Listening and Learning With Branded Audio Content

Audio always presents a whole slew of uniquely interesting challenges and opportunities, relative to other digital formats. And as the NPR sponsorship team has explained to us, that extends to the way branded content is produced and distributed. The National Public Media and it’s new in-house studio NPM Creative work closely with brands to create audio content that can be distributed on multiple platforms, not only NPR. That approach, they say, ultimately transcends the “sponsored content” niche, which is often limited to distribution across a publisher’s owned and operated platforms.

To get some more insight on that process, we reached out to Erica Osher, Senior Director, Sponsorship Products and NPM Creative. Erica will be taking part in an Ops panel on June 5 in New York (The Integrated Experience—Where Content and Advertising Coalesce), with Armando Turco from Vox Media and Fergal Carr from Hearst. But first, some of her insights on what’s going on under her roof…

Why do you think audio branded content is a ripe area for a variety of publishers? What do you think are the biggest misunderstandings about the space?

There is a resurgence in spoken word audio consumption through the growing popularity of podcasts and smart speakers. Edison Research’s Infinite Dial 2018 research showed that 18% Americans now own a voice-activated smart speaker. This provides a new avenue for publishers to distribute content and creates an incredible opportunity for brands to reach these audiences in a much more intimate environment.  Podcasts have seen huge growth as well – people are spending twice as much time with podcasts each day than they were four years ago. When you listen to audio content, the listener is focused on the messaging in a way that is hard to reproduce in other mediums.

EricaOsher_NPM new cropCreating content for brands in these intimate environments requires finesse and restraint. It’s essential that the audio is designed to fit with the surrounding content, that the storytelling is focused and crafted specifically for an audio-only environment, and that the voices are authentic and natural.

What doesn’t work, and this is a common misconception, is to repurpose existing video content for audio-first platforms. It’s important to ensure that any audio from a video is produced to the same standards; doesn’t refer to or rely on visual cues; and has a more narrow, focused narrative that can be followed in an audio-only setting.

What surprised or challenged you the most in building out the NPM Creative program?

Launching NPM Creative has been a real learning experience! Not only have we had to learn about about the legal implications of producing content for brands, but we are constantly iterating to improve our process and our products. Each brand has their own unique requirements and workflow, so our production process has to be flexible enough to accommodate. A major change to our process has been to invest much more heavily in pre-production creative collaboration and legal review. That extra effort up front, before recording, has made a huge difference in creating a product that meets the client’s objectives and delivers an engaging listener experience.

What metrics best speak to advertiser campaign goals? Are there other metrics you think should be more relevant?

We use data to evaluate the performance of our custom audio content before, during and after the campaign. With the market research service Veritonic, we conduct audio engagement tests against relevant audiences and demographics before launch to determine the emotional resonance of the creative and pre/post message impact. During the campaign, we constantly analyze performance data to optimize the creative and to improve our engagement metrics at every stage of the user flow. It’s more than just impressions, but instead looking at every opportunity for listener interactions throughout the experience. Following the campaign, we work with our in-house research team to measure the lift in brand recognition and affinity from the audience that has been exposed to the custom creative we produce.