One may get the impression that everyone these days is making one podcast or another. Invented a decade ago, it has taken until now for the format to enjoy its proverbial moment in the spotlight. What has sparked the current boom in the podcast business?
Podcasts have a bit of a retro vibe to them. They remind us of the time when most people spent much more time listening to the radio. A dozen plus years ago, radio talks would resonate with the public. Any presenter who could set the mood on the air had a good shot at stardom. With its casual stories and informal friendly conversations between two people, the modern podcast has a way of seducing the listener with an atmosphere reminiscent of an old radio show. It is a bit of an intimate, nice get-together to share views on current affairs. The podcast has the ability to deliver all that is missing from mainstream radio and television: a certain coziness, an unhurried discussion and a free exchange of thoughts in place of aggressive journalistic grilling.
Audioblogging – dusting off an old format
Podcasts date back to a time before YouTube and social media when the use of streaming as a popular form of data transmission was but a pipe dream. In 2004, The Guardian columnist Ben Hammersley used the term “podcasting” in one of his articles. More for the promotion of this format, however, has been done by Steve Jobs. In his 2005 presentation unveiling a new iPod model, Jobs announced to the world that Apple intended to promote the new format in the iTunes music library (iPod + broadcast). Podcasts began to reach users in the form of audio files, many of them in the common MP3 format. The legendary MP3s allowed podcasts to make the big time. Although not everyone could boast having a snazzy iPod, the MP3 file was a universal sound format, which assured it access to a very wide audience. Unfortunately, despite a certain popularity, podcasts were still niche products or a supplement of sorts, used mostly by TV and radio stations and newspapers.
No conditions for growth in the early days
There weren’t enough podcasts in the early days to make them serious marketing tools. Podcasts lacked a few important characteristics needed to gain more popularity. A decade ago, neither Facebook nor YouTube even existed, while the Internet, as a global medium, did not yet support the easy, independent creation of multimedia content. Although it was relatively simple to run a text blog, it was quite complicated to record an audio file or create a video, let alone distribute it widely. Also missing was the ability to engage audiences as we know it today, the adding of comments on posts, photos or videos, and the sharing interesting materials to further boost their circulation. Such mechanisms, which are currently part and parcel of all social media, serve podcasts well by popularizing their creators and the format itself.
Spotify muscles in
The United States already has a highly-developed podcast infrastructure. It is estimated that nearly half of Americans follow podcasts. In Europe, the popularity of podcasts is gaining momentum on the back of, for instance, the involvement of Spotify, which is increasingly associated with music streaming. The brand chose to invest in podcast promotion and production by taking over two specialized podcast start-ups. The news of a $100 million contract that the platform signed with the world’s most famous podcaster today, Joe Rogan, spread like wildfire. This event was obviously needed to fuel the trend. Today, Spotify offers a million podcasts in any category. Next to Google Podcasts and Apple Podcast, this is the most significant site where the culture of this new medium is flourishing.
The podcasting market is growing spectacularly by the day. Interestingly, Poland too boasts dramatic increases. In 2020, Poland’s domestic podcast market grew by 300% placing it among the top ten countries in terms of growth in the number of podcast fans. And, much as in the rest of the world, Poles make podcasts on every imaginable topic, ranging from food to automotive, politics, science, culture and business. While many of the hosts are media celebrities, other podcast makers are just starting to build their personal brands.
How do podcasts fare in the world of marketing?
Better and better. Global companies are keeping a close eye on the trendy medium. Banks, carmakers and tech companies alike are testing the new format. According to Interactive Advertising Bureau, having hit $43 million in 2019, podcast advertising spending in Europe is well on its way to reach $232 million by 2023. There are several reasons why a podcast may interest a marketer. For one, it can help create an unconventional, unique atmosphere around a brand, which traditional communication can’t do. A food company may use a podcast to tell stories about exotic cuisine, a tech company that makes cyber security systems may run a sensational series on famous cyberattacks, while an auto maker will best be served by automotive news. If you manage a brand whose mission is to promote fascinating business or culture celebrities, the podcast will be your perfect tool to present them to a wider audience.
Equally significant is the fact that – compared to video – a podcast requires much less production effort and a smaller budget. All you need to do to make your first program is to recruit a person with recording experience. Soon, you will be able to take over and continue all by yourself.
