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NPR's CMO on the broadcaster's front row seat at the voice revolution

On this episode of the Ad Lib podcast, Meg Goldthwaite gets real about voice

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Nearly a quarter of the U.S. population now owns at least one smart speaker, and in the last year alone a full 14 million people in America got their first smart speaker device. This new research, from Edison Research and NPR, suggests that voice is no passing fad.

It's certainly top of mind for many conference-goers at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. So it's only fitting that we take the Ad Lib podcast on the road this week to Sin City. For today's episode—recorded on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center—NPR's chief marketing officer, Meg Goldthwaite, joins us to discuss how the broadcaster is approaching this voice revolution.

"When I first got [to NPR], smart speakers were just starting to take off — I had just gotten one for Christmas myself — and we saw this as an amazing opportunity," says Goldthwaite, comparing it to potentially "putting a radio in every home."

Goldthwaite, and the rest of NPR, had good reason to be excited. When Amazon and Google each launched their smart speakers, NPR was the default news source, according to Goldthwaite. But users complained, saying they wanted to choose how they got their news, prompting Alexa to now ask where the listener would like to get their updates from.

"Of course we would like to be the default; we want everyone to tune into NPR as their primary news source," she says, but concedes that it was the right call. "Frankly all boats rise when you access different points of view."

Still, despite having a leg up as a legacy broadcaster with few national rivals, discovery remains as much a challenge for NPR as it is for other publishers and marketers. The way listeners use their devices is not necessarily evolving as quickly as the tech.

"Many people see their smart speakers as a dumb terminal where you can say, 'Tell me what the weather is,' or 'set a time for the cake I'm about to bake'," she says. Teaching listeners new habits is now part of her job.

We discuss all of that, plus which types of audio content work best in different circumstances—from the car to the kitchen to the kids' room. We also get into her background as a marketer who previously worked in both telecoms—for MCI, back in the day—as well as for Conservation International and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

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