"Podcasting is an exploding market and audio storytellers are the next wave of influencers, but the ads are too hard to buy." - Anna Ratala, CEO & Co-Founder of Zvook.co.
As traditional influencer marketing platforms (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) get increasingly over-saturated with influencer-type content, it's effortless for consumers to swipe right past ads. And so, companies have started to look for new avenues to reach their customers. And that's where podcasting comes in.
But many digital marketers are used to a centralized platform to buy ads with a few clicks. Podcast advertising is lacking in this area, creating a barricade for more digital marketers to transfer a part of their influencer budget into podcasting.
Anna Ratala, Co-Founder and CEO of Zvook.co joins me on the podcast to discuss how she is trying to remove the ad-buying barrier and bring more ad spend into podcasting.
We discuss how the goal is to add podcast advertising into a marketing mix to support and complement what marketers are already doing. We also talk about the struggle of how to attribute conversions to podcast ads, and what you can do to measure its success.
If you want to learn more about Zvook.co, visit the website - https://zvook.co/
You can connect with Anna on LinkedIn.
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[00:00:15] Heather Osgood: Hello, and welcome to the podcast advertising playbook. I'm your host, Heather Osgood. And today on the show, I have Anna Ratala, the Co-founder and CEO of Zvook. She's been in this space for a couple of years, and I think what is fascinating to me is anything that has to do with ad tech. And I know that that is the primary mission over at Zvook, Anna, welcome to the program.
[00:00:39] Anna Ratala: Thank you, Heather. Great to be here.
[00:00:42] Heather Osgood: So now I wanted to just start by talking about how you ended up in the podcast space. Out of all the directions you could have gone, what landed you here?
[00:00:51] Anna Ratala: Yeah, absolutely. I'm actually a global citizen now, obviously based in New York, but I'm originally from Finland. I started my career in Europe and then shifted to Asia for almost a decade doing sales and marketing. And now I'm here in New York, and really I've been a storyteller my whole life.
[00:01:09] Anna Ratala: So even before I went to business school, I was contemplating becoming a journalist because I was writing for many local newspapers. I was Editor In chief of my student magazine and kept journalism as a side-hustle. Then I started blogging and getting into social media.
[00:01:25] Anna Ratala: I'm fascinated by how people and companies share compelling stories. It's a fantastic avenue to connect with your audience, be it your readers, customers, or employees. I have seen companies shift in recent years and understand that they can no longer hard sell their customers, right?
[00:01:56] Anna Ratala: Especially if you're targeting millennials and the younger generations. We can not be hard sold. You do not come and tell us to buy your running shoes, which is why Nike doesn't really sell shoes. They sell a dream. They sell a community. And so, it's become increasingly crucial for brands to share their story and values with their audience authentically.
This is why influencer marketing has become such a significant avenue for companies. In the US, I think it's a $15 billion industry right now, just influencer marketing, right?
[00:02:29] Anna Ratala: But the traditional influencer marketing platforms (Facebook and Instagram) are getting increasingly crowded. It's you and your 50 competitors all there. And, it's becoming oversaturated with that content. So it's effortless to swipe. And so, companies have started to look for new avenues to reach their customers.
[00:02:49] Anna Ratala: Now, obviously, podcasting is such an exploding market, and audio storytellers really are the next wave of influencers.
I've always listened to podcasts; I'm a big fan. My Friends and I, from the startup world, wanted to start a podcast. And I thought, "Surely we can get some brands to come on board and collaborate with us." And I went online looking for a tool that would help me quickly find sponsorship opportunities. And I was shocked not to find a tool like that. There were a lot of agencies. There were networks, there were websites, but nothing was instant.
[00:03:23] Anna Ratala: Nothing was transparent, and tell me, "Hey, with a click of a button, I'll be able to find an advertiser." And I was like this must be then the case for the advertisers as well. So, where would somebody start if they want to come into this new engaging medium? They have to start by Googling and then going into places, writing emails, and waiting for somebody to get back to them within 48 hours.
[00:03:44] Anna Ratala: We're living in the 2020s, and we need to modernize things. And that's really how we started building Zvook. It is a platform that matches brands with podcasts for scaling host-read ads with just a few clicks of a button.
