People are gathering around voice assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa to listen to podcasts like some sort of old-timey radio hour. Podcasts are being listened to in ever-increasing numbers – even McDonalds has one called ‘The Sauce’. And it’s not uncommon to pass people in the street who are listening to their phones like a transistor radio.

It’s time for audio!

The internet freed photographs from paper, video from the television and in recent years, audio has been liberated from radio stations. It’s now possible to talk directly to your audience – and when it’s done right, they’re all ears.

We were discussing a podcast idea with a potential client the other day. We suggested that we record the podcast while she was doing the thing that she would be talking about in the podcast. “Why wouldn’t we do it as a video then,” she asked.

Like well-studied students of audio, we quickly fired off these bullet points:

  • Your audience is driving, they can’t watch a video
  • Your audience can do that thing with you, but not while they’re watching a video
  • Audio is cheaper than video
  • There’s dogs that need to be walked

One thing we didn’t mention was that she already had video. She already had text blogs on a website. She already had articles in traditional print publications. So why would you ignore the opportunity to reach your market with audio.

In February the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) reported that two-thirds of Australian media agencies are regularly buying streaming audio while only 13 per cent are preparing voice strategies. Podcasting is taking power from traditional radio stations and putting it into the hands of individuals, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that we still need advertising to pay for it – and to provide data and research.

The IAB highlights that advertisers are buying advertising spots on streaming audio which is a pretty clear indicator that people are listening. In fact, the IAB report revealed that 13.6 million Australians listened to streaming audio content on their phones and tablets in December last year. That’s almost 14 million people who listened to something at some time in the month, rather than at any particular time or on a particular day. The podcasting audience is incredibly fragmented, which is a challenge for traditional advertisers – and an opportunity.

The challenge with podcast advertising

Take a look at the top 200 podcasts on your favourite podcasting platform (Apple Podcasts, Google Play) and you’ll see that the top spots are dominated by American podcasts. So, if Australian advertisers want to reach a mass podcast audience, they need to compete with American advertisers. Then, if they’re successful, their message will fall on deaf American ears. As the American ads do when we listen to their podcasts Down Under – we just dream of Blue Apron delivering to our door!

To advertise on an Australian podcast, you’ll need to scroll down the top 200 a fair way, drastically reducing your audience. It’s been done by companies like Holden who sponsored Will Anderson’s Two Guys One Cup podcast last year. But there aren’t many podcasts that satisfy advertisers in terms of return on investment and risk minimisation.

The podcast opportunity for businesses

To see the future of podcasting in Australia we need look no further than our friends in the United States where the spend on podcast advertising increased 85 per cent in 2017 to $220 million. Fast Company suggests that advertisers there are more comfortable with podcast advertising, because podcast listeners usually get through 90% of each episode and they don’t skip the ads.

They do make some cracking podcasts in the US, like Serial, S-town and This American Life which are gateway podcasts for many. As they’ve developed a strong podcast style, they’ve also incubated a natural advertising style. In radio it used to be called a ‘live read’ where the announcer would read the ad live to air, occasionally embellishing the copy and giving it much more personality than the polished studio version would have. The podcast version is delivered by the podcast host who has usually sampled the product they are advertising, giving it an authoritative recommendation.

But there is another way.

Introducing the branded podcast

Businesses are taking podcasting into their own hands. Or they are hiring the makers of the podcasts (like us) to make a podcast for them.

McDonald’s recently launched The Sauce. It’s made by Gizmodo and Onion Labs and as you’d expect from those two, it has its tongue placed firmly in its cheek. The Sauce is scripted and produced to within an inch of its life and it embraces all of the good bits of podcasts. It’s difficult not to like!

Mastercard has a podcast called Fortune Favors the Bold, made by Gimlet Media ‘the HBO of podcasting’ that documented its own birth through the podcast Startup. Fortune Favors the Bold is about money, how you make it, how you grow it, how you futureproof your career.

The secret to branded podcasts

McDonald’s and MasterCard are challenging current perceptions of podcasts with their transparency around the fact that their podcasts are paid for. They’re also challenging perceptions of branded podcasts because they don’t suck! In fact, they’re both very enjoyable to listen to, and in the case of Fortune Favors the Bold, even beneficial – I picked up some great money tips.

The secret of the branded podcast is to avoid making a podcast about your business. Instead, make a podcast about a topic that resonates with your audience. And make it good.

Business owners should have a good understanding of their customers – what they like and don’t like, what their interests are, or what information would be beneficial to them. By creating an enjoyable listening experience that adds value for the listener you’ll have something you can build an audience with. You can put your branding on the podcast imagery, you can include an advertisement at the beginning, in the middle, at the end – or all three.

We recently created an audio story about Outward Bound which you might think would be a great podcast episode for the adventure company – except it’s about their business. Instead, an audio story like this would be a great podcast episode for a backpack manufacturer like Osprey, or makers of hiking shoes like Keen (#justsaying).

Here’s a simple audio strategy

Once you’ve created a podcast, you can share it with your existing marketing networks, through email newsletters (EDM), on your website and on social media channels. While the podcast market might be flooded, not every podcast maker has the reputation and networks that your business has. You’ve got a head start in creating an audience and you can increase that lead with some targeted online and social media advertising.

Your simple audio strategy can dovetail with your other marketing and communications strategies. Blog posts can inform podcasts and vice versa. You can respond to media and industry events with your podcast. It can even form part of your media training program to have spokespeople ready to engage with broader media.

The sky’s the limit and it’s all blue!

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