It’s time to stop chasing digital vanity metrics when measuring audio performance

Read on for Ampel's Director of Media & Partnerships Lauren Deighton POV on why we need to rethink audio measurement.
Ampel Blog Vanity Metrics

Are media planners and buyers so crunched that they have forgotten how to innovate when measuring audio performance? Why else are we basing channel selection for investment in BVOD, audio streaming and DOOH on digital vanity metrics that are essentially meaningless, asks Lauren Deighton, Director, Media Partnerships at Ampel. There has to be a better way than throwing impressions at the wall and hoping some of them stick…

Are media planners and buyers so crunched that they have forgotten how to innovate? Why else are we basing channel selection for investment in BVOD, audio streaming and DOOH on digital vanity metrics that are essentially meaningless, asks Lauren Deighton, Director, Media Partnerships at Ampel. There has to be a better way than throwing impressions at the wall and hoping some of them stick…

For more than a decade I’ve worked in both agency and publisher roles listening and contributing to conversation around the importance of content. Over the last few years this conversation has become easier as clients have started to accept that both native and branded content is an effective way to drive top-of-funnel awareness and an increase in consideration.

But five years ago the conversation wasn’t as easy. Clients and brands were skeptical about the performance of content and questions usually turned straight to reporting capabilities: were page views a viable measurement; did scroll depth and time spent on page add additional insight; were those metrics enough to justify an investment?

Publisher reporting wasn’t always seen as valuable, with agencies insisting on third party tracking tags to ensure the campaigns were also ticking a ‘performance’ box, frustrating when the campaign was never intended as a conversion activity. Time and time again, we’d be briefed on an awareness campaign that would have benefited greatly from a content approach, only to lose out at the last minute because the agency or brand felt performance tactics were less risky and provided a greater ROI due to the in-depth analytics associated with these types of campaigns. We’d see brand awareness campaigns morph into conversion campaigns at the last minute, drifting far from the initial brief and usually becoming a battle for the lowest CPC or CPA.

Six months ago I moved into a role as Director of Partnerships for Ampel and I’m having similar conversations to those I had five years ago, but this time when measuring audio performance; with clients hesitating to invest in podcast campaigns because, in comparison to digital, measurement is still in its infancy.

Don’t get me wrong, measurement is important, in fact it’s essential in determining whether your investment helped you to meet your campaign objectives, but I believe it’s time we reimagine what measurement looks like based on the goals we’re trying to achieve with each medium. There seems to be a growing trend to compare everything to digital, especially with the growth of BVOD, streaming and DOOH, where channel selection is now often assessed based on the most cost-efficient CPM. Is this because today’s media planners and buyers are so time poor and under so much pressure for accountability that rinse and repeat media plans are being used at the expense of more innovative tactics that are more difficult to attribute success to?

Hit and hope

Driving brand awareness and consideration has always been an expensive exercise. By nature, trying to cut through the clutter and then change someone’s preferences is no mean feat. For that reason, CPMs and impressions aren’t overly relevant here. In theory, reaching more people more often should give you a greater chance of landing your message and having it remembered, but the way in which you’re reaching the customer has an even greater effect on saliency.

Take digital display and programmatic for example; you’ll often pay an extremely low CPM, because if 0.2 per cent CTR is a strong result, you’ll want to run hundreds of thousands of impressions to have any noticeable impact. But bigger isn’t always better. If you’re looking to tap into a very niche, selective audience, throwing impressions at the wall and hoping some of them stick is, in my opinion, not the best way forward. When assessing a campaign’s media plan, there are many factors of greater importance: trust in the medium; clutter of the environment; when and where media consumption takes place; and last but not least, the mindset of the audience when consuming.

Consider a format like podcasting, a medium that usually plays a top-of-funnel role. It’s added to the plan with the intention of driving brand awareness and brand affinity. For this very reason, the metrics associated with its performance should be a mix of both qualitative and quantitative measures; with importance being placed on brand uplift, purchase intent and impact scores, rather than solely focusing on mass reach and impression delivery.

These qualitative measures should be used in tandem with the more modest tracking capabilities available in podcasting to paint a robust picture of overall campaign performance: listens, downloads, time spent listening, geo-location & device type. Measurement technology within the space is improving rapidly, with companies like Podsights and Chartable now offering pixel-based acquisition tracking in addition to the standardised reporting available, but even so I argue that direct acquisitions aren’t really the outcome we should be looking at for the majority of campaigns within this space.

The power of podcasts is in the format’s ability to build engagement via intimacy. Podcasts are similar to cinema in terms of engagement, an uninterrupted medium that’s hard to ignore and subconsciously retained. Shows are proactively sought out by the listener due to an already existing interest in a particular topic, with listeners often forming an emotional bond with the host of the show. In fact, Spotify’s recent 2022 Culture Next Study found that 53 per cent of 18-24 year olds turned to podcasts for answers to their problems even before turning to a trusted friend. When done well, a host-read ad feels like part of the show, a native endorsement from a trusted friend. That’s why 62 per cent of listeners correctly recall a brand advertised within a podcast, with 57 per cent saying podcast ads outperform pre-roll in driving purchase intent lift.

Think beyond CPM When Measuring Audio Performance

Additionally, podcasting is still an uncluttered environment, with a 40-minute episode usually featuring a maximum of 2-3 ads, versus the 15 per hour you might be exposed to on radio or the hundreds of banner ads and native articles online.

Podcasts provide opportunity for cultural conversation, and by alignment, brands can tap into  contextual topics and public debate, an invaluable and very different result to a targeted programmatic display buy at a $12 CPM. This allows a brand to align with a trusted voice, leverage that voice to produce a host-read ad and access a level of integration and brand image transfer that you wouldn’t see with a banner buy.

Linear TV and radio are still bought on a spot-basis, yet to be lumped into the CPM-buy with respect for the roles of the channels and the outcomes they achieve. I’d like to see the same respect for the podcasting medium. Yes, podcasts are consumed via digital devices, but the industry should be focusing less on numbers and more on impact, giving the channel a chance to perform based on the correct measurement metrics.

Measuring audio performance is in a similar place to where digital was ten years ago, but that doesn’t make it an ineffective medium. Those who chose to dip their toe in the water ten years ago and invest in digital made a bold choice at the time, but today you won’t see a media plan without it.

I implore planners to assess streamable audio, along with other top-of-funnel formats like outdoor and transit, based on the correct metrics associated with the objectives in question. Let’s think bigger than the CPM. Impressions aren’t actions or connections to customers. They measure nothing more than ad exposure and exposure does not necessarily equal recall or impact.

This article was first published on Mi3.


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