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”