Podcasting Metrics: Downloads + Engagement = Brand Love

Written Apr. 11, 2007 by in Advertising + Marketing + Podcasting with 0 Comments

Our recent study on Podcast listeners continues to generate lots of great feedback around the Interwebs. BusinessWeek focused on the "modest" revenues for podcasting at the moment, while Pronet Advertising (a great resource for online marketing, by the way) pointed out the highly desirable demographic being reached by podcasts. Some have challenged the "low" numbers for video podcast consumption by pointing out stats like comScore's recent report on US Video Streaming, which is a fine report--but is apples to oranges as far as our data is concerned.

Let's consider audio podcasts for a moment. It is true that audio podcasts are a form of online audio--but not all online audio can be correctly thought of as a "podcast." The rising tide of online audio does indeed lift all ships, but the actual behavior of downloading an audio podcast and saving it to listen to later is markedly different than leaving Pandora on in the background to stream your favorite music while you work.

The problem is one of metrics. Podcasters have little recourse but to use the same types of "reach and frequency" metrics that mass media providers have relied upon for years. This results in a currency of "downloads" that does podcasters a tremendous disservice, in my humble opinion. Clear Channel Online can measure and credibly claim almost 1 million unduplicated listeners per week to their online streams. There are two issues with similar measurements of podcasts. One is that there is no agreed upon metric--read this post from Adam Curry and the subsequent comments and decide for yourself if Podshow generated 12,000 or 52 million "download requests," whatever they are. The second problem with measuring downloads or "download requests" is that this metric is woefully inadequate in terms of capturing the level of engagement that a podcast listener has with the content. If I have a classical station on in the background for 6 hours, does it equate to my downloading and listening to Podchestra? Common sense says "no." In fact, advertisers and marketers are increasingly more sophisticated about the measurement of engagement.

Next week, the Advertising Research Foundation will be hosting its big annual convention, Re:think 2007, and we'll be there as well, giving a talk on the measurement of experiential marketing. Engagement is more than just a buzzword--there is a serious effort on the part of Edison and all of the other members of the ARF to craft a metric and methodology to place engagement where it belongs in measuring brand impact. If I download and listen to Leo Laporte's "this WEEK in TECH" podcast and listen to it in its entirety while driving to pick up Sam at daycare, I have done more than 'download,' I have engaged with the brand, with Leo as a credible host, and even with the sponsors of the show, who are generally more relevant to me (in that context) than anything I might hear on mass media. That's worth more than a "download."

Podcasting is not a replacement for other forms of reaching audience--it is a valuable tool in the context of a complete media mix. The continuing evolution of the engagement metric will provide a more equitable way to equate lower traffic, but higher involvement media such as a podcast alongside higher traffic channels such as broadcast radio and TV. In the end, I agree with noted podcaster Michael Geoghegan that the success of the medium should not be pinned on the success of the term podcasting. Nor should it be pinned on the number of downloads a show does or does not spark. What matters for marketers is the level of engagement, consumer trust and brand involvement a consumer has with a podcast. The combined market of audio and video podcast consumers now stands at 16% of the country, and it is a valuable, marketable and highly lucrative demographic. There's a real market there--but podcasters have to be a little smarter, work a little harder and exploit the unique advantages and benefits of podcasting to get there.

Watch this space for more on engagement in the weeks ahead.

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