We finally returned to Podcast Movement Evolutions this year (March 23–26, 2022), in person, after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus. And while we have not been attending major industry events like conferences, we have been really busy creating and releasing new shows.
Evolutions is about “the evolving landscape of audio and podcasting.” And it was clear to us when we were at Evolutions that the industry continues to mature. Long gone are the days when podcasting was simply made up of select groups of independent storytellers and technology innovators. This year’s keynote by Will Ferrell and an after hour DJ set by Paris Hilton perfectly exemplify how podcasting has ‘grown up.’
To be clear: we welcome this. There is no point hanging on to an overly romanticized picture of the early days of podcasting — change is inevitable and we are excited about the future of our industry.
No matter how the landscape is evolving, for us at Pacific Content, there are core tenets we believe in that make a show successful. This year, I presented these tenets, alongside Matt Cardwell (Editor In Chief Rocket Publishing House) to an industry audience at Evolutions in the form of “Six learnings from making Home. Made.,” an original podcast by Rocket Mortgage.
What Matt and I wanted to demonstrate was that brands are in a perfect position to reach their goals through podcasting—if they can create an amazing experience for listeners. Brands typically have more resources than the average podcaster and no requirement to serve advertisers. But, every branded podcast is still competing with millions of other podcasts out there. This means they have to be particularly strategic if they want to reach their intended audience. So, what sets up a brand to create the kind of podcast that will engage an audience and build true brand affinity?
These are the six core tenets that we followed to create Home. Made., as presented at Podcast Movement Evolutions:
1 | KNOW THE WHY
Audio storytelling is a powerful way to express your brand values and emotionally connect with an audience. And, over time, build trust in your brand.
Before you go down the road of making a podcast, you have to know what it is you are trying to achieve, aside from building an audience. Are you trying to build brand awareness or affinity? Are you trying to reach influencers?
Deciding on your business goals is the foundation for creating a successful podcast campaign. If you don’t know what you want the podcast to do for your business, how can you assess the success of the podcast?
Even though Rocket Mortgage has an exceptional brand profile and is well-recognized by the average American, it is a company without a face at the community level. Their goal in making the podcast was to overcome the lack of personal face-to-face relationships with customers that their brick & mortar competitors have and cultivate a sense of meaningfulness through the emotional impact of the personal stories they would tell on their podcast.
2 | KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
You can’t make a show for everyone. There are too many podcasts available designed for broad audiences. Trying to compete with these shows is extremely challenging and requires a huge level of investment and patience. We always recommend identifying who exactly you want to reach. Don’t be afraid to keep this group niche. It is far more within your reach to create an awesome show for a targeted audience than a show that everyone (and their mothers) will love.
Once you have identified your goal, ask yourself: who are the ideal listeners of this podcast? This will also help you define the stories you will tell.
A show for everyone is a show for no one. Rocket Mortgage had a clear idea of who they would like their audience to be: millennial first-time homebuyers with a focus on Black, Latino, and Asian Americans. Having their audience in mind, we were able to craft stories that would appeal specifically to this audience.
3 | MAKE IT STAND OUT
A podcast is not a sales brochure — not even a branded podcast. In fact, you have to convince listeners that what they are about to hear is not a commercial. This makes the bar for brands to tell compelling stories even higher. Podcasts are an opt-in medium, which means that it’s even more rewarding when you do build an audience. So, create something that a listener can’t turn off. When brands create podcasts they need to make sure they don’t focus on the stories they want to tell but instead on the stories that people want to hear.
For the team that created Home. Made., this meant creating a development process that would pinpoint where the brand values intersected with content the target audience would engage with. (It also meant committing to a promotion plan, but more on that later.) What they landed on was a show about the pursuit of comfort and belonging, and the many ways people define “home.”
Matt mentioned that they aspired for a quality in their storytelling that could compete with shows like This American Life, which acted as a North Star for the production and helped Rocket Mortgage choose a host for the show. Stephanie Foo was the perfect host for this ambitious undertaking.
The Rocket Mortgage team focused most of their attention on creating stories that audiences want to hear. Together with our team and the host Stephanie Foo, it was crucial to identify those stories that were meaningful, compelling and reflected the values of Rocket Mortgage. This was a huge time investment, especially in the first season.
As Matt put it: “We drew our sandbox large enough so we could bring in a lot of different stories… but it was narrow enough that it made sense that a mortgage company would be talking about home.”
By the way, it looks like this investment has paid off: Home. Made. was just recently shortlisted for a Digiday Marketing Award for Best Branded Podcast.
4 | KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS
Big brands have a big advantage over independent podcasters. Here at Pacific Content, we call it brand superpowers. Brands have existing audiences (like employees, customers, partners, etc), internal support teams (such as design and marketing teams) and often more budget than the average podcaster. Using those strengths smartly can propel a show to reach its intended goals.
One great example of how Rocket Mortgage employed its superpower is through its internal design team and the distinct cover art they created for each episode of the show. The talented team of designers created something that represented the stories being told in each episode, as well as the Rocket Mortgage brand. Design assets are a crucial component of creating an audience. Listeners ‘see’ your podcast before they decide to press play.
5 | FOCUS THOSE STRENGTHS
In a crowded podcast space, Audience Development becomes an integral part of creating podcast success. Building an amazing show is only the starting point. Building that audience is another significant component of the work.
Here’s where Matt was being very honest: you would think that getting the 24,000 employees of Rocket Mortgage to listen to an amazing show produced by their employer would be easy. They are just an email away. Matt shared that large companies have many competing priorities and messages. It can be hard to get a podcast to the top of the internal communication list. He reminded us that, even though brands have superpowers, they can still be difficult to activate.
But consistency and patience are part of any successful audience development strategy. Rocket Mortgage has a stellar show with compelling content, creative artwork, and a noteworthy host. Since the launch, the show has experienced steady growth and Matt mentioned that “once we get people into [the podcast], they’re into it!”.
6 | FIND THE RIGHT PARTNER
So, you’ve decided to make a podcast. Do you have the internal resources to create a quality show? As you are evaluating the in-house reserves, decide what can be done internally and what you might need a partner for to make this investment worthwhile.
Luckily, Rocket Mortgage decided to work with us to produce their podcast. Each client relationship is different. In this case, we collaborated with Rocket Mortgage on the story ideation and development stage, and then again on the feedback revision stage after the episodes had been recorded.
For us, aside from podcast success, we also aim for client success. Our best podcast production experiences happen when the client is having as much fun as we are — telling stories that people want to tune in for.
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