Advertisers are looking at podcasts all wrong

Podcast listener with foam headphones
Advertisers are looking at podcasts all wrong

Podcasts are not necessarily the way for advertisers to reach large numbers of consumers (unless the podcast is Serial). But they are an excellent way for businesses to give value to their existing customers and to reach and grow an engaged community of brand advocates.

Podcasting is huge right now. It’s the new black. It’s destroying radio and revolutionising the way we listen to audio.

Okay that last point might be a bit of an exaggeration.

Podcasting is not killing radio because podcasting is not radio. It’s not even a linear medium. We can’t turn on any device to hear what podcast is playing with the hope we might like it. So why do advertisers consider advertising on podcasts in the same way they think about advertising on radio?

The argument commonly given for the failure of podcasts to attract advertising or sponsorship dollars is a lack of usage data. Radio surveys can tell you how many people are listening, when and where they are listening and for how long. Podcast data is improving, but until recently it’s been difficult to get more than the number of downloads a podcast has.

Downloads don’t mean listens – we can all confirm that by looking at the number of podcasts banking up in our podcast apps.

Podcasting is not radio. It’s not even new.

Glenn Gould’s landmark documentary, ‘The Idea of North,’ first aired on CBC Radio in Canada on December 28, 1967. I wasn’t there to hear it. I wasn’t even born. I first heard it as ‘audio-on-demand’ – a CD – in 1994. A friend passed it on when he spotted the convergence of my interest in Glenn Gould’s work as a pianist and my love for audio documentaries. Mind blown.

Radio documentaries, talking books, audio love letters. We’ve had this ‘audio-on-demand’ thing for a while now. Yet still we assess the value of advertising on podcasts in the same way as advertising on radio.

I once had a cassette tape of a doctor speaking about general healthcare. I think it came from my health insurer, with their branding on the cover and jingles on the tape. Now that’s how advertisers should be looking at podcasts. It’s an opportunity to give value to your customers and attract new customers.

Advertisers, or businesses who are advertising, have experienced a shift in power in the same way that media outlets have. Gone are the days when you could tell your potential customers what they needed and where to get it. In today’s advertising and marketing world, businesses must give value before they take value. The consumer is in the driving seat.

Luckily for businesses, they have at their disposal an enormous library of content that they can share with their networks to provide that value – podcasts. A quick scan of your favourite podcasting platform reveals that there are podcasts on almost any topic you can think of.

So why would a business sponsor a podcast that doesn’t have a massive audience?

The aim of advertising is to increase awareness of and engagement with your brand with the ultimate outcome being an increase in revenue. By sponsoring a podcast with a million downloads, you can’t guarantee or even quantify the number of people in that million who are your potential clients.

On the other hand, if you sponsor a podcast that talks about the things your clients are interested in, not only will you reach their audience, but you’ll be giving your audience added value. Something they enjoy and can engage with.

As an example, let’s look at a hot topic of the moment – start-ups. Starting a business involves a lot of work for the start-up and they need the services of a lot of industries, particularly accountants, lawyers, Software as a Service, computer supplies and quite a lot more. A quick search of your favourite podcast platform reveals a lot of podcasts talking about start-ups and a lot more talking about other issues that are of relevance to entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately, few of these podcasts tend to hang around the top 10 podcasts each week, so they’ve got relatively small, niche audiences. And in Australia, while 72% are familiar with podcasts, only 30% of us have ever listened to one. So, advertising with or sponsoring a start-up podcast isn’t going to deliver potential advertisers much greater awareness.

However, what it will do is give them valuable content that they can share with their existing clients and use in other marketing and advertising channels to generate leads. The key is to identify content that will be of interest and value to your audience. No doubt start-ups, entrepreneurs and small business would love to hear from those who have gone before them and created successful enterprises. They would benefit from hearing experts in areas such as intellectual property, social media marketing and goal setting to give advice and highlight common pitfalls. (This all sounds a lot like a podcast we’re working on right now! More details to come tomorrow!)

Of course, there are also varying degrees of quality and risk involved in partnering with a random podcast. So, a business that realises the benefits of giving value to their customers could put their advertising/sponsorship dollars to work in commissioning a podcast.

A commissioned podcast gives the business control over the quality of the podcast, with the added benefit of editorial input from the podcast maker. Unlike the business which is focussed on selling a product or service, the podcast maker is focussed on delivering engaging content. When these two priorities meet, that’s where the magic happens.

At Written & Recorded we work with a range of businesses to develop podcasts and we’re constantly amazed at how both parties approach the problem from very different perspectives. The business is usually very clear about their market, their mission and their goals. As guests of the business, our awareness of and relationship with that business is similar to that of their customers. So, we’re able to highlight the need for different types of information, or activities within the business. Often people working in the business don’t realise these things are appealing to outsiders.

What we really like to do is develop an audio strategy that highlights topics that interest both the people in the business and their customers. That’s when we know we’re onto something really effective. The business will be engaged in the process, and their customers will be engaged in the resulting podcast. That content can then be repurposed to support online advertising, social media and other blogging and marketing channels.

The final podcast may not result in big numbers of listeners, but it will have engaged listeners who become marketing qualified leads and future customers.

And who knows – do it right and you might just have a podcast chart topper on your hands.


If you’d like to talk about branded podcasts or advertising on podcasts, call James on (03) 9523 6196 or drop us a line at