Lessons from Tribeca X

What can original podcasts from brands learn from the film-focused evolution of brand storytelling? A lot.

. 7 min read

What can original podcasts from brands learn from the film-focused evolution of brand storytelling? A lot.

First of all, what’s Tribeca X? Part of New York City’s Tribeca Festival, Tribeca X hones in on the intersection of entertainment and advertising, celebrating brand-funded content that tells real stories to support the values and mission of a brand — not ads. That is Tribeca X.

Tribeca X was a full day of panels and breakout sessions with creators at the forefront of culture; Diane von Furstenberg (legend!), Seth Meyers, Al Roker, Gary Vaynerchuk, and brand innovators like Kelly Colbert from US Bank, Jarvis Sam of the Rainbow Disruption, Rhasheda Boyd of Frito-Lay, and Linda Boff from GE.

If you’re in brand marketing or production, this is the event to be at to learn about building connection and attention through content. Start pitching your boss now for 2024.

So, why did Pacific Content, a podcast company, go to Tribeca X?

This year, Best In Audio was included as an award category — and we won! More about that here.

But, Showrunner Pedro Mendes and I also went for another reason (besides celebrating the win with our partners from Atlassian, Natalie Mendes & Jamey Austin): to hear about the evolution of brand-funded content and what the podcast industry can learn from it.

Brands producing their own content isn’t new. Smart marketers know that producing original content and telling meaningful stories can build community around consumers, and those same marketers are developing strategies rooted in original content more than ever before. Quite simply, people don’t love ads and an over abundance of ad inventory has created some of the most invasive or poorly executed advertising experiences in human history.

Back to Tribeca X. Unsurprisingly, brand films and visual web series were the #1 topic of conversation. It makes sense– brands have been heavily invested in video for generations. Distribution methods have become much more available and scalable, from film festivals, paid TV placement, in-store video, to social.

Though we’ve been doing this for nearly a decade, original podcasts from brands are still considered a new thing, especially compared to brand films. But simultaneously we’re not the shiny new toy anymore. Brands and podcasts have gone through the honeymoon period, and now we’re building a life together. We’re working to balance the right level of production investment vs. distribution media, brand touch, and measurement.

What can original podcasts from brands learn from the film-focused evolution of brand storytelling? A lot. But here are three areas that if done right, can make a successful brand storytelling project.

Lesson one: Trust your brand values, mission, and insights

Let’s face it, people are reluctant to spend time with “branded content”. And brands have spent millions in visual projects that just don’t earn attention. Brand-funded content is a storytelling project. “The more ‘brand’ the less effective the storytelling,” Pedro reminded us, and there still needs to be a very good reason why a specific company is telling a specific story. Not all marketers have been brave enough to commit to storytelling in the past.

Mara Downing, John Deere’s VP of Global Communications, spoke of trusting a single insight and truly letting it come to life through the story. A consumer study commissioned by the marketing team at John Deere found that new consumers couldn’t see themselves as part of the brand. It had a perception problem, rooted in years of branding to other types of people. Gaining Ground: The Fight for Black Land, produced by John Deere and directed by Eternal Polk, tells the story of a little-known issue: heirs’ property, which has devastated Black land ownership.

To help Black farmers and landowners keep their land, John Deere established the LEAP Coalition, which works to eliminate barriers created by heirs’ property. Gaining Ground: The Fight for Black Land is a stirring documentary exploring these issues and the experiences of people impacted by land loss.

This is far from what I would have expected from John Deere, and that’s what works to change perceptions. It’s genuine, it respects the story, and consumers are willing to give it precious time and attention. Even if you don’t have research insight to lean-into, your company’s mission and values can inspire the narrative.

Our own Karen Burgess (another legend) wrote about this as part of a blog about why brands shouldn’t make a podcast.

Give them a show they love, and they will reward you with their time and their attention. We have benchmarks for our shows that measure engagement times in tens of minutes, not tens of seconds which is what you typically might see on traditional corporate marketing video campaigns.

Our term for a successful show has always been Creative Bravery. Brands will only earn attention when they commit to a brave narrative and don’t only talk about themselves.

Lesson two: Expect the unexpected during production

Developing a story and producing content is dynamic. Shooting an ad is not– there’s a script, storyboard and everyone in management has signed off on the shot list and brand placements.

A successful storytelling project means letting the story evolve as the characters and showrunner uncover it. This could happen during script writing, field recording, and even in post production. Kelly Colbert touched on this as a new muscle U.S. Bank had to learn when developing their film Translators, a story that sheds light on the role bilingual children play in their families. You can imagine U.S. Bank, being a traditional institution that’s heavily regulated, is normally “in control of everything that happens during production”. The Translators project forced the team to be open to changes as the story unfolded. Non-fiction does take more flexibility than a scripted series, and often the best material is unexpected.

This was a common thread with the brand leaders at Tribeca X — they found it hard to let go and to trust their production partners. I asked Pedro what made Teamistry such a success , and how he was able to chase that story knowing that he had a job to do for our clients at Atlassian: “…we collaborated on a vision, and then they let us do what we do best.” Simple enough.

Lesson three: Measuring ROI? Welcome, ROM.

Traditional measurement doesn’t always tell the right story. Marketers have come to realize that you can’t measure content like you do an ad buy with reach and frequency goals, or impact in a media mix model (MMM) that they may be tracking.

A storytelling project’s role is to earn and maintain attention. The result is emotional. Editorially, we track attention through the retention rate, the tens of minutes people spend with a single piece of content. For some brands, you may want to know how that stacks up against an investment into another medium (like film), calculating Cost Per Minute Listened helps here.

Jennifer Warren, VP, Global Brand and Creative at Indeed inspired the new standard in measuring the impact of brand-funded content, Return on Mission.

Natalie Mendes (no relation to Pedro, and pictured above), head of brand content, and our partner at Atlassian told me that mission drives every decision they make:

“In every piece of content we create we ask ourselves, how does this unleash the potential of all teams? (our mission) If we can’t answer that question, we know it’s not the right piece of content for us to cover.”

So, if we begin content development with the mission, we should measure impact against the mission.

Think back to why your brand has a mission in the first place; it defines and upholds what you stand for as a company, where you’re going and the purpose behind your what. A story with the same mission inspires engagement.

So, how do you measure ROM? A brand lift study sheds light on the emotional appeal of the content, impact to long term brand value, and trust with your target audience after spending time with your content. Benchmarks set out by our friends at Signal Hill Insights show a direct connection between the strength of the story and attention in enhancing brand favourability.

Measuring ROM won’t be one-size-fits-all. It’ll take creative experimentation to land a brand’s formula. But understanding how much attention you’re generating, the cost of it, and how that makes a person feel will give you the insight and confidence to continue investing in an original podcast as a brand. And if the latest Edelman Trust Barometer is right, the modern purchase funnel is built on continuous engagement, action, and trust.

If you’re experimenting in content measurement, I’d love to chat.

Podcasting is currently at a couple of inflection points, but especially in terms of how brands use it as a channel. With so many new listeners coming into the medium, treating it like any other channel or one to talk about yourself (unless you’ve got a killer brand history) will mean losing trust before we ever get off the ground.

Huge thanks to Mike & Rick from Brand Storytelling, and Davy from Tribeca Audio who initially put me onto Tribeca X. We’ll be back next year!

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