[00:04:01] Heather Osgood: That's amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. I love that you bring in the storytelling aspect and how important that is and how pivotal, in my opinion, it is to the success of podcast advertising because it is this, this level of engagement. I always talk about engagement so much around podcasting because I believe the engagement level is so much higher than other platforms.
[00:04:27] Heather Osgood: The other exciting part is the influencer piece. I always talk about the value of influencer marketing. And when you have this engaging story and this engaging audience, you have this potential influencer. All of the pieces really line up. But I wish there was an easier way to buy podcast advertising, especially when we talk about those host-read ads. Talk to us more about the approach you're taking to try and make this media more scalable.
[00:05:25] Anna Ratala: Absolutely, that's the core problem we are addressing because it is tough for brands to contact individual podcasts. You can go to a network. However, they only have so many podcasts that they represent. There are millions of podcasts out there, so we want to make it simple for brands to buy one or hundreds of podcasts with a couple of clicks. At the end of the day, the brands don't really know how podcast advertising works.
[00:05:57] Anna Ratala: For most of them, it's a very new thing. So we can't expect them to know how to do all the work, how to connect, how to use the same lingo, right? This is why the platform that we've built actually automates everything.
So what happens is a brand goes to the platform and sets the budget. We don't have any budget minimum, so if you want to spend $500, we feel like you should spend that. So a content creator should be able to earn $500 if a brand wants to pay that. Or if you have $500,000, it's the same thing. The brand then sets criteria, and the platform recommends you on many podcasts that match the parameters.
[00:06:32] Anna Ratala: You can drag and drop, mix and match podcasts. Everything is recommended; the number of episodes, the number of ads, whether pre-roll or mid-roll. Everything's customized for you. So if you are unsure, but you're just saying, "Hey, these podcasts are a great batch." Then you just click purchase, and that's it. You're done.
[00:06:52] Anna Ratala: These recommendations actually are a mix of indie podcasts as well as a network. So we work with all major networks in the US, including True Native Media.
[00:07:15] Anna Ratala: Zvook advocates for making long-tail podcasts more discoverable by the brands. Because everybody knows about Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan and Guy Raz and so on. And they're great. But there are tons of smaller podcasts with a very engaged audience. And suppose you have a thousand people listening to your show. In that case, those thousand listeners are not less valuable than Joe Rogan's millions of listeners.
[00:07:41] Anna Ratala: They are also potential consumers. They buy products, they engage with their host. For a brand, it's just very tedious to work with a hundred of them. So, through our platform, we consolidate everything. One of our clients, Panasonic, gives us a budget, and we say, "Hey, here's a show with 50,000 listeners. And here's a show with 900 listeners. They're all in the same package; all you have to do is click confirm. And you don't have to deal with going back and forth with all these smaller or bigger podcasts. And so we make work for the brand a lot easier.
[00:08:18] Anna Ratala: Zvook makes it really easy for the shows that don't belong to an extensive network or have a smaller following to be on the radar of some of the biggest brands in this country.
[00:08:28] Heather Osgood: That's amazing. One of the issues I have run into with host-read endorsement ads is sending product samples to many shows. At Zvook, how do you deal with product samples? Does each host receive a product sample and do an endorsement ad? Does sending multiple samples affect the advertiser?
[00:09:08] Anna Ratala: Yeah, that's a great question. We always encouraged them to send samples. At the end of the day, it is up to the advertiser. So there is better engagement and ROI if they send samples. So from the advertiser's perspective, they really look at the average ROI across the board. It doesn't cost them as much as it costs the consumer, so they're generally happy to do that.
[00:09:39] Anna Ratala: They already have most likely do that if they work with other influencers. So that's not really a problem. And also, I think the benefit of having a bundle of, let's say, 50 or 20 podcasts is that you can even out; you don't know exactly which one of them will perform the best.
[00:09:56] Anna Ratala: You know, We make the recommendations based on the content, which is something we [00:10:00] can also talk about later. But, but really we don't know, right? I mean, nobody really knows. So when you actually create a recommendation with 20 podcasts, then yes. Some over-perform, some might underperform, some perform just according to you, you know, your expectations.
