What's your favourite podcast?

Exploring a new medium: a comprehensive report on podcasts produced by our partners Hook Research

What do you do when you are standing on a packed commuter train and you feel yourself about to burst into tears? 

I had this problem the other day on London Underground listening to a prisoner describe the death of his cellmate on Ear Hustle. This kind of emotional scramble exemplifies the power of the podcast – to build intimate, hilarious and often gut-wrenching connections over a headphone wire.

Podcasts have been around since the dawn of the internet but have gripped the public imagination in the past couple of years. Signify are proud to have been involved in the first major piece of research into what podcasts mean to UK audiences. Our partners Hook Research have produced a definitive study based on the Social Intelligence methodology, which combines a couple of rounds of AI-driven online research (conducted by Signify) with the depth and nuance of Face-to-Face research and Digital Panels.  

The results are extraordinary, detailing the characteristics of good pods, the needs and behaviours of fans, and the unique ways in which the medium builds trust and allows presenters and advertisers to connect with listeners.

This report was based on a combination of machine learning and qualitative research which we call ‘Social Intelligence’. Our role was to analyse over 1.5 million posts about the top UK podcasts. We clustered emotional and functional responses, creating a unique RAJAR-style content and listener profile for each show. Hook then validated and expanded this insight via expert interviews, face to face sessions and digital panels: this allowed them to understand the nuance of listener needs and behaviours and what exactly made certain content and advertising effective. The method (and the results) are a perfect showcase for the value of combining human empathy and raw computing power in modern research.

The report is short, beautifully formatted and well worth a read. What we found most exciting was the level of insight achieved by Hook. They’ve clearly mapped the behaviour and needs of an audience that requires privacy, convenience and the ability to binge. The characteristics of content within podcasting are also much more edgy and responsive, building an interactive and trusted relationship with fans. Podcasts give producers permission to be rough-and-ready and reactive or obsessively detailed.

And, of course, there’s advertising on pods. It’s actually very old school, with no personalisation or tracking (both major plus points for consumers!) and it can be skipped at will. But advertisers are discovering (and this research validates) that good podcast ads do not get skipped – instead they benefit by association with trusted presenters. The best ones interact with the podcast, either by allowing presenters to ad lib and share personal endorsements, or by getting involved in causes that a pod supports. Listeners report actually enjoying some adverts, as when the crooked Media presenters pull apart the scripts they are given. Consumers have also noticed razor blade and betting companies chiming in with brainless ads that don’t suit the content or the format.

The possibility of  being a trusted advertiser and the possibility of creating authentic and useful brand content are the most exciting elements of this podcasting report for marketers. (And the least exciting for everyone else!) In an age that is defined for consumers by blocking and fast forwarding, and for ad salesmen by peddling programmatic garbage, an ad spot that builds consumer trust is like gold dust.

We hope you enjoy the report. Learn more about Hook via their excellent blog. Scroll down for the team’s favourite podcasts. And give us a follow on Twitter.


Signify Team, favourite podcasts (as of June 2018)

Manvir: Peak Times, Ear Hustle
Jonathan S: GabFest, Distraction Pieces
Joe: Business Wars, Masters of Scale
Iggy: Joe Rogan
Ciaran: Trust Issues, Second Captains
Jonathan H: West Wing Weekly
Pete & Lisa “don’t listen to podcasts”

Signify featured on Radio 4 Today programme

This morning, our Chief Operating Officer Joe Harrod appeared on Radio 4's Today Programme talking to Business Editor Dominic O'Connell. We were asked onto the show to respond to Cambridge Analytica closing and filing for bankruptcy, and discuss the implications for other firms that specialise in data science.

As you would expect, we view this as a very positive moment for data science and a chance to talk about the value of respect and transparency.

Here's the audio clip:

Joe on Today.jpg

Five Rules of Ethical Data Science

At Signify, our core value is to tell the truth. A lot of people have asked us what being an ethical data science company actually means, so we thought we would share five rules we use to keep us honest.


  1. Be Transparent
    Be clear with clients about methods and sources, and the limitations of both.
  2. Respect Privacy
    Don't piece together data to remove anonymity*. 
  3. Promote the truth
    Focus on human truths and insight rather than fake news and sewing division.
  4. Don't distort results
    Tell the truth when presenting findings, whatever you find or cannot find.
  5. Be respectful
    This rule encapsulates all the points above, but it's especially important to be respectful of the people you are studying, and it's patently false to claim that you can control large sections of the population.


There's plenty more that Signify are doing to set up audits and provide transparency for our clients and partners, and we might blog some of it if it's interesting enough, but we just wanted to put the basics up online. Please let us know in the comments if you have questions about ethical use of data, or what we're doing, or why.

Oh, and if you want to work with a company that uses cutting edge techniques but is also committed to using our technology and our communication skills to build empathy, promote better communications and improve the lives of billions of people - please get in touch. We would love to talk to you about our work.



*there's always a caveat. We respect the privacy of individuals but will expose the identities of real people in two cases. Firstly, if they are a social media influencer or artist or journalist who relies on attribution to make a living. Secondly, when we have been asked to investigate criminal cases of online abuse, we will pass over the details of anyone committing a hate crime to the relevant authorities. Caveat ends.

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