During my time here, one of the most interesting aspects of content production I’ve been involved with so far has been podcasting. As a long-time listener myself, it’s been great to get more of an understanding of both what goes into putting a podcast together, and the specific benefits that this medium can bring to a brand.
The audience for podcasts is clearly on the up: OFCOM has reported a “boom” in podcast listeners in the UK, with the number of weekly listeners having almost doubled over the last five years (particularly amongst young people). As a result, more and more brands are starting to see podcasting as a viable option: from media companies like Marvel and A24, to less obvious advocates like Direct Line, who recently worked to develop a podcast in collaboration with the comedian and prolific podcaster Richard Herring.
Of course, if you want to reap these benefits yourself and reach this growing audience, the most important thing is to know what your podcast should actually be. Podcasts have evolved a lot since I started listening to them: the medium that was once populated largely by enthusiastic hobbyists is quickly becoming an industry in its own right. But, if you’re not familiar with them, then the question you’re probably asking is: why podcasts? What does this medium offer that video or other ways of delivering content don’t?
In our interview with podcaster and marketer Matt Halloran for the Intelligent Adviser podcast, one of the best pieces of advice he had for brands was that “the most effective way to use an audio medium is to have your centres of influence on the podcast with you”.
He’s right for a number of reasons: most notably, the podcast has proven itself to be a great medium for pure and relatively unembellished conversation. There are a number of hugely successful podcasts that make great use of the fact that listeners have opted to download and listen in their own time, and deliver interviews that are markedly more intimate than your average TV chat show.
One of the best examples in this regard is the Talkhouse Podcast. The simple premise of the podcast is essentially that they pair people from the creative industries together and record their conversations with one another. This series really thrives on the sheer distinctiveness of the pairings that it can present to listeners: one pairing can be based on an already-present friendship between the artists, or shared qualities between one another’s work, and sometimes (as is the case with the episode pairing the documentarian Adam Curtis with cult comedian Tim Heidecker) the pairing comes thrillingly from left-field.
For brands: as well as giving your listeners a chance to hear honest and in-depth perspectives from the influential figures in your field, a conversational interview-based podcast is also a perfect way of further developing your own network. Through associating with these influential figures, their followers can become your followers, and your brand can further assert itself as a thought leader.
Speaking to The Atlantic, communications academic Professor Emma Rodero noted that “audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production… And that of course, is something that you can never get with visual media.”
If your brand has an engaging story to tell, then podcasting could be an ideal way to tell it.
When we think of narratives in podcasts, the immediate reference points are twisting, turning long-form serialised documentaries like S-Town or Serial; but there’s also a place for shorter-form storytelling, too.
Take a series like BBC’s Short Cuts, for example, which makes the most out of the possibilities offered up by audio to charge its audience’s imagination with short documentaries, spoken word monologues, and sound art pieces; all linked to a single theme per episode, and cohesively tied together by the narration of comedian Josie Long.
Podcasts emerged out of the rise of consumer technology that has made creating and distributing content cheaper and easier than ever before. As such, compared to many other forms of digital media, there’s a relatively quick turnaround on even the most polished podcast.
Therefore, if you’re working in a fast-paced and ever-changing industry, then a podcast could be an excellent way for ensuring that your brand and your audience are kept up to date. The loose, conversational nature of many podcasts has made the medium a perfect vehicle for up-to-the-minute commentary in forms as diverse as recaps of TV shows, sports coverage, and political discussion.
This power of podcasts to keep people (especially younger audiences) informed both quickly and effectively has been particularly embraced by news outlets. Speaking to Wired, news editor Beth Donovan commented that, “the beauty of the podcast space [is that] we’re there when listeners need us to be… If there’s a story we need to talk about, we’ll be there — that’s a very different model for news.”
Like many digital mediums, there is an element of interactivity to the medium of podcasts. The combination of the potential for a quick turnaround time and global reach allows for more of a back-and-forth between a podcaster and their listener base.
One of the earliest podcast successes, Answer Me This, is a clear example of how well this can work. This can be seen not only in the podcast’s simple format — hosts Ollie Mann and Helen Zaltzman attempt to research and answer any question submitted by their listeners — but also in the specifics of how this format is executed.
The sense of a “listener community” resounds throughout many episodes of Answer Me This. It’s present in small things like the fact that many of the musical stings dividing sections are listener-submitted, as well as in bigger and more memorable moments like, for example, when an answer about sports from one episode was illuminated on further the following week by an audience correspondent who happened, herself, to be an Olympic athlete.
One thing that this kind of “back-and-forth” does is develop trust between the podcaster and their listenership. This ties into how podcasts can utilise advertising and branded messaging, with such messages delivered organically and by a trusted voice that listeners respect. The head of sales for podcast network AudioBoom, Oli Waters, stated in an interview with Econsultancy: “let the podcast deliver any kind of brand mention in their own style and tone. That’s… why [we have] such great engagement levels, because any advertising we do is always natural and organic to the show.”
The effectiveness of this approach (particularly for smaller, online businesses) is clear to see, with Acast research finding that 76% of UK listeners have actively followed up on an advertisement that they heard in a podcast.
With just a bit of creativity and focus (and, of course, the discipline to keep it regularly updated), a podcast can be an easy to produce but hugely effective part of your content strategy. It can be a way of speaking relatably and honestly to a global audience, in a way that serves not just to broadcast to them, but to converse with them.