[00:10:12] Anna Ratala: And so you average it out. And we've even had clients that come on board and say, Hey, we keep advertising in the same show is because we don't want our competitors to get in. So maybe some of the shows don't actually even have the most significant ROI, but it's decent. And we make sure that we don't give our spot out to anybody else, which is an exciting strategy.
[00:10:30] Heather Osgood: Yeah. What other strategies do you recommend to your clients to create really winning campaigns and podcast ads?
[00:10:40] Anna Ratala: We always advise our clients that podcast advertising is part of your marketing mix. Usually, they would have podcasts as a supporting medium to everything else they're doing. And I think about creating the actual campaign, obviously choosing the podcasts that are a great match content-wise, which is something that our platform helps to do, right. That's one. The second component is the actual ad copy. We always recommend having bullet points. Send a sample, send bullet points, and then let the host talk. The third and essential one is tracking. How do you measure that a campaign has been successful?
[00:11:31] Anna Ratala: Measuring podcast advertising can be tricky. We guarantee minimum impressions through our platform, but they also track the website traffic.
[00:11:47] Anna Ratala: Because that's the first point, it doesn't even matter what it comes directly through the URL or from Googling. But from your website onwards, it's the brand's responsibility to make sure the website converts the visitors into customers.
[00:12:02] Anna Ratala: Other ways to really look at it, besides the obvious, if you have a promo code, you can obviously track the number of promo codes. But what some of our other clients have done, for example, if you are running Facebook ads, oftentimes you might see a spike in your Facebook ads click-through rate because there'll be retargeted right.
[00:12:21] Anna Ratala: You've listened to a podcast and possibly heard of the advertised brand. You don't go to the vanity URL. But then when you see it on a Facebook ad, you're like, " Oh hey, I heard about these guys from podcasts." Then they click on it becuase it's easier to click on a Facebook ad.
[00:12:35] Anna Ratala: It's essential to see a holistic view of when you're running a podcast ad campaign. It's not just the promo code and the direct vanity URL visits. But there are other ways to track the effectiveness. Lastly, I would say that there are clients that actually track organic Google searches. So if everything else remains the same, you run a podcast ad campaign, and people search your company name more on Google. That means that they've heard about you. They want to look for you. They may not remember your URL, but they may want to come to your site.
[00:13:06] Heather Osgood: I agree wholeheartedly with everything. Any advertising you do is siloed. It's not all by itself. It's part of your entire media mix. It often seems that brands or advertisers see a new potential for advertising. They're like, "Oh, we're going to try podcasts, but we're not really going to incorporate it into our overall plan."
[00:13:37] Heather Osgood: We're just going to try it and see if it works. And it's important if you're coming up with a Q2 strategy to think about the different elements and how podcasts play a part. How did the other mediums interact with one another, and what will ultimately produce results?
[00:13:56] Heather Osgood: When you have large companies like Panasonic, for instance, just looking at like overall web traffic when they're doing so many different types of advertising, how do you point that back to podcasting for a brand or company that is doing so much advertising or so much just outreach in general?
[00:14:20] Anna Ratala: For companies like Panasonic, their goal was brand awareness. They do so many other things the goal is to always be on the air, in the ears of their potential customers. Unfortunately, the amount of data that companies have to look at has spoiled it for many advertisers because they need to track it right away. And if it doesn't give an immediate result in the next 24 hours, they're not going to continue. Like, where's the patience, though? You can't build a brand in a day and turn it around and say, "Oh, everybody's supposed to go and buy something." I may like your brand, but I'm not going to buy right away just because you ran an ad. So I need to get a little bit more. I need to see a little bit more of you. If you want to try out podcast advertising, try it out, but do not try it for two weeks.
[00:15:28] Anna Ratala: Try it out for 12 months, and really configure that good combination of the types of podcasts that work for you. Run one campaign. See what resonates and take the podcasts that performed, invest more in them, find more of the similar ones, and do a slightly longer campaign.
[00:15:48] Anna Ratala: You would do this with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google ads, but we're so used to that. And we're saying, "Yeah, of course, Facebook takes six months to show results, but in podcasts, I want it tomorrow."