Time to get intimate with the brand
Amidst the inundation of news and information hubbub, podcasts let you build a close relationship with your audience unlike any other medium. In today’s attention economy, where the attention of potential customers is a rare and hard-to-get commodity, relatively unimpeded lengthy exposure of customers to a brand message has become the holy grail of marketers. The time available in a recorded conversation is sufficient to greatly personalize the message. Podcasts provide their hosts and guests ample time to discuss all nuances and details of the subject matter and accurately explain the values and ideas embodied by a brand and its products and services. Without being rushed, in an atmosphere of an almost personal talk, companies can build a deeper and more lasting bond with their audiences. Such a relationship builds loyalty and devotion of the brand’s fans. Having such a relationship with customers is especially attractive to health & lifestyle brands. The intimate air of a conversation allows one to address topics viewed as difficult and controversial, giving space to companies that are hard to promote, such as makers of remedies for embarrassing or stigmatized ailments. The statistics have proven this to be true. In Poland, the podcasts most popular with women in 2019 were those related to health and lifestyle, followed by, all with equal popularity ratings, those on music, psychology and entertainment.
Being a podcaster
For their creators, podcasts are also a great way of business networking. By inviting guests over and by visiting other programs, companies can expand their contact networks and, above all, secure excellent opportunities to meet entrepreneurs, business people, scientists and artists who would otherwise be difficult to reach and who can help them develop their own business. Therefore, a podcast is also a tool that supports building a personal brand, a natural way to present oneself to one’s audience and build recognition. Can a brand that is built in this way help a business grow? While this is uncertain, what is clear is that, as of March of this year, an astounding 1.96 million podcasts were available on what currently is the most popular podcast platform, Apple Podcasts. This suggests that the ROI from podcasts surely satisfies their creators.
If you too want to use podcasts to promote your personal brand or business follow these eight steps:
- Prepare a few alternative scripts for your podcast. Not every idea will resonate with the audience coming from the guests you invite.
- Avoid being too pushy linking the content of an episode with your company’s products or services. As a cosmetics maker, you may create a compelling series of stories about movie stars.
- Think of the host of your podcast. You might want to consider retaining the help of a vivid journalist.
- Remember that the podcast will only be liked if the conversation flows naturally.
- As you create your podcast, experiment with different episode running times.
- Test the format on social media. Gather people’s comments and let them inspire you. The podcast is a medium that needs a lot of hype, activity and audience engagement.
- The podcast is intended to create a friendly, likable atmosphere around the brand. It is a tool for image boosting and recognition building, not for pushing sales.
- If you don’t want to start your own podcast, you can sponsor existing ones. Having your advertising message read by a host will make it sound natural and dispense with the artificiality of a commercial.
How have podcasts seduced us?
Podcast simply seem to be likeable. An engaging talk about outer space, cooking or cars can make a boring journey, home cleaning and even a nightly jog all the more pleasurable. You don’t need to capture one hundred percent of people’s attention, as you would in, say, a video message. Podcasts may be an answer to audience fatigue with other forms of communication that require their input: link clicking, screen scrolling, post reading, dialogue window opening, etc. We are tired of choosing which Netflix series to watch or which app to use on your smartphone? A podcast talk may unfold in the background as we go about our daily business, allowing us to listen in on the conversation from time to time. Such a take on podcasts can make them more appealing to listeners and therefore also to marketers. The fact that podcasts aren’t pushy and don’t attempt to make a direct connection with the brand may well make the audience more willing to embrace any embedded marketing content. After the outbreak of the pandemic, fears arose that work from home could hurt the popularity of podcasts, which people normally listen to while commuting. And yet nothing like that ever happened. Listeners still prefer to listen to their podcasts in the comfort of their homes. US surveys show that, to a certain extent, podcasts are replacing radio and music being played in cars.
Podcasts affect our emotions. As we listen to conversations, we get to know the hosts and other participants, we start to like them and even get attached to them over time. Just as people in the past would gather around a fire to listen to stories, they can now have podcasts to keep them company on a daily basis. And this may well hold the key to the success of this medium.
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Apple Newsroom, (2005). Apple Takes Podcasting Mainstream. Apple.com. https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2005/06/28Apple-Takes-Podcasting-Mainstream/
Hammersley, B. (2004). Audible revolution. theguardian.com.https://www.theguardian.com/media/2004/feb/12/broadcasting.digitalmedia
Kafka, P. (2020). Spotify is hiring Joe Rogan, one of the world’s most popular and controversial podcasters. vox.com. https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/5/19/21263967/joe-rogan-spotify-exclusive-deal-podcast
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