In theory, podcasting offers an ideal channel for deep, long-form engagement with target audiences. But with thousands of podcasts on offer, competition to attract listeners is intense and brands seeking to make use of the format face the challenge of entertaining, inspiring or instructing their audiences while also delivering on their own marketing objectives. How can this be achieved?
It's hard to ignore the potential of podcasting. Research published by eMarketer in 2021 found more than 70 million people across France, Germany, Spain Italy and the UK describing themselves as podcast listeners, with the Spanish being the most enthusiastic. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, a report by Edison Research and Triton Digital- titled Infinite Dial - found that 80 million Americans were listening to podcasts on a weekly basis.
Of course, the growing popularity of podcasts doesn't necessarily mean that audiences want to consume branded content or listen to advertising but in reality, there doesn't seem to be too much resistance. Another 2021 US survey by Acast and Nielsen found listeners were four times more likely to "like" rather than "dislike" brand-owned podcasts.
According to James Tyrell, Audio Business Director at global communications agency, Havas, podcasts are now "a core part of the media mix."In the case of Havas, this manifests itself in a number of ways. "We activate a variety of executions on behalf of our clients, from 'spot' campaigns focusing on relevant verticals, to keyword-targeted campaigns - using technology to isolate episodes discussing contextually relevant topics - all the way through to branded segments and bespoke series," he adds.
Some of the world's biggest consumer and business-to-business brands across a broad have embraced podcasting. For instance, communications/chat company Slack offers a podcast aimed at its relatively young and tech-savvy users. Dubbed the Slack Variety Pack, episodes focus on the realities of balancing work and life. Taking a very different approach, GE (General Electric) has won accolades for its science-fiction drama podcast, the Message.
Meanwhile, in the consumer space, McDonald's took a problem - a shortage of Szechuan Sauce - and created a Podcast around it. Over a number of episodes, the company told the story of itsSzechuan shortage, thus entertaining customers and defusing their frustration. When the sauce was reintroduced, further episodes were used as part of the marketing campaign.
These represent diverse companies across very different sectors, but what the three examples demonstrate is that when brands have something compelling to say, podcasts can serve a purpose and find an audience.
But is it worth the effort? Podcasts can be relatively inexpensive to produce and distribute but they do require a commitment in time and creative energy. So why divert creativity from other marketing channels?
Gareth Evans is the founder of 18Sixty, a podcast production agency that has worked with brands such asUniversal Music Group, Oatley, Magic Radio and TedX Bristol. As he sees it, podcasts offer a unique means to engage listeners.
"Podcasts are the only form of content that - if done right - audiences will spend a lot of time with," he says.
Equally important, this is an intimate and very personal medium. UK figures from polling agency YouGov suggest that 90 per cent of podcast consumers listen alone. "Podcasting is a valuable platform to engage with consumers in a one-to-one environment," says James Tyrell. What's more, listeners are actively seeking out the content in question.
But they will only seek out and spend time with content if it is genuinely compelling. " Garth Evans stresses the need to produce something that is attractive to the target audience. "We always start from the point of view of the listener," he says.
Thinking Outside the Box
Evans says that when 18Sixty works with brands, the starting point is usually a workshop session or in-depth discussion.
"As a client,we would ask about your goals and how you would like to be perceived," he says. "Then we would look at the audience. Who does the client want to reach and what are they interested in?"
Dave Robinson, founder of creative agency Red Evolution makes an equally important point. In addition to establishing what they want to say, Brands must consider whether their message - implicit or explicit - will bear the weight of multiple episodes.. "You have to consider whether the idea will sustain," he says.
Standing Out From The Crowd
Arguably, it's not difficult for a brand that knows its customers and is clear about its objectives to create content that serves the target audience. What's harder perhaps is creating something that stands out. Something that is just different enough to capture the imagination. A certain amount of thinking outside the box is usually required.
Evans cites the example of apodcast series created by 18Sixty for travel booking company Canopy and Stars, specialists in up-market camping holidays. "They didn't want a podcast that was all about saying 'look at all these great places to visit..' They wanted to communicate their values," he says.
So the Canopy and Stars podcast designed was all about connecting with nature, with the episodes recorded outdoors in wild places, with celebrities or experts acting as guides. Rather than simply and directly promoting Canopy and Stars destination, the goal was to feed the target audience's appetite for the great outdoors. "The more creative you are, the more you inspire people," says Evans.
Havas took a similarly out of the box approach with a campaign for whiskey maker Jameson's. Rather than producing its own podcast, Jameson's partnered with others to create segments within established podcasts in a campaign dubbed Nights Worth Waiting For. As Tyrell explains, the idea - executed mid pandemic - was to give consumers something to look forward to once the lockdowns and other restrictions were lifted. Thus the Nights Worth Waiting for concept was woven into podcasts such as Football Ramble and Table Manners, hosted by singer Jesse Ware. Areturn to live gigs and sports events were key themes.
Business To Business
For brands working in the business-to-business sector, the key to a successful podcast often lies in tapping into the professional interests and aspirations of the target audience. Zoey Woodward is Head of Events and Digital Production at Fox Agency. Working mainly for global tech brands, the company produces its own podcast (Clientside) plus Accelerators for telecoms company Beyond by Bearing Point. The latter is interview focused, featuring leaders in the industry sharing their experience.
Woodward stresses the importance of finding the right guests and - perhaps more importantly - encouraging them to speak openly. "The podcast needs to be informative, energetic and charismatic," she says. "We do a lot of research. And then we do pre-interviews with guests to establish what excites them."This feeds into podcasts in which guests share aspects of their own business journeys.
B2B podcasts may be niche, but the principle is the same is in the consumer market. They must resonate with their target audiences.
When done well, podcasts can enable brands to address new or inaccessible audiences - not least the young. "With younger audiences becoming harder to reach via traditional radio, and digital audio including podcasts showing growth among 18-34s,we're likely to see the channel become an even more important vehicle for advertisers," says Tyrell.
Given that some podcasts will be addressing a niche audience, how is success judged?"You look at completion rates," says Gareth Evans "How long are people sticking with the content and are they sharing it."
Dave Robinson is keen to see evidence of engagement. "In the early stages a key metric is social media engagement," he says. "If you get a comment, that's great. And we look at the numbers of people sharing and downloading."
Probably, no one should expect an instant ROI in terms of sales. Podcasts are really about awareness and top of the funnel engagement. However, as part of a wider marketing mix they represent a relatively inexpensive way to become part of the listening life of the consumer.