[00:16:05] Heather Osgood: I think that it's so important to put the right pieces in place. Recently, we advised an advertiser, who is brand new to this space, to select at least five podcasts to advertise on. Also, to give it at least three months. A month into the campaign, where they picked one podcast to advertise on, they're like, "It's not working." Go figure, you didn't listen to any of our recommendations. You have to give it time, and you need a variety of shows because not every podcast will work for every advertiser out there. If you can get a nice mix and see where you resonate, you can produce good results because it gives you enough information. It gives you enough of a testing plan to go to the next step instead of, "I tried it, and it didn't work." Is that what you see as well?
[00:17:09] Anna Ratala: Absolutely. That's what we see. Our goal is that when we start learning more about the kinds of podcasts that work for certain types of advertisers, we can also apply that intelligence back into our recommendations, which is a benefit for using a tech-enabled platform.
[00:17:27] Anna Ratala: It's not just somebody coming up with oh, I think this could be good for you, but it's all fed back into the slope and our back end. And so we're hoping that our recommendations also become better. When we learn a bit of what works for certain types of brands.
[00:17:41] Heather Osgood: Yeah, absolutely. So I know that about 30% of the US population are audio listeners; indeed, that falls into podcast listening. But only about 9% of ad dollars are spent in the audio space. There is such a big spending gap there. And I know we talk about it as an industry. What is your perception about why there is a gap like that and how we might be able to fix that?
[00:18:10] Anna Ratala: Yeah, absolutely. I think that there are two main reasons. Number one is education. Do brands and marketers understand enough about podcast advertising? Podcasts have obviously been around for quite some time, but these opportunities within audio are relatively new. And so if you haven't done that before, it's like this new channel that you're like, oh, I don't really know how to get into it.
[00:18:33] Anna Ratala: You're a little bit hesitant. You don't know how much money you should spend and who you should turn to. Again, even if you go and ask a company right now, where do you start if you want to start podcast advertising? The answer is, I don't know. There's not enough education and information, I think. So that's number one.
[00:18:50] Anna Ratala: And number two, there aren't efficient tools to do that. You need to start emailing people, saying, "Hi, this is so-and-so, and we're from this company. We would love to explore podcast advertising, and somebody sets a call in two days, and then it's Friday. And by the time you get a proposal, it's next week Wednesday. Then all of a sudden, it's like a week has gone, and in today's world, you need instant results and action points.
[00:19:20] Anna Ratala: I think those two things, education and the lack of efficient tools lowering that barrier to try. And that's why we always say you don't have to spend $50,000 to try podcast advertising. You can try it with a thousand dollars. Of course, you need to understand that if you don't put in the effort, you can't expect a lot. But if you really are hesitant and want to see how that works, you can absolutely do that.
[00:19:43] Heather Osgood: Yeah, absolutely. Now I started my career in radio advertising, so I sold radio advertising for years. Then I moved to a newspaper, and I sold a daily newspaper for several years. And I was shocked at the differences of how advertisers related to the different products.
[00:20:03] Heather Osgood: So when I was in radio, there was always a sense of did it work? "We're not sure if it worked like, yeah, maybe we'll do it again, but we didn't see any tangible results." When I moved to newspaper advertising, the people I sold the advertising to got angry if you didn't call them to get their ad placed. If it's not in the Sunday paper, their sales will be horrible that coming week.
[00:20:32] Heather Osgood: The big difference that I saw was when I sold print advertising, customers would literally walk in the store with the newspapers clipping in their hands. And they would say like, I had a furniture story dealt with, they would say, I want to buy this sofa. How can I buy this sofa? So even if just one person came into the store with that tangible piece of paper in their hands, it was effortless for the store owner to say, this is [00:21:00] working right. I know people are actually coming into my store because I see that they're coming in. I can see the ad; I can feel and touch the ad.
[00:21:07] Heather Osgood: Whereas with audio, it's elusive, right? Maybe you happen to pick up the radio ad if you happen to be listening to the station at the right moment. But with radio advertising, you didn't know when your ad would play. In general, the advertiser might not know when they could listen to hear the ad.
