BRANDING: Should Your Company Start a Podcast?

12/09/2014 by Jesse Noyes




If you haven’t heard, podcasting is having a moment. As podcasts move from niche to mainstream and more hits seem likely, the medium may very well be entering its own “golden age.”

Since podcasting’s initial popularity—roughly corresponding with Apple’s inclusion of podcasts in iTunes in 2005—both the range of podcasts and number of listeners have grown. Today, there are about 225,000 podcasts out there and some 15% of all US residents listen to at least one podcast per month. With the meteoric rise of the true crime podcast Serial, the launching of several new podcasting networks and, of course, the interest in supporting technologies like Stitcher, many executives and marketing managers may be stroking their chins and wondering whether they should start a podcast.

My advice: Don’t jump on the bandwagon just yet.

When done right, podcasts are an incredible tool for establishing long-term engagement with customers, surfacing the personalities within a business, and building a bond of trust through analysis, insight, and storytelling. There are many sales, marketing and business podcasts that do this. Six Pixels of Separation,Entrepreneur on FirePNR: This Old Marketing, and the Art of Charm have all built large, dedicated audiences not only because they offer detailed insights relevant to their listeners’ industries and professions, but also because the podcast lends an air of approachability. More recently, podcasts like Startup have accelerated the process of audience building by using a more narrative style that draws them in.

But I’d wager that, with the rush to capture the enthusiasm around podcasting, many more of the branded podcasts that get produced next year will not be so thoughtfully planned, customer-oriented, and artfully crafted. So if this “resurgence” of podcasting has your marketing team itching to purchase Pro Tools and go to town, take a moment to consider a few factors first.

Sure, technology has made producing a podcast easier than ever, but creating a product that actually engages an audience is still very hard. The podcasts that are now commanding so much respect are helmed by people with tremendous storytelling skills. And coming up with fresh, thought-provoking content week after week, or month after month, is hard. That’s why so many podcasts (and blogs, websites, and newsletters) are eagerly started and then abandoned.

Consider this: 22% of B2B of marketers said they used podcasts as part of their content marketing strategy in 2014, according to the Content Marketing Institute. That’s actually a decline for B2B from the year before (26% in 2013). You can almost see the enthusiasm for podcasting wane as marketers realize how difficult creating and sustaining a truly good podcast is. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. Just don’t go into it thinking all you need is a conference room, a microphone, and an audio file to send out each week.

There’s also no simple way to measure success. You can look at the number of downloads per podcast, but a download doesn’t equal a listen, nor does a subscription. I subscribe to roughly 25 podcasts, and I probably listen regularly to half. You’ll need to consider other ways of measuring engagement that are less exact, like reviews on iTunes, whether you see a correlated bump in web traffic, increases in downloaded content you plug in the show, and surveys of your audience asking if they enjoy the content.

The picture will never be totally complete. You need to know that going into it. But you can sketch out what goals you have for your podcast, and how you’ll measure against those goals at the outset. For instance, if your goal is to generate more awareness and engagement, you might pay closer to attention to metrics like downloads, subscribers, and reviews. If you’re looking for a direct impact on lead generation or sales, you’ll need to look at corresponding rises in web traffic and conversions. Looking to get better demographic view of your audience, you’ll want to look at which devices they’re using and their geographic location.

You’ll also need centralized processes around all of your content. Marketers are producing more content, across a wider array of types and channels, than ever before. Each new addition can actually cause harm if the processes and workflows for the ideation, creation, distribution, and analysis of all that content isn’t organized and understood internally. Because of the resources required to make a podcast work, adding one into the mix without a content strategy is a recipe for frustration. Content Marketing Institute (CMI), as an example, recently introduced The Pivot and plans to launch more. CMI produces and distributes a lot of content in different formats, but because they created an overarching content strategy that aligns all key stakeholders so no one is outside the feedback loop, The Pivot works.

Lots of people think that a creating compelling podcast is as simple as flipping on a mic and letting two talking heads hold forth on industry-relevant topics. To be sure, some of the best podcasts have used this model and built up a committed audience. But the podcasts that are contributing to this “resurgence,” like Serial, avoid this format. Instead, they utilize the classic elements of storytelling, such as reporting, interviewing, editing, and fact-checking.

In the business world, finding the right talent with these “soft skills” can present a challenge. Managers need to look to media outlets (both broadcast and digital) to find storytelling professionals and develop narrative skills. Using the standard two-pundit formula will make it much harder to stand out and won’t guarantee results. Successful future podcasts will learn to experiment, adapt, and even dump the classic format.

These challenges shouldn’t discourage creative, forward-thinking businesses from pursuing podcasting. With the right motivation, resources, and consistency, podcasts can be a powerful way to tell your brand’s story and engage customers. But a rise in the production and consumption of podcasts should give you pause. Before you hit the record button, you must consider what you’ll need in order to do it right, how it should sound, and how you’ll know it’s working.