SCA’s Nikki Clarkson’s success is down to being a good LiSTNR

LiSTNR's “Open Your Ears” won this year's ACRA Marketing Campaign of the Year. And while Thinkerbell, Pixel and Resolution Digital each played their part, it was CMO Nikki Clarkson - the near-on 15-year veteran at Southern Cross Austereo, who has been there every step of the way for the LiSTNR brand since it was created from scratch, in-house.

If you open your ears, you’ll learn the digital audio landscape is changing.

It’s no longer just about radio versus the likes of Spotify and podcasts – it’s now a combination of all these things and more, as consumers have become more demanding, time-poor, distracted, and hard to pin down.

Southern Cross Austereo’s (SCA) chief marketing officer Nikki Clarkson is not only acutely aware of the audio market shift, she’s been ahead of the waveform for some time now.

And even with her most recent accolade – the LiSTNR “Open Your Ears” campaign, which won this year’s ACRA Marketing Campaign of the Year, Clarkson remains humble and focused. “You don’t stop to think of that too often, you just forge ahead to the next project, and the next challenge,” she says.

SCA’s strategy changed forever in February 2021 with the launch of LiSTNR, setting a new course to deliver personalised audio at scale, from broadcast to digital entertainment.

Clarkson explains: “From a starting point of view, LiSTNR is owned and operated by SCA, so we have developed the platform in-house with our really amazing and dedicated technology ad product teams. And that’s really enabling us to control our own destiny.

“We’ve seen the success of LiSTNR has been one that has been business-wide and a lot of the testing and development was done under the guise of Podcast One as we were testing and learning with our podcast platform.

“Part of our digital transformation was really to capitalise on the explosion of audio in and of itself. We could see the growing appetite for and the growing consumer consumption of digital audio – and that did accelerate through COVID and has continued at pace over the past 12 months.”

The development of the FY23 LiSTNR strategy was informed by insights gleaned from a range of data sources from FY22, and personalisation at scale will be made possible by the onboarding of Salesforce across the business.

SCA partner, NumberEight identifies what listeners are doing when they are listening based on the accelerometer and other environmental factors determined by their smartphone. Segments have been derived from these activities, and SCA is testing highly targeted/timely instream audio campaigns to reflect their lifestyles such as targeting runners with fitness playlists.

“The role of the marketing team was to work with the broader team in the business and to contribute within our area of expertise. And so that was to develop the name, the visual identity, the look and feel, the positioning, but do that off the basis of those consumer insights. So, again, working with SCA IQ, we developed a multi-cross-functional steer co to identify and name the cohort that we ended up calling, ‘Aussie streamers’.

“The first point around the campaign development was to understand, as we always do, who we’re talking to, and the potential size of that audience for the campaign. We quickly understood that we were talking to an audience that was already growing rapidly, and that already displayed the behaviour that we needed for our own success, which is this accelerating consumption of digital audio.”

“When we launched LiSTNR, we had nine million Aussie streamers within an identified target audience. That’s now sitting at over 11 million.”

She says from that, they were able to understand the behaviour and the frequency of the digital audience that that cohort was consuming. “And we knew that we needed to develop a brand that was broad enough to represent not only SCA’s full audio ecosystem, but also make sure that we were developing a brand that would appeal to a very broad audience both among our existing FM audience, but also our emerging and accelerating digital audio audience as well.”

“We wanted to build a brand that would fare well within our new competitive sets, so we make new friends and new competitive sets that expanded to include Spotify, Apple and other digital audio brands such as iHeart which were already in the market, and that had been in the market for ten years.

“Certainly, they are also distribution points for us as well, so they enable us to reach an audience at scale, whilst we also concentrate on building our known audiences. We all benefit from the growth of digital audio and we are focused on the growth of LiSTNR, so working with those partners is a very important part of that,” Clarkson adds.

Clarkson says podcasts on the network have since grown from 45, to now over 500 podcasts available on the LiSTNR platform. And their one million signed-in users give them access to quality first-party data.

And Clarkson is clear: “At SCA, our ambition is to lead and to provide a platform that has matured and that continues to be robust in its nature. We have proven that the platform is a success and that we have an engaged user base that is of value to advertisers with its addressability, obviously, now we can offer hyper-targeting and we have that million signed-in user base as the basis for that. Obviously, our intention is to keep growing that and provide that continued scale for advertisers.”

It became evident SCA needed to start behaving like a technology brand. And since the launch of LiSTNR, it has done just that.

