The power of podcasts – an unexploited tool
2015 has been a good year for the podcast, taking them from an unnoticed tab in the iTunes menu to the boredom killer of choice on those long commutes. I constantly notice the odd chuckle from my fellow passenger and wonder to myself, “what podcast are they listening to?”, a question that would never have come to mind pre-2015. I think you can probably guess the one that got me hooked: Serial. With 40 million people having listened to at least one podcast it is certainly a platform that more brands should think about getting involved in. Put it this way, there are an estimated 152 million blogs on the web and there are an estimated 180 thousand podcasts. For this reason, there is arguably more room for podcasters to be original and differentiate themselves from one another than there is in the crowded world of blogging. Success stories Serial – This has got to be the most recognised podcast of 2015 and, for many of us, our first exposure to the world of audio storytelling. The first season is a story of a murder in 1999 that leads to the conviction of 17-year-old Adnan Syed but the evidence against him is questionable. The storyteller, Sarah Koenig, explores every aspect of the case in an attempt to shed some light on whether the guilty verdict was correct. The greatest appeal of Serial is that the question of the Adnan’s innocence is entirely up for debate, provoking listeners to argue why they think he is or isn’t guilty. The popularity of this podcast has been evident in the instant stardom of Sarah Koenig and the arise of a new podcast dedicated solely to Adnan’s case called Undisclosed. Off the back of Serial, Adnan has subsequently been granted an appeal, a clear example of the power of podcasts. Squarespace – Now, Squarespace are not podcasters themselves, they are in fact a platform for building websites, but they have seen huge success through the use of native advertising within them. The most successful podcasts all have Squarespace sponsoring their content and seeing as Serial averages 1.5 million listeners an episode it’s no wonder that the website-building brand are doing so well. By targeting podcasts that are widely listened to by developers and programmers they were able to push their brand onto the correct audience in a way that was, while a little intrusive (you certainly knew when you were listening to one), rarely annoying and evidently effective. Brands are always striving to push their adverts on customers that share their values, and podcasts offer the perfect solution, enabling them to advertise within content that has a loyal following from the target audience. The benefit Why are podcasts so popular? The ease of access to podcasts through iTunes has been instrumental to the recent success of podcasts. By approaching it in the same way as music and on-demand TV, you can now download your favourite podcast straight to your smart phone and consume wherever and whenever you want. The ability to subscribe to your favourite podcast also adds to their success, much like buying your favourite newspaper or magazine. By discovering and sticking to the podcasts USP it is easy to elicit loyalty and keep the listener coming back. This can translate directly to the feelings the user has about the brand. The Guardian’s podcast, Football Weekly, is the most downloaded sports podcast on iTunes and has won the award for Football Supporters’ Federation’s Podcast/Radio Show of the Year. This has only affirmed the authority that the guardian hold in sport news reporting. There’s money in podcasts How can something that is completely free to use make money? The way in which podcasts make money isn’t entirely obvious and there seem to be a few differing beliefs in what works. The first way in which a podcast can make money is through a Kickstarter. This is when the podcast will appeal to the charity of its users by requesting donations to keep the podcast going. This may not seem like the safest way of making revenue but it works, provided you have a loyal following of generous listeners. Roman Mars, the creator of 99%invisible, was able to raise $170 thousand in the first Kickstarter and $375 thousand in the 2nd. That’s pretty impressive considering that he started his podcast by paying people out of his own pocket. Another way podcasts can generate revenue from their listeners is to offer memberships. Much like the kickstarter, this plays on the idea of making the listener feel like they are involved and contributing to the success of the podcast. Gimlet media offers a $5/month membership that entitles the listener to early content, merchandise and a lot of extras. The problem with these two methods is that it relies on the goodwill of the listener to raise money. Which is why there are more traditional methods of generating revenue – sponsorship and podcast ads. Podcast ads work. You may think that stopping the programme mid-point to talk about a brand is irritating. On any other platform I am fully with you. No body likes the moment in the middle of a film when it cuts out to promote washing detergent, but with podcasts it’s different. People who avidly listen to a particular podcast often build up a sense of loyalty towards the host and it is exactly this that make the ads successful. The ad is often presented by the host in the same tone of voice as the story and they seem genuine in their appreciation for the brand. This may be because the ad/brand usually falls into the same basket as the content it is embedded within. Lets have a look at an example. Within the podcast StartUp (a podcast about starting a podcasting company) they advertise 99Designs.com (a company that connects designers with small businesses). If you are listening to a podcast about starting a business, chances are that you would be interested in a company that could assist in connecting you with website, logo and brand designers. Brands are able to target their customer more successfully by advertising within a podcast that compliments their values, as more often than not the listener will also share those values. Unfortunately, it is difficult to measure the success of an ad on a podcast as there is no way to track the path between hearing an ad on a podcast and visits to a site or sales. This is why brands tend to promote a unique promo code offered to listeners to try and measure the sales that have been generated through the podcast ad. Some companies now use podcast ads not to drive direct sales but to create positive feelings towards their brand knowing that the consumer appreciates and trusts the podcast and its content. This works similarly to how product placement works in movies. It’s not for everyone Unfortunately, not all brands are suited to creating podcasts or even advertising in them. The commitment to create a podcast on a weekly (even monthly) basis is large. Considerable effort must be put in for research, recording, editing and marketing in order to produce a successful podcast. It took a year of work to produce the 1st series of serial although that has clearly paid off. Brands that are thinking of creating a podcast have a lot to keep in mind, including: whether their story is unique enough to capture the attention of their audience, whether they have enough resources to keep up with demand and, finally, have they enough patience to persist through the early stages when their footprint is small. Having said that the barriers to entry into the podcast market are small. If you have some basic recording equipment, an audio-editing tool like GarageBand and a platform to play your content anyone can produce a basic podcast. That’s the beauty of it! People are starting podcasts as a hobby in their bedrooms much like a lot of blogs. Perhaps with a little bit of backing a small homemade podcast could reach the iTunes top 10! I couldn’t write a blogpost about podcasts without mentioning some that are just great! These are some of my favourites: 99% invisible, Criminal, Start-up and Reply-all. Check them out if you can.