How Brands are Harnessing the Power of Podcasts

Why original audio storytelling beats paid ad spaces when it comes to winning over audiences

. 5 min read

Comparing the Effectiveness of Narrative vs. Non-narrative Podcasts for Brands

Traditional and digital marketing campaigns are often activated by one methodology: ‘renting’ audiences. We buy media spots to reach our target audiences with messages about our products or services. We don’t own the ‘spots’ our ads appear in, so can we call the recipients of our message our audience? At its core, this type of marketing manifests itself in some sort of interruption on the receiver’s end. When I’m watching a basketball game, the broadcast is interrupted by a company wanting to sell me cereal; when I catch up with the days events on my local news site my scanning and scrolling are interrupted by a banner ad professing the value of some kind of braking technology, and even my scenic drive up to Kamloops is interrupted by signs wondering if what I really need today is a burger.

Audiences understand the basic trade-off: we can access programs, services, and information ‘for free’, but in return, we must endure ads. Is the exchange worthwhile? Rarely do we see ads as adding value to an experience — more often than not, they are deemed an annoying interruption. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.

A brand can develop its own audience through great storytelling.

The best brand storytellers can create something that audiences (and potential customers) will actively seek out because they add value to their lives. This profoundly changes the relationship between a brand and an audience. Instead of the interruptive and inherently negative experience of advertising, the audience gets to enjoy stories and content that they actually want (and maybe seek out). When storytelling is this good and powerful, we call it entertainment or a gift to the audience.

Podcasts are an especially powerful tool in the arsenal of anyone who is looking to turn their brand into a purveyor of entertaining and engaging content, or, as it were, a media company. Why podcasts? Well, the most obvious reason to be in this space is that podcasting is in the midst of a renaissance, and although they have been around for over two decades, it’s only now that they are entering the mainstream. “In 2021, the number of monthly US podcast listeners will increase by 10.1% year-over-year (YoY) to 117.8 million (”

Engagement > Reach

But the real strength of podcasting for brands lies in harnessing the power of audio storytelling to evoke and engage the emotions of listeners. The result is a more immersive and personal experience.

Podcasts are typically consumed with headphones, which is an inherently solitary experience. As listeners, we connect to the voices in our ears — a great podcast can make you feel like you are in the room with whoever is speaking. The kind of intimacy that creates is a unique attribute to audio. Through podcasting, brands can communicate what they stand for directly to an audience, building a long-lasting relationship that is based on shared values and a shared storytelling experience.

Theatre of the Mind

Earlier this year, my colleague, producer Aparita Bhandari, wrote about the power of sound and how it can allow listeners to be active participants in the storytelling process.

Unlike any other medium, sound can be used to ‘paint a mental image,’ activating the mind’s eye of your audience. Inherently an audio story becomes a co-creation between the listener and the creator of the podcast. This ‘theatre of the mind’ allows for stories to be especially vivid and impactful. We recommend to all our podcast clients to fully take advantage of this storytelling power and create an immersive world for the audience. This will not only make the content entertaining but also make your message that much more memorable.

High-Value Audio=Higher Than Average Retention Rates

The amazing storytelling potential of podcasts comes with a great side-benefit: higher than average consumption rates. Like any successful media company, the goal is to create content that an audience will consume from beginning to end, in other words, content that is ‘sticky.’

Our most successful podcasts with brand partners have average retention rates of 80–95%. In other words, once people start listening to a podcast they generally stick around — nearly to the end of every episode. How? We develop the kind of stories worth an audience’s attention — the kind of stories that find yourself staying in your car to listen to, even after you’ve parked it in the driveway because you want to hear how it ends.

For our clients, this means they interact with their listenership not only over longer periods of time but, more importantly, in a more impactful way. The content can be more nuanced. You have time to make customers aware of your values and showcase your brand's personality. All that helps build brand affinity.

Using podcasts to turn a brand into a media company is not a quick win. Building your own audience takes time, effort, and a smart strategy. Many of our successful podcast clients have run shows for multiple seasons (Red HatDellCharles SchwabMorgan Stanley, etc) and their investment is paying off over time.

The good news is that even though it takes time to build an audience, the creativity and commitment you dedicate to that pursuit will have long-lasting effects. And, because podcasts are often delivered through a subscription or follow system, once you have gained a subscriber or follower, they are there to stay, if the quality of your show remains intact.

Wherever you are on your journey of transforming your brand into a media company, consider that more than ever, podcasts are a key tool for any relevant content marketing strategy: if brand storytelling is a new concept to your organization, podcasts are a great, affordable, and accessible starting point. And, for more sophisticated content marketing operations, podcasts are a perfect addition to the lineup.

Curious about how your brand can think and act like a media company? We can help.

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