“That brand was developed with a modern, technological-based look and feel, but also the way in which it behaved in market as well,” says Clarkson.

The FY23 marketing strategy continues to drive acquisition whilst also focusing on known audiences to engage and retain existing users.

A fully integrated calendar of consumer marketing activity including brand campaigns, content-led campaigns, always-on digital performance media activity, ongoing PR activity and shaping consistent messaging across all SCA-owned media.

SCA appointed Thinkerbell to develop the LiSTNR brand campaign, and Resolution Digital to lead digital media strategy, planning and buying.

This is a slice of the award-winning work which came out of it:

Listnr – Open Your Ears from Pixel on Vimeo.

Clarkson says: “With Thinkerbell, we have a long-standing relationship with them. They’ve worked with us on our Hit brands and particularly on our Triple M brands, but also with the people there we’ve individually worked with over the years. So, whether that’s Adam Ferrier, whether that’s the lead creatives at Thinkerbell, whether that’s Margie Reid, we’ve all known each other for a long, long time – upwards of 15 or 20 years.

“Because of my creative agency background, there’s a lot of people at Thinkerbell that I’ve either worked with at CHE, or at OMD, or various other intersections throughout my career, so there was a higher level of trust, purely because the teams were very, very complimentary, and they knew our business.”

She adds: “When we were developing the LiSTNR brand, Thinkerbell seemed to be the most obvious choice for us to help us bring that brand to life in our first launch campaign because they understood the parameters of the campaign that we needed to build: that it was a new brand, it needed to work across a range of different platforms, and they also understood that as a content business we also needed to prove and educate the market – which is an ongoing endeavour, and not only from a consumer point of view but also from an advertiser point of view – on what LiSTNR meant.”

She says they needed a campaign flexible enough to support LiSTNR’s sporting partners (the AFL, the NRL and Cricket Australia), as much as the need to promote the Howie Games.

“The second piece of the puzzle was working with OMG and appointing Resolution Digital, helping us transform and upskill our marketing team to start to become one that was using data to inform every single decision but also starting to really focus on the acquisition side of the marketing activity and use a range of digital media and test and learn,” Clarkson explains.

LiSTNR’s user sign-ups have grown by 230% year on year as the breadth and depth of content continue to expand and innovate on the free app.

Local content with trusted Australian voices is a key differentiator from other global and domestic peers. LiSTNR hosts more than 500 curated and co-created podcasts comprising LiSTNR’s own 124 original Australian podcasts together with globally renowned international podcast creators Stitcher and Wondery, the BBC, NPR and locally with Schwartz Media, The Royal Institution of Australia, the AFL, NRL and Network Ten.

LiSTNR’s original podcasts include frequently Australia’s No.1 podcast Hamish & Andy, No.1 sports podcast The Howie Games and No.1 news podcast 7am in partnership with Schwartz Media, and its partner podcast suite includes popular international podcasts such as Dr Death, The Shrink Next Door, SmartLess, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Crime Junkie and How Did This Get Made.

LiSTNR houses SCA’s 99 Hit and Triple M network radio stations, live broadcasts of the AFL, NRL and Cricket along with 25 uniquely designed, exclusive music stations. The brand is available across a large array of devices including iOS and Android, CarPlay and Android Auto, Web, Google Assistant and Alexa, Apple TV and Android TV.

And with it, SCA is now the biggest audio content creation company in Australia.

Following the release of Southern Cross Austereo’s H122 results, SCA CEO Grant Blackley, in August, pegged the affiliation switch to Ten, a growing thirst for premium content, and a notable influence of the attention economy on consumer behaviour as causation for bolstered profit and audience numbers.

Blackley added at the time: “I think LiSTNR will be the most dominant audio app five years from now. I think it’s a very bright future moving forward. I think we’re accelerating at this point in time towards greater scale.”

Blackley hints that a company name change may be on the horizon as SCA’s digital arm LiSTNR is the growth and centre of the business.

“When I joined the company seven years ago, there was a TV company called Southern Cross, and then a radio company called Austereo, which then became Southern Cross Austereo,” Blackley notes. “I said while I was in Europe that I could see a world in which in actual fact if LiSTNR is the centre of our universe and it is driving all of our growth and ambitions, maybe there’s a natural extension of the company being called LiSTNR and not SCA.”

In Australia alone, the number of people accessing digital audio is expected to reach 80% of the population by 2024.

