Podcast advertising is hard. On all sides of the equation if I'm honest. It's hard to efficiently buy. It's hard to efficiently place. And it's hard for the ad buyers to integrate the ads they buy on podcasts with the rest of their cross-channel ad buys.
Yes, I do recognize that a billion dollars or so is already being spent on podcast advertising just in the U.S. alone. So clearly those hurdles aren't insurmountable. But still, the process could be made better. Especially for brand advertisers who've invested quite a lot to build up their brand equity—brand equity that they can't often leverage in podcast ads.
One company, Vocalize Inc., is trying to change that. Vocalize Inc. is the Branded Benefit Sponsor this month, and I recently sat down with CEO CJ Silva and asked him what Vocalize is doing to make podcasting better:
CJ Silva: There is an inherent flaw in podcast advertising as it stands right now. The call to action, the way that listeners connect to brands and the talent on the podcast is hard to remember. It's usually a URL. It's a string of letters— .com, .org—followed by, typically, an offer code, something that people forget right away after they hear it, right? They want to get back to listening to the content. The ads aren't foremost on their mind. What's important to them is really the podcast. The content.
What Vocalize does is makes it easy for people to remember how to connect with the brands or the talent. We allow the brand or the talent to create a unique phrase, and when that phrase is spoken into Siri or Google Assistant, it will take that listener directly to the website that the brand or the talent wants them to go to.
So, for example, let's use Nike. Nike has a world-famous motto in "Just do it." Instead of providing the listener a call to action of "go to www.nike.com/podcastshowname", they can just simply Vocalize "Just do it." The listener can then just say to Siri, "Hey, Siri, Vocalize...", Siri will ask for a phrase, and all they have to do is say, "Just do it." Safari's going to open automatically to the website that Nike wants them to land on. Even a different website based on the state where the user's located. They may have a different landing page they want for people in Florida because it's warm weather versus somebody who's still in the colder weather in Maine. Nike can use the same campaign yet deliver a user to a more targeted experience.
Additionally, you're getting the listener to speak something about your branding, which is really unique and it's something memorable. It's simple for people to remember.
Evo Terra: So it sounds like Vocalize is mostly an ad tech play. Do you agree with that summation?
CJ Silva: Absolutely. The origin of the company was really listening to a podcast, I heard an ad for a company called Boll & Branch. I'm not sure if you're familiar with them, a sheet company with great messaging where they say three former U.S. presidents sleep on their sheets
The ad I heard was something that resonated with me. But like most podcast listeners, I didn't remember the name of the company. I didn't remember the website they announced three times during the ad, using up valuable time in that ad read. And a few weeks later I was looking for sheets, believe it or not, and I was like, oh, you know what, there was that company I heard, couldn't remember the name, but I remembered they said presidents use their sheets.
So, I did what most listeners do; I opened up Google, typed "presidents" and "sheets"... and I got nothing. Nothing came back about Boll & Branch, which surprised me. I was like, I wonder how much they spent on that ad in order for me to see every other competitor that they have out there when I searched for their product. I know the minimum ad spend on that podcast was about $10,000. What a waste! They just spent ten grand to send me to see every other competitor except for their product.
That's when I thought how much cooler it would have been if they just told me to grab my phone and say, "Sleep like a president" into Siri.
I would have remembered that. I would have remembered that two weeks later, but I wouldn't remember the name of their website, the name of the company, and especially not the offer code.
Evo Terra: Does this work out of the box? Does a brand need to do anything other than register their Vocalize phrase with you? And it just works?
CJ Silva: That's all they have to do. We have a marketplace on the backend. It's similar to registering a domain name. In this case, you would register your phrase and then set the destination URL, and that's it.
Today, the end-user needs to have either our app or an app that has our SDK installed. We're actively looking for SDK partners such as podcast players that are looking to provide a better experience for their listeners, something different from all the other podcast players that are out there.
Evo Terra: It sounds to me like you're really looking at this more as a play for brand advertisers than direct response advertisers.
CJ Silva: Correct. But there is some benefit to direct response delivered in the campaign to don't have to be searchable, published webpages. They can be deep links. Assets that are not searchable. Now you have the exclusivity factor: the only way that somebody can access this content is to speak this phrase.
There's no way they could go to Google and search for it or find it. It's not going to be something memorable for somebody other than copying and pasting it, sending it via email.
In essence, we've created "speakeasies" on the internet! Now somebody can say this unique phrase and get into somewhere unique to get that exclusive content. Content that there would be no other way for them to get.
Evo Terra: It's like click-based advertising where you can put a click for a deep link, but we've tried that in podcasting, it just simply doesn't work for a lot of reasons. But one thing we can universally do is say something aloud.
Evo Terra: When you think of the other options for brands that are trying to place ads and track the efficacy of their ads and get their name out there; what is it you think that Vocalize offers that's better than the existing standards today?
CJ Silva: A lot of the tracking that's being done in podcasting is based on IP addresses. We know that an episode with an ad was delivered to this IP address or this household or this area. And then we look to see conversions based on that within a certain amount of time.
With Vocalize, now we can see a direct correlation. We can see how many times those phrases were actually said. We know when those phrases were spoken, where they were spoken, and where they're coming from. Our attribution is much higher and more accurate.
With the implementation of the tracking pixel, we can get really granular so now we know exactly the conversion where it came from, from the point at which the user spoke that phrase all the way to the desired effect for that ad.
The hurdle we face is education. Changing consumer behavior. We've all accepted URLs as the way the internet works. And honestly, they suck. I mean, guys like me invented it years ago and it just became the norm. And they created domain names, which are our pseudo-language because IP addresses were way too cumbersome. I mean, there's a reason Google is a multi-billion dollar company, right? Because it's not easy to remove URLs.
But we all remember jingles from when we were little kids like DOUBLEMINT Gum. We all sing them, honestly, they stick in our brains.
Vocalize uses that same capability within humans, giving them something that's easy to remember. Something that they'll be able to recall—and use—at any time.
Evo Terra: What's next for Vocalize?
CJ Silva: We're in talks with some major companies to deploy our SDK. Efforts that would Vocalize-enable upwards of thirty million daily active users instantly just by them adding our SDK into their app. Apps a lot of people have installed already.
We're also building out our development teams so we can fully execute some of the roadmap I mentioned with the tracking pixels. But we're looking to also expand our exhaust data capabilities. Being able to find out how many people said certain phrases at certain times, and then potentially export those data in a much more unique way. Right now we can do it in a .csv file, but we want to make that a little bit more user-friendly as well.
We know we're not going to get fifty million people to download our Vocalize app, right? That's why we're focused on our SDK partners. And we're making really good progress there. We're really excited about what's upcoming in the next few months.
Evo Terra: If podcasters are interested in this, what should they do right now?
They reach out to me. You can purchase your phrase on Vocalizemysite.com. If you have the app, you can just Vocalize "best website ever," if you want to get right to our site. Or you can email me, you can just email cj@Vocalizemysite.com.
Special thanks to CJ for coming on the show to explain how Vocalize is making podcasting better.
This conversation sparked a few ideas for me. Like, how do we make our podcasts more attractive to brand-based advertisers? What does a world where voice assistants are much more universal look like for podcasters? And what can we podcasters do to make our own content more memorable?
Those are topics I'll be exploring the rest of this week. But for now, I shall be back directly with yet another Podcast Pontifications.