Podcasts just may be the next big thing in content marketing-at least, that's what a lot of the thought leaders are saying these days.
It's understandable if some marketing pros are skeptical, though. Unless you have an inherently fascinating product-and most companies don't-it's hard to imagine casual listeners choosing to tune into a podcast about it week after week.
To make things even more difficult, podcast marketing requires a level