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Brands have long valued audio for intimate connections with consumers, but it takes top-notch creative to activate engagement. To help sponsors achieve those goals, NPM Creative, NPR's in-house creative and product development unit, serves as a brand's guide. From planning rooted in research and data to award-winning campaigns, these are not your typical 60-second spots.
NPM Creative designs campaigns with audio, visual and voice elements tailored to a brand's objectives. For instance, one marquee product called Brand Soundscapes are short-form narrative stories that feature a company's own employees and customers discussing their experiences and brand values. NPM Creative's newest offering, Product Inspiration Mid-rolls, bring the power of storytelling to a brand's products or services in the effective format of :30 and :60 podcast midrolls. Other innovative products include pre-roll and mid-roll spots, interactive voice experiences and custom digital audio channels.
Across that wide menu, storytelling is a unifying feature – and one that sets NPM and NPR apart, explained Erica Osher,VP, NPR Sponsorship Products & NPM Creative at National Public Media.
"We are looking to help brands tell the story behind a product or a feature - how it came to be, how it evolved, what is its origin story?" Osher said. "We hope that these will be informative to listeners and will leave them with knowledge about the brand or the product that they would not normally hear in a standard audio ad."
At a time when consumers want to know what brands represent and how they serve their communities, honest messaging is essential. Brands are in uncharted territory, so measurement and data offer essential guidance and feedback. With their expertise in research and product development, NPM Creative brings a holistic approach with unparalleled support.
The team accomplishes this and more so well that NPM Creative has been recognized by Digiday as a finalist for best in-house creative agency, the second time they've received the honor. Osher said her team's signature is expertise in audio and visual, and the ability to apply NPR's signature brand of storytelling to marketing.
NPM's spots are not ads for products, but a window into companies, she added. A series of Brand Soundscapes for Chipotle, for instance, features farmers that supply pork and dairy for the chain telling their stories. They discuss the struggles of family farming and how Chipotle supports them. Audio creative features the farmer's voices, while accompanying audiogram videos complement the audio.
Similarly, Product Inspiration Mid-rolls, are shorter narrative pieces designed to be tucked into an NPR show. They're voiced by some of NPR's biggest names, including How I Built This star Guy Raz and Ted Radio Hour's new host Manoush Zomorodi. "When crafting the scripts for Product Inspiration Mid-rolls, we keep the host's voice and style in mind so that the read sounds natural and fits the aesthetic and tone of the show."
When working with a client, Osher said her team collaborates with brand marketers and their agency partners to understand their goals. From there, NPM Creative suggests audio and visual to best support those objectives. Pre-roll and mid-roll creative can be produced quickly and deliver scale to discuss a product or service. To tell a deeper story, Product Inspiration Mid-rolls and Brand Soundscapes require more planning and production, but deliver intimate, engaging and personalized brand experiences. The common thread among these options is the focus is a story, rather than a sales pitch.
"Most recently, on our Brand Soundscape campaign with NPM, we leveraged the voices of our in-house experts to co-create stories to help educate listeners on complex topics of design, fraud and identity theft," said Sukhi Sahni, Sr. Director of Consumer Card PR at Capital One, a recent NPR sponsor. "NPR offers a great platform to tell these stories of impact while creating a deep connection with the listeners."
As NPM expands its creative menu, they rely on research and testing. Osher said analysts closely track engagement and detailed user testing, and even the smallest changes can elicit a swing in responses. "The placement or shape of a button can have a significant impact on performance," she noted. "After we release any changes, we continue to closely track the engagement and consider opportunities for future improvements."
Data indicates the work is resonating. For instance, NPM research conducted with Veritonic said 73 percent of listeners prefer sponsorship creative when it features a customer or an employee. That personal connection is key, Osher said. Users also reacted more favorably to visuals of subjects featured in the spots, such as company employees, over stock photos or pictures of products.
Similarly, audio that showcases the voice of customers or staff members drives higher engagement and purchase intent than anonymous hosts. Last year, NPM recorded a 250 percent increase in interaction with Brand Soundscapes overall.
"We also continually find spikes in trustworthiness when brands include statistics or specifics about the work they are doing or offer proof points and guarantees to back up offers," Osher said.
As technology advances, NPM Creative is staying nimble. For instance, smart devices with screens, such as Amazon's Echo Spot and Google Nest Hub, grow in popularity. In spring 2020, 37 percent of smart speaker owners have a device with a screen and one-third said they plan to buy a screen-equipped device in the next six months, according to NPR and Edison Research's latest Smart Audio report.
In response, NPM is adding more visuals and video to support sponsors' messaging. NPM collaborates with NPR to include visuals in spots that run during programs like NPR's Visual Newscast, which recently won a People's Voice Webby Award for News in the Apps, Mobile and Voice category. NPM is also experimenting with ad-serving technology to deliver the most relevant sponsorship to these devices.
Those capabilities have elevated NPM Creative to the upper echelon of brand marketing and advertising. Said Osher: "Our team has come together to constantly improve our process to provide excellent customer service and to improve our products so that we can achieve the highest level of performance for our brand partners."
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