Not Strictly a Sales Vehicle: What to Consider Before You Decide to Produce a Branded Podcast

Mailchimp, McDonald’s, GE, Sephora, Basecamp, Johnson & Johnson, Chanel. Brands seemingly unlike one another. But what they have in common are branded podcasts. With the explosion in podcast listenership, perhaps it’s not a surprise.

Edison Research and Triton Digital say 28 percent of the U.S. population (ages 12 and older) are weekly podcast listeners; this is a 17 percent increase vs 2020. And eMarketer’s “Insider Intelligence” notes time spent per day with podcasts increased 8.1 percent year-over-year, to an average of 44 minutes.

These data might be enough to convince a marketing department to jump on board, but consider that in just three years, active podcasts increased from just 500,000 to more than 2 million. The field is growing and it’s crowded.

So, should your organization invest in podcasting? Is there value from a brand perspective in producing a podcast?

Mailchimp, which started as a sponsor of podcasts (who can forget its “Serial” ad?), “has always found great value in the audio space,” says Sarita Alami, director of programming for Mailchimp Studios, which produced 12 seasons of a variety of podcasts. “Part of that is our brand ethos is relatively irreverent, whimsical and we have permission to make things feel personal, warm, funny, entertaining.”

Brand Value

Greg Zakowicz, marketing strategist and director of content at marketing automation company Omnisend, started podcasting in 2017, when he launched Commerce Marketer at marketing platform Bronto. Today his duties include running the Cart Insiders podcast for Omnisend.

Similar to nearly all communication efforts, the place to begin with podcasts is determining what your goals are, Zakowicz says.

What is the ultimate value of the podcast for your organization? Downloads and listens? Revenue and leads?

Before starting a podcast effort, he suggests considering, ‘What’s the tangible sales impact of [the podcast]?’ “It’s often not clear…If you can’t answer what you’re getting from it, it gets abandoned.”

He suggests considering the following questions to determine whether a podcast will meet your goals:

  • Will it enhance your position as a leader?
  • Will the podcast provide content that can be repurposed?
  • Can it help control your brand narrative?
  • Will it develop relationships that can help the brand?
  • Will it secure press opportunities?

For some, promotional discount codes mentioned within the podcasts (often toward the end) help drive, and track, sales. But sales should not be the main driver of a branded podcast.

Be realistic, advises Zakowicz. “If you expect to launch a podcast and immediately increase sales by millions of dollars, you’ll likely be disappointed. If your goal is to grow your brand reach, own your company’s narrative and engage in new conversations with industry professionals, podcasts can serve those purposes. It is important to understand that a podcast is not a ‘get-rich-quick’ tactic when it comes to results.”

At Mailchimp, leadership understands podcasting’s opportunities and limits, says Alami.

“When we start thinking about paid conversions with every episode, and have that matter more than the creative content, that’s the moment [the podcasts] would be in jeopardy,” she says.

Often for B2B brands, the space with which Zakowicz is most familiar, podcasts are a branding play. With podcasts, he says, “you should [not] expect to go viral. [It’s about] brand awareness and solidifying your brand identity.”

This is something that Meetup, which launched its podcast, “Keep Connected,” in January as a way to educate the public about the power of community, has discovered. Not only has the group organizer found value in having “experts, authors and leaders contacting us because they want to be on our podcast,” says Eileen Gilbertson, Meetup’s VP of marketing, “but we notice that guests…become better brand advocates for us, too.”

That said, it’s important to evaluate whether your target demographic is going to be interested in the medium, and not just jump into a podcast because everyone is doing one.

Thought Leadership

For Angelia Inscoe, founder and CEO of Induction Therapies Skincare and co-host of “Skin Care Moxie,” she and her team started by asking, ‘Why podcast? Is this an untapped marketing channel that could help grow our family of brands?’

“We decided to position our brand as ‘the guide in your skincare journey.’ It is not all about selling,” though she includes promotional codes in the podcast.

“It’s about educating consumers and building trust...An educated consumer is a smart consumer, and people deserve to understand what they are buying,” Inscoe adds.

Filling a Void

Similar to other content efforts, locating a void in the marketplace is important.

“We did some research and found that while there were a lot of health, beauty and wellness podcasts, nothing was as granular as skin care,” Inscoe says. “So, we set about developing a content marketing strategy” that would highlight topics such as CBD formulations, or the differences between active and inactive ingredients in skincare. “The more specific you can be about the information you’ll deliver and how it will help improve listeners’ lives is key.”

Human Connection

For Ward Kampf, president of Northwood Retail, which recently launched “Backstory Beginnings,” a podcast that features founder stories from tenants within Northwood’s portfolio, launching a podcast was a way to help brands market their locations.

“Podcasts are a very authentic way for founders and businesses to get their short origin stories in front of their consumers...Hearing someone’s voice makes all the difference,” says Kampf.

In fact, he notes, while the original intended audience was consumers at its retail centers, many of the listeners are budding entrepreneurs, who may become tenants. The series “encourages these future business owners to engage with...the brands that they look up to and aspire to emulate.”

For Meetup, the idea of human connection authentically ties the podcast to the brand.

“Some stories are better heard by the voices that lived them,” says Gilbertson. “A podcast is very on-brand [for Meetup] because it is another way to connect, but not in front of a screen.”

A Time Commitment, and Other Lessons

For those thinking about launching a branded podcast,  Gilbertson cautions, “Make sure your podcast offers value to its listeners. Take a step back as you think about your content strategy; then ask if this would be engaging for your audience. Perhaps ask family members and friends, too. Sometimes, people are too close to their brand to see things objectively.”

Alami admits that podcasts are not “the end all and be all,” adding that while she believes they are an effective medium, some expect them to check too many boxes.

And producing a podcast is more time-consuming than many communicators expect.

Speaking of time, it takes more than a bit of it to gain traction with audiences. Zakowicz advises sticking with a podcast for at least one year before abandoning it (see sidebar for more tips on getting started).

In addition, an ability to clearly communicate a podcast’s vision to stakeholders is crucial.

“We had no baseline or examples to share when we were pitching the idea,” Kampf says. “Once people understood the concept and were able to see the final product, they loved it.”

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