For SCA, consumers were and are driving its every decision, as they are demanding more immediacy and content distribution options, and SCA needed to stimulate that consumption by offering greater distribution depth coupled with more on-demand products that are bespoke, relevant, and timely.

The ‘house of LiSTNR’ was designed as an independent consumer-facing brand, capable of housing SCA’s own content, and licensed content from local and international partners

Signed-in users on LiSTNR create highly personalised profiles, improving the user experience and discoverability, and in turn, offering addressable audiences at scale for advertisers.

Podcast solutions for bespoke, low clutter, highly impactful, talent-led solutions continue to deliver exceptional results for clients – offering advertisers its powerful ‘LiSTNR Voice’ execution – custom creative using trusted, local voices to seamlessly integrate within the intimate podcast user experience.

Branded podcasts

SCA says it is seeing growth in all areas of the branded podcast space:

  1. Branded episodes: allows brands to cost-effectively utilise premium podcast hosts and speak to an established audience.
  2. Series within a series: original podcasts allow SCA to create “special feature” style episodes that sit within original series, giving brands an even greater share of ears. Examples include Puma Women in Sport in On Her Game with Sam Squires, KAYO The Ashes series within The Howie Games
  3. Original Branded Podcasts: this is where SCA is reportedly getting the most traction. Brands are engaging with SCA, it says, for its expertise, creativity, project management, access to leading personalities, amplification assets and first-party data capabilities. Recent examples include The Law Society of NSW (Lawfully Explained), Firmchecker (Full Blown Adult), The Australian War Memorial (Up Close), CommBank (The Penny Drops), Great Southern Bank (A Clever Way Home), American Express (More Than A Menu).

Dave Cameron, Mark Howard, Abbie Chatfield, Fifi Box, Nikki Clarkson and Carrie Bickmore

With the market feeling optimistic about the return of audiences to broadcast radio, SCA’s chief content officer Dave Cameron told Mumbrella back in September he is not getting caught up in the ups and downs of the radio ratings, remaining strong on SCA’s digital-forward strategy, with the network’s signed-in user base projected to double in the next two years.

Cameron says: “We are already Australia’s biggest audio content creator. Just the volume of content that we’re creating, both from a podcast and a broadcast point of view, on a daily basis is huge. So we will continue to grow our portfolio, certainly from a digital audio space and we’ll continue to increase the daily content that we create on our own, but also increasingly through partnerships.”

Cameron adds that working with independent creators will remain important to the overall offering for LiSTNR, with hopes that in the not-so-distant future we will see LiSTNR evolve to become “Australia’s biggest distributor of content on top of being Australia’s biggest content creator.”

“I would like to think that is a grand and a pretty viable proposition for LiSTNR.”

And the numbers don’t lie, as LiSTNR retains its position as Australia’s number one overall podcast network in the latest Triton Podcast Ranker.

It has nine of the top 20 podcast titles and three of Australia’s top podcasts in their genres. Other LiSTNR podcasts in the top 20 include Crime Junkie, It’s A Lot with Abbie Chatfield, Morbid, On Purpose with Jay Shetty, SmartLess, and Triple M’s Rush Hour with JB & Billy.

LiSTNR also has the most podcasts ranked in the Top 50 Podcasts including My Favorite Murder, The Briefing, Triple M’s The Marty Sheargold Show, 2 Bears 1 Cave with Tom Segura & Bert Kreischer, Just the Gist, Hamish & Andy’s Remembering Project, Last Podcast On The Left, Freakonomics Radio, Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend, KICPOD, and 99% Invisible.

That’s Enough Already with Urzila Carlson jumped 20 places to make its debut in the Top 100 Podcasts, while The Generation Why Podcast with Wondery rose 34 places to also make its Top 100 debut.

Real Crime: Australian Detectives and The Mel Robbins Podcast with Stitcher Media made their debut in the Top 150 Podcasts Ranker in October.

“Remaining the number one podcast network is a great result. As we head into summer and the new year, LiSTNR will continue to publish new episodes across current titles and also with new original podcasts, such as the docu-series, The Children in the Pictures, the Peking Duk Podcast from the Australian music sensations of the same name, and Willow Talk for cricket fans,” SCA executive head LiSTNR Podcasts, Grant Tothill, says.

“There are more new original podcasts publishing in November and December and early 2023 as we continue to curate and create a diverse, premium library of podcasts to serve our growing audience across entertainment, sport, factual and drama, parenting and kids, and news and information.”


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