The 5 Deadly Sins of Podcast Marketing

You’re starting to see your digital marketing efforts plateau and it’s time to take the next step. Like a 19th-century pioneer, you set your sites on taming the wild west of Podcast. If you’re like most companies jumping into the space, you’ll either take an internal poll to find your team’s favorite shows or dig through the top podcasts on iTunes. Once you have your list, you will embark on your quest to become the next Squarespace. What you don’t know yet is that you’ve already committed the first fatal sin in testing Podcast and you’re about to commit several more. Many advertisers come to us and say they’ve tested Podcast but “it didn’t work”. After some digging, we usually uncover they’ve committed one or more (usually more) of the 5 deadly sins of Podcast marketing:

  1. Buying the Wrong Shows
  2. Using the Wrong Copy
  3. Not Properly Onboarding The Hosts
  4. Not Tracking Airchecks
  5. Over-Optimizing


  1. Buying the Wrong Shows

I know you love Freakonomics, Serial, and This American Life – everyone does. However, the shows that everyone is talking about, rarely pay off from a performance perspective. There are exceptions, but they are few. Launching your podcast test on the most popular shows will undoubtedly get your message heard by millions of ears, but chances are, you will not see an immediate return on your investment. The strange secret is that the podcasts that drive efficient performance are rarely those that show up on the iTunes Top 10 list.

The same holds true for podcasts that may seem like a no-brainer for your business or category. It’s logical to think your widget company would see success only on podcasts that talk about widgets, but it’s not necessarily the case. Maybe the the widget podcasts are overpriced or perhaps the reads aren’t engaging, maybe their download numbers are overreported. Whatever the reason, a podcast’s subject is only part of the equation.

There are over half a million podcasts available for consumption, and at Oxford Road, we’ve tested thousands of them. While evaluating which shows work and why is a topic for another article, you need to know the podcasts that will drive conversion and those that won’t. When evaluating which podcasts to test at the initial phase, first consider your demographic and preferably work with a partner who can dig through an extensive list of cross-client performance data to find the podcasts that will give you the best opportunity for success. A proper podcast test will identify pockets of success that work for your business and set the stage to scale in phase two.   


  1. Using the Wrong Copy

Many marketers who are testing Podcast treat the medium like radio and write 60-second commercials to send to all of the hosts to read. Don’t! Writing podcast copy is an art. Here are the top five ways to create Podcast copy that will sing:

1. Keep it Short – A 60-sec radio ad has approximately 180 words. Giving a Podcaster 60-seconds of words to plow through will not allow for any personalization, which is where the magic of the medium happens. Podcast hosts talk for a living. Give them room to add their personality into the read, and reap the rewards.

2. Don’t Force Style – Nothing kills the organic nature of podcast reads like force-feeding style into the copy. I’ve seen it countless times: a client adds words and phrases the host wouldn’t say anywhere outside of an ad read. The result is a spot that sounds disingenuous, if the talent complies. Instead, stick to the facts and let the hosts say it their own way.

3. Provide Options – Good podcast copy reads like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Give the host a few ideas for starters at the intro. Providing options will allow them to mix up the read each time and perhaps spark an idea with which the hosts can run.

4. Personalize by Genre – Don’t send the same copy to a sports podcast that you submit to a political podcast. The beauty of the Podcast medium is that they’re niche: use this to your advantage. While the body of your copy will likely remain consistent for every show, there should be something that explicitly speaks to the genre of the Podcast on which you’re advertising.

5. Remember, Some Hosts are Ron Burgundys – While most Podcasters will take your copy and make it their own, some will read every written word, verbatim. Make sure your copy can stand on its own. We’ve had hosts read everything on the page, from call-outs to host notes. The way you format your copy and provide notes will help you avoid embarrassing reads from this type of host. Stay classy San Diego.


  1. Not Properly Onboarding The Hosts

A proper onboarding is perhaps one of the most essential components of a successful Podcast campaign, and unfortunately, it’s a step most new advertisers miss. At Oxford Road, when we launch a new campaign, we set up an onboarding call with every show (ideally the hosts themselves, and when not possible, their producer) to make sure everyone is up to speed on exactly what the advertiser does and how we expect the reads to go. These calls create a connection between the advertiser and the hosts that cannot be done through an email chain and more importantly, they equip the hosts with the knowledge they need to go off-script and speak from the heart. If possible, this is also an excellent time to make sure the hosts have actually tried your product while providing a platform to ask questions before the reads go live. A properly on-boarded host is an empowered host, and your reads will work better as a result. Last week, we had a host rave for nearly seven minutes about one of our advertisers because they knew the product inside and out (it was only supposed to be 60-seconds).


  1. Not Tracking Airchecks

So you’ve picked the right shows, written copy that will allow the hosts to add their personality, and you’ve spoken to the key players of each podcast to establish lanelines. Now is not the time to sit back and wait to see how it works. In fact, there’s more work to be done. Because you’ve given the host the latitude to make the ad their own, you have to make sure they’re doing it right. Despite your best efforts and their best intentions, podcast hosts screw up their reads all of the time. From missing a mandatory copy point to reading the wrong URL, you must listen to every read to make sure you’re getting what you paid for. A good agency partner should have a team of podcast nerds who listen to every aircheck for each advertiser (even if it’s thousands of ads each week). At Oxford Road, for example, we grade them, make sure the host hits all of the mandatory points, archive the reads, and provide optimization notes to the hosts as needed. This laborious process has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of make-goods for our clients and helped optimize good campaigns into great campaigns.


  1. Over-Optimizing

Now let’s talk about performance. Don’t be too quick to pull out the red marker and start slashing shows that don’t seem to be working right out of the gate. Podcasts have the longest performance tail of nearly every other medium. Because of the way it’s consumed, the podcast you purchased 2 months ago still has a lot of life. We have advertisers seeing conversions on podcasts they stopped running on years ago because most of the integrations are baked in and live forever. Someone discovering their new favorite Podcast can hear your ad for the first time months, even years after it first dropped. Therefore, it takes a long time to get an accurate read on an individual podcast’s performance; cutting prematurely could hamper your ability to scale the channel. The hard part is that some podcasts have a longer tail than others and knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em requires an in-depth knowledge of the space as a whole. Furthermore, podcasts will generally perform better with each integration due to compounding frequency. Unless something is a dismal failure, stay the course.

That’s it (not really, but it’s a start). Avoid these five sins and become the next big thing in Podcast. We’ve had the good fortune of taking Podcast newbies from $30k tests to leaders in their business category by adhering to these best practices. Whether you do it alone, or find a great partner, we wish you safe travels across the Podcast frontier – as you scale your business from zero to the promised land.

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