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Podcasts: how brands can become “earfluencers”


Podcasts are changing the face of corporate storytelling. Speak Media copywriter Roisin McCormack explains how your brand can tune in to the trend. We’re all ears.

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In case you haven’t heard, podcasts are big news for your brand.

Nearly six million people in the UK listen to podcasts every week and with more than 700,000 shows on offer – ranging in topic from fermentation to dentistry, and true crime to writing – podcast listeners of every inclination are spoilt for choice.

The audio boom, or as the Content Marketing Association (CMA) described it, “the renaissance of podcasting”, signifies a whole new trend of content consumption. With the average podcast listener tuning in to seven podcasts per week – and with 76% responding to podcast ads – it is, unsurprisingly, a trend that brand marketers are keen to capitalise on.

Why your brand needs a podcast

By creating their own podcasts, brands can capitalise on the intimacy of the medium, better connect with consumers and extend their reach beyond print and online. Podcasting will enable them, as the CMA suggest in their audio report, to “show their human face and engage listeners in a slower, more thoughtful way”.

Podcasts, with their knack for going deep into niche subjects, can be a highly effective means of storytelling, and can help to explore and promote the less obvious aspects of a brand, whether that’s sustainability, diversity, innovation or their love of – well, anything at all.

Christopher Lydon – who was at the helm of podcast invention back in the mid-2000s – also attributes the popularity of the medium to the power of the human voice, somewhat of a sought after commodity in a world where social interaction has been fragmented by social media usage and a surfeit of online information: “the human voice is loaded with signals that we can’t even begin to map. It’s very intimate, revealing”.

For brands trying to carve out a space for themselves through their content, the CMA’s report suggests that the podcast may be the perfect response to the “digital fatigue of modern-day content consumption”.

So for brand publishers looking to differentiate their output from their rivals, podcasts are quickly becoming a go-to ‘additional’ engagement channel – not least because equipment and production costs are low, compared to say a regular, high quality video content strand.

(That’s why podcasts have been described as the ‘democratic’ content medium – both because they can be technically made by anyone, and listened to by anyone. For instance, hit podcast ‘My Dad Wrote A Porno’ – downloaded some 160 million ­times – humbly began with a microphone at the host’s kitchen table).

There’s also the prospect of monetising through sponsor messages and/or adverts. If you build a valuable niche audience – as we have done with Parkinson’s Life, an online magazine for the global Parkinson’s community – you can open up new revenue streams as a publisher (which is part of our strategy on behalf of our client, the EPDA).

The secrets of a successful brand podcast

We’ve outlined some of the benefits, but how does your brand get up and running in the world of podcasts – and what are the pitfalls of getting it wrong? Here’s our four-point guide:

1. Find your niche

Brands to look to for inspiration here include cosmetics company, Sephora, with its ‘#LIPSTORIES’ podcast, which, in partnership with Girlboss Radio, works as a platform for influential, inspiring female thought leaders. eBay’s ‘Open for Business’ podcast (which debuted at number 37 before quickly reaching number 12 in the US Apple podcast charts) sees successful entrepreneurs share their stories and tips, while ‘The Cycling Podcast’ by Rapha (winner of best podcast in the 2016 Cycling Media Awards) is dedicated to coverage of the sport.

Their success can be put down to the fact they own a specific topic that has value for their listeners, find great stories to tell – and expand the conversation beyond the company walls. By doing this, brands can entertain and inform their target group, while subtly reinforcing their presence and core values.

2. Turn traditional advertising on its head

The trick is to not turn your podcast into a 30-minute sales pitch. Computer security software company, McAfee, note that during each 25-minute episode of their podcast ‘Hackable?’ – the brand itself is only mentioned two or three times. It is essential that brands think of their podcast as a form of ‘community outreach’ rather than traditional advertising.

It is an unusual concept, but one that is made viable by the receptivity of podcast listeners. Generally, listeners earn 28% more than the average population, and 85% of them don’t skip ads. One reason for this, research suggests, is that listeners are more likely to be Netflix-streaming subscribers, and so are less likely to be exposed to (and sick to death of) the live TV ad break.

‘Brand guardians’ and traditional marketers who live by the mantra of ‘disruption’ may want to look away now. But by granting podcast hosts the freedom to create their own, often playful, take on sponsored messages and ads (cf: Adam Buxton and Russell Brand) brands can ensure there’s minimal disruption to the tone of their output­, while keeping listeners absorbed and entertained.

3. Podcast as part of a wider campaign

Though it appears that audio may be killing the written word, (smart speaker ownership has reached 65 million in the US and audio books nabbed over 44 million listeners in 2018) brands must remember that podcasts should work as part of a wider campaign. In the CMA’s audio report, particular emphasis is placed on the role copy across social media channels, the podcast landing page and supporting blog plays in reinforcing the corporate narrative and importantly – convincing people that they should tune in.

4. A picture paints a thousand words

The same can be said for your podcast art. We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but when it comes down to scrolling through the 525,000 odd podcasts on iTunes, we – and potential subscribers – inevitably do. Creating standout podcast art is high priority, especially when we know that people process images 60,000 times faster than text, and 93% of all human communication is thought to be visual.

It’s time to start listening

Storytelling is somewhat reverting back to its original, oral form. It is through podcasts that content marketers – and brands – can think creatively about how they want consumers to view them, flout the traditional marketing rules and carve out a clear identity for themselves in today’s increasingly saturated, scroll-happy content market. And with six million people tuning in to get their audio fix every single week, it’s time your brand starts listening.

*sources: CMA ‘Audio Trends’ report


Speak has launched a new podcast series for Parkinson’s Life magazine. Listen to the first episode here.

Roisin McCormack