Music to the ear? Podcasts, streaming radio create new opportunities for pharma, experts say

Audio is seeing a resurgence as a media platform, and for pharma marketers, the growth in media such as streaming radio and podcasts presents new opportunities to build trust and relationships with patient and consumer audiences, experts say.

Personalized content and one-to-one connections with hosts, for example, can help boost the credibility of pharma advertisers and sponsors with listeners.

“Audio has come roaring back into how we consume content. When you think about your own personal lives, and your Alexa or your HomePod or your mobile devices, a lot of the content you probably used to consume in other formats, you now get through audio,” Conal Byrne, president of iHeartMedia, said at the recent Publicis Health Media (PHM) HealthFront. “This is a perfect medium to enter into a trusted environment where people are looking for answers and give them long-form answers.”

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IHeart made its case for podcast and broadcast radio use by health and pharma marketers at the PHM event, and while it has a vested interest—audio ads and sponsorships help pay the bills—they also put up some positive engagement stats.

Nine out of 10 Americans listen to broadcast radio, said Gayle Troberman, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at iHeartMedia. That offers marketers broad reach in a way that few other media can deliver, she said.

“It reaches them live and in context, and the reason people tune is for the relationship they have with Elvis Duran, with Ryan Seacrest or Charlamagne and the Breakfast Club,” Troberman said. “… Especially in healthcare, marketers are drastically underinvested in audio.”

When it comes to podcasting, iHeart laid out similar numbers; Byrne said they have many shows where nine out of 10 listeners subscribe to the show. Completion rates of 85%, meaning more than eight people who start a podcast will finish listening to it, are not uncommon.

Some pharma companies even have their own podcasts. Roche's Genentech recently finished the third season of its “Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar” podcast, which features science and research interviews and explainers. Pfizer’s “Get Science” podcast focuses on science careers, while Eli Lilly’s “Elixir Factor” podcast centers on research and development.

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The growing anecdotal popularity in pharma tracks generally with the growth of audio advertising, according to a recent eMarketer assessment of ad revenue estimates from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PwC. Marketers spent $479 million on podcast ads in 2018, an increase of 34% over 2017. Total podcast ad revenue is set to top $1 billion by 2021.

“Performance marketers and brands are recognizing the value in reaching consumers who aren’t just tuning in to tune out—they’re tuning in to actively be entertained or engage their minds. And that’s a mindset advertisers increasingly want to be a part of," Lauren Fisher, principal analyst at eMarketer, said in a recent report.

Streaming radio is another audio platform pharma marketers have invested in. Incyte, for example, recently chose Pandora for a new awareness campaign for polycythemia vera, citing its effectiveness in the past. Pandora uses personalization driven by data to offer its pharma clients, which have included Allergan, Eli Lilly and Teva, precise audiences.

“Pandora is one of the few streaming sites where users don’t pay and so it gives us an opportunity to place commercials, and in the past, it has performed very well for us so that’s why we continue to use it,” John Krukiel, head of Incyte product strategy, said.