If it feels like everyone has a podcast these days, that’s because it’s true. Well, maybe not everyone, but there are about 700,000 shows out there, with between 2,000 and 3,000 new shows launching each month. And branded podcasts make up a significant chunk of that volume.
Companies have every reason to jump onto the podcast bandwagon—after all, 56 million Americans listen to podcasts each month, according to the latest Edison Research study and the current boom is largely regarded as the golden age for the medium. It’s no surprise, then, that some brands have seen a great deal of success with their shows.
GE, for example, created a science fiction storytelling podcast called The Message. The podcast received millions of downloads and at one point reached number one on the iTunes podcast charts. ZipRecruiter took another approach with “Rise and Grind,” an interview-based podcast hosted by Shark Tank’s Daymond John. Now in its tenth season, the podcast is among the most popular in its genre, resonating with entrepreneurs across industries.
But for every hit podcast, there are hundreds of copycats that don’t quite capture the same magic. And we’ve seen this all before—remember when everyone was launching a blog? If the blog hype is any indication, podcasting, too, is due for a massive culling as listeners get choosier about what floods their ears.
So where does that leave you, a brand that’s interested in launching your very own podcast? For one, don’t do it just because everyone else is. It’ll simply cost you more than it’s worth. With that said, there are ways to do podcasting well.
Know Your Mission And Find Your Voice
As with any content marketing effort, setting clear goals and expectations is critical. If your aim is to establish a thought leadership platform on an emerging and exciting medium, introduce your brand to new audiences, and generate some social media buzz, those are realistic expectations. But if you anticipate that your podcast will drive the same level of direct traffic to your website as, say, your newsletter does, then you’re bound to be disappointed.
For now, many listeners are still in the discovery phase—they’re open to recommendations and eager to experiment with different shows. For brands, it’s an opportunity to cast a wider net and attract listeners who might not be part of their typical target audience. But that might require stepping slightly outside their comfort zone while staying true to their brand voice and values.
The Sauce, a podcast from McDonald’s, is a good example of this. The company stayed completely on brand, but wasn’t afraid to push the envelope, structuring the storytelling show as a mystery of how McDonald’s underestimated demand for a popular dipping sauce and angered thousands of its customers. Not only was McDonald’s ready to poke fun at its miscalculation, but the company was also bold enough to take on a Serial-style show—and succeed.
Choose Your Format Wisely
We can’t say enough about the importance of format. Though several variations exist, by now, you’ve probably noticed that there are two primary approaches to podcasting: storytelling and interviewing. With an interview-based podcast, personality is everything. Much of the success of Rise and Grind, for example, rests on John’s incredible entrepreneurial instinct, intelligence, and business savvy. His no-nonsense interview style and sharp questions resonate with listeners, and the podcast has broad appeal beyond just those in the business community. Unless your brand has some strong personalities behind it, this may not be the format for you.
Steve Pratt, a veteran CBC producer who now runs a podcasting company called Pacific Content, discourages his clients from starting interview shows. “People assume that’s all a podcast is: two people talking unedited for two hours, three hours,” he said. “But just because Joe Rogan can do it well doesn’t mean the average Joe can.” If you decide to pursue an interview-based approach, be sure to inject some structure into every episode. Use an outline or a series of scripted questions to guide every conversation and avoid veering off on uninteresting tangents.
That brings us to storytelling podcasts. Here, not only do you have control over the genre and direction of the story you tell (remember the science fiction podcast from GE?), but you can also research, script and fully architect entire episodes. The messaging is much more manageable, and podcasting suddenly becomes a unique channel to tell your brand story in a creative, directed way. Beware: Storytelling can be harder to execute and require more creative resources and editing, but it’s a less crowded space than interviews.
Edit, Edit, Edit
Sure, you can hit record on almost any device and upload your podcast in minutes, but if you’re not prepared to invest in production value, listeners will punish you for it. Equipment and editing software costs can add up during the early days, especially if you’re buying top-of-the-line items, but consider this: Poor audio is one of the top reasons why listeners unsubscribe, with many calling it a podcast dealbreaker.
Interviews podcasts are the biggest culprits here—if this is the format you choose, don’t assume you can get away with recording a phone or Skype conversation. Bring your guest into your studio, direct them to a recording studio in their area, or send an audio engineer to their location. Trust us, it makes a difference.
If podcasting is part of your 2020 content strategy, get ready. It’s going to be a big year for the medium, and there’s no better time to dip your toe into the water. Sure, everyone’s making podcasts, but not everyone is making good ones. Be strategic, and you’ll come out on top.