[00:21:28] Heather Osgood: So it just wasn't as tangible. The speed of purchasing, especially in podcasting, is exceptionally slow. There is always this kind of elusiveness to it. There isn't the ability to click through. You can't see that direct traffic like you could with so many other forms of digital marketing.
[00:21:56] Heather Osgood: And because of that, audio advertising is not given the credit that it is actually due. In many ways, audio can be so much more impactful than something you see because you're creating a more powerful mental image of the product. You have a mental picture, retargeted with a social ad, and predisposed to want to purchase the product. Unfortunately, the social media ads get the credit for the campaign. In many ways, the podcasts campaign was just as powerful, if not more powerful in some ways. Do you think those types of things also explain why there is such a big gap?
[00:22:50] Anna Ratala: Absolutely. I think you make such great points. I think podcast advertising is somehow like the underdog of the advertising industry. We know through surveys and results that it is efficient. But to your point, it's not as visible.
[00:23:06] Anna Ratala: It's not tangible enough. Companies are creating tools where you can look at attribution and things like that. They just need a little more time to be built to the point where people can trust them because there are discrepancies between different numbers. So if you go online right now, there are very, there, there are a lot of podcasts that you will never even know how much their listenership is. And who will potentially hear it? The transparency gap is there as well. And so I absolutely agree with you. And that's definitely one of the challenges of this medium.
[00:23:45] Anna Ratala: As the players in the audio space, we really need to figure out how to fix this because otherwise, the other end of the spectrum is that it is being dominated by one major player. And there are definitely attempts to do that by these players.
[00:24:02] Anna Ratala: And they'll be able to attribute everything if 90% of the listenership happens on one platform. No problem. You can attribute anything, but then that causes a whole set of other challenges, as we've seen with the big platforms taking over and eliminating the competition.
[00:24:18] Heather Osgood: The open-source nature of podcasting is so valuable. I really hope that as an industry, we can preserve that. I'm happy that more prominent companies are coming into the space. They have technology opportunities and bigger teams. They are well-funded, so they can create advancements in this space that maybe we don't have.
But I hope that we aren't just dominated by one.
[00:25:24] Heather Osgood: The problem you are trying to solve is how do we monetize that through advertising? And how does an advertiser quickly access different shows?
Podcasts are beneficial for brands that have been "banned" from other platforms. I know on social media, there are specific categories you just can't advertise. But with podcasts, there aren't the same limitations. That's not to say, of course, we all have to follow the law. We're not breaking any rules, but there are certain products like CBD, which does a lot of podcast advertising. So I'm pretty sure you can't advertise any CBD products on social media.
[00:26:23] Anna Ratala: Absolutely. That's such a good point. I think this is really the most significant opportunity that podcasting has to serve huge billion-dollar industries waiting for a chance to reach their customers more easily.
[00:26:38] Anna Ratala: CBD, sexual wellness companies, and alcohol-related industries traditionally deemed adults industries can't advertise.
[00:27:14] Anna Ratala: Many podcasts love to work with companies like that. And they may have content that's like directly related to these types of products. So it's a huge opportunity for podcasts to dominate the advertising space of such industries. They are very eager to work with influencers and have huge budgets.
[00:28:04] Heather Osgood: I totally agree. And I love that you brought that up. Cause I don't feel like I hear it talked about very often, it is pretty frustrating. I definitely have worked with companies in the past where it's oh wait, you can't advertise anywhere?
[00:28:17] Heather Osgood: In the podcast space, there is contextual alignment because some podcasts deal with more "taboo" subjects that have listeners who are excited to hear those topics. So I think that there is a lot of opportunities.
[00:28:56] Heather Osgood: What are some of your predictions about podcast advertising in the next year or so?
[00:29:11] Anna Ratala: If we're building an ecosystem and growing the pie on the advertiser side. We can triple the available predictions by getting more companies to invest in podcast advertising and allowing more podcasts to be available for these monetization opportunities. So again, I think we go back to the education and the tools available.
[00:30:07] Anna Ratala: If we look at the last five years, Social Audio is obviously a massive emerging trend. And, we've all seen kind of the rise and, not fall, but rise and calming down of Clubhouse. And in all these other apps, I see that there will be a social audio sort of social media for audio.
[00:30:27] Anna Ratala: And again, that provides another set of exciting opportunities for companies for the content creators. So I'm really excited about this space. And I also think when you mentioned the big players and that it is good, they're coming to the market. I agree from the perspective that I believe, thanks to Spotify, everybody now knows so much about podcasting. They understand that this is a hot industry, and everybody wants to get in it. Like they have really, and, done an excellent job in advertising podcasts to the rest of the world. And so now the rest of us can pick it up and say, "Hey, here's where they're dropping the ball?"
[00:31:01] Anna Ratala: So we're going to pick up this, and we're going to enable something that they don't. So I think it's just the general fascinating kind of space.
[00:31:08] Heather Osgood: Yeah, absolutely. So if someone wanted to get into the podcast advertising space, let's say there's a brand or an advertiser out there who needs to get into podcast advertising, and they're not sure where to start?
[00:31:31] Anna Ratala: So, first of all, you want to have a little bit of a budget to play around with your budget, how much you'd like to put in, what is it that you're looking to do?
[00:31:39] Anna Ratala: Do you want to run a brand awareness campaign? Do you want to do a direct response campaign? And think about who your audience is, what kind of an audience are you trying to look for? And then I would say go in and try it out. I would not recommend being too careful in letting me go run one ad and one episode; that probably won't yield results. Some studies have shown that five to eight episodes or five to eight ads actually increase the brand recall by 30%. So we always recommend doing five to eight ads. And then go in and pick a couple of shows. Go to Zvook.co and sign up to view everything.
[00:32:16] Anna Ratala: It's free to sign up. You can look there. Or suppose you have any other preferred ways. If you already know a network, you can do that, but just go in and try out, and what I would really recommend is to don't see that, then look at that as one campaign that you're going to run.
[00:32:31] Anna Ratala: Think about it as, Hey, let me go into this. Let 2022 be when we get into podcast advertising and move on one campaign; let me see what I can learn and then run another one with those learnings and then run a third one with those learnings. But I do think that it's essential to get started, right?
[00:32:46] Anna Ratala: It is that feeling of hearing your ad live. Your product being talked about by a host is really incredible. And some of the ad rates obviously are just amazing. Most hosts are doing a great job, really trying to present the product or the service in a good light.
[00:33:10] Heather Osgood: Yeah, absolutely. Anna, thank you so much for being on the program today. If people want to find you, where can they connect?
[00:33:17] Anna Ratala: Absolutely. So I'm pretty active on social media. I'm on Instagram, @annaratala, as well as Twitter. And then you can find us on Instagram and zvook.co. Or then just go to our platforms, and start exploring the podcast universe.
[00:33:33] Heather Osgood: We can certainly put the link in our show notes. But Anna, thank you so much for being on today. And thank you for listening. If you are interested in learning more about podcast advertising, please make sure that you tune in to our episodes each week.
[00:33:48] Heather Osgood: We've got some fantastic guests coming up in the next few months, and you are always welcome to head on over to truenativemedia.com. Thanks so much, and we'll catch you next time.
Founder and CEO
I am a business leader and tech enthusiast, a bold entrepreneur not afraid of challenges but inspired by them.
I am currently building a venture-backed startup, Zvook.co. Zvook is the first intelligent platform matching brands with podcasts for scaling host-read ads - in a few clicks.
At Zvook, we believe you are what you listen to. Our AI-driven platform gathers audio intelligence on podcasts and matches brands with a highly engaged target audience based on the content they listen to. Our vision is to be the leading player in audio intelligence and monetization.
As the co-founder and CEO, I'm responsible for driving the business and the vision for our startup. Zvook is a portfolio company of the startup generator and early-stage VC Antler.
Previously, as the Founder and Head of Slush Singapore, a leading tech startup event and a global movement, I channeled my passion for startups into helping the next generation of entrepreneurs forward. In 2018, for the third year in a row, Slush Singapore gathered nearly 3,000 international attendees to an event built from the ground up with 200 volunteers and 80 community partners.
Also a big lover of travel, sports and meeting new people. My mantra? Get up. Smile. Chase dreams. Repeat.