effective (and turned into SNL skits).

Pre-roll ads are used in all kinds of shows, the most iconic being Serial.

Mid-roll

Mid-roll ads are in the middle of a podcast (obviously), and there can be two or three advertisers per show, depending on its length. Like TV ads, these show up every 20 or 30 minutes. Your ad is about two minutes, and you have a real chance to tell your story. If you're in a crowded market like matresses (Casper), or intranets (Igloo), you can explain why you're different – something you can't do in a search ad.

Mid-roll ads are more common in talk-show style podcasts than story-based shows, like WTF with Marc Maron, The Talk Show with John Gruber, and on networks like Relay.fm.

Post-roll

These ads happen at end of a show. They range from a name drop to 30 seconds, and are useful for building brand awareness with dedicated listeners.

Post-roll ads usually show up in short, story-oriented shows like 99% invisible, and public radio transplants like This American Life.

Styles of ad reads

The style is usually determined by the show, not by you. Keeping your creative team flexible will help you make most out of either style.

Live reads

Live reads have a personal touch: the host of the show reads your ad in their own style. If the ad is part of the recording process, there is typically some improv, talk with the show's guest, and recounting of some personal experiences.

This is a great opportunity to have hosts to try your product and talk about their experience with it. There's an implied recommendation with a live read, so taking time to make sure the host is comfortable with your product or service is a must.

The downside? These reads can end up rambly, or go a bit off the deep end. You rarely have approval of the final read before it gets published. Listen to a few of a hosts previous ads to get a sense for their style and be sure to adapt your creative to it.

Produced Ads

Produced ads are just that: scripted, edited, polished. There's an extreme amount of creative flexibility, and they're usually shorter – 15 to 30 seconds. These range from the iconic MailChimp ads on Serial (same ad every episode) to the off-beat humour of Reply All, who's ads are made with the same care (and randomness) as the show every week. Once, I comissioned an A Capella Christmas carol parody for Igloo.

The downside? Depending on the show you can lose your brand's personality. You lose the implied recommendation that comes from being in the voice of the show's host. Produced ads can feel very corporate in an otherwise very personal medium.

Why podcasts?

Podcasts are unique as an ad medium: you have a dedicated, captive audience that cares deeply about something. And those people will share your message if you have a quality product or service.

Can podcast ads be blocked?

Unlike web-based ads, you have a captive audience. There aren't ad blockers, but there are fast-forward buttons. It's likely that podcast listeners are doing the dishes, driving, or walking their dog, so their hands will be too busy to skip your ad. With truly great ads, like with Cards Against Humanity's excellent placements on Accidental Tech Podcast, the ads become favourite segments of the show.

Are podcast ads for me?

It depends on your goals, but you'll never know until you try. You can run a few low-cost tests for under $5,000 to see how different audiences respond. In general, you'll know right away if a show works for you (or doesn't). Each show's audience will have dramatically different performance. I've seen everything from large shows creating zero traffic, to small shows bringing in large amounts of highly qualified leads. It's very hard to predict in advance.

Using podcasts to build awareness

If your goal is product or brand awareness, cast a wide net for shows. If you want to be as well known as Squarespace or MailChimp, you have to be everywhere and often. Have fun with it, keep your ads short, and focus on something memorable (but keep it fresh).

Frequent pre-roll ads tend to be effective for building awareness.

Using podcasts for lead generation

If you're looking get qualified leads, focus on shows that convert for your audience. You'll have to do a bunch of tests to figure out the right formula – this is something I spent a lot of time on in my last job. We would test each new show for audience fit, and double-down on the ones that created qualified leads. Week over week, those shows would keep producing great leads.

Mid-roll ads with a strong call-to-action and dedicated landing page tend to be very effective if your goal is lead generation.

Who do I buy ads from?

If you're already working with a media buying agency, they're probably a good place to start. If you manage your ad buys internally, it can take some research to find the right shows for your business – there isn't really a one-stop shop.

Ad Networks

Ad networks help you buy ads for many shows, some ad networks sell shows exclusively, and some carry certain quantities of a show's ad space (when the show is sold by multiple ad networks).

Ad networks typically manage big shows with big audiences. That's great if you have a broadly applicable product or service – like Squarespace or Lynda (both frequent podcast advertisers). You also get benefits like bulk purchase discounts, right of first refusal for new shows, flexible payment terms, and more.

Big audiences can be great if you're selling to SMBs (or consumers), but it can make reaching enterprise or industry specific buyers a bit of a stretch.

Expect to pay between $1,500 and $30,000 for an ad, depending on the audience size and brand name host. The big ad networks for podcasts are Midroll and Podtrac.

Podcast networks and producers

With podcast networks, you're buying straight from the show's producers. It's a bit more work on your side to manage the relationship, creative, and you might get less flexibility with payment terms. However, these shows tend to have more specificity in their audience, which is great if you're a B2B marketer. If your primary buyer is the VP of IT, the CMO, or the internal communications manager, it's easier to find a show they really care about.

While audiences can be smaller (think 5,000 or 50,000 instead of 500,000 listeners), for B2B marketers this can be a benefit – you'll get more qualified leads and less noise.

Expect to pay between $500 and $5,000 for an ad placement, depending on the audience size.

The best way to book these shows is to reach out to the host directly. If they're part of a podcast network, like Radiotopia, Relay.fm, and Standard Broadcast Co., you'll get some of the benefits of working with a network, too.

Summary

So you've learned a bit about podcast ads, next you're wondering how you're going to execute on a plan and measure it all. That's coming next.

Sign up for our newsletter, and you'll be the first to hear when our next post is up. We'll cover:

  • writing ad reads
  • engaging with the audience
  • building successful podcast landing pages
  • how (and why) to use short urls
  • coupon codes
  • measuring success

Disclosure: Lex Friedman, EVP Sales at Midroll, is also an angel investor in Funnelcake. He had nothing to do with this piece, but it feels pertinent to share. I met Lex when I was buying podcast ads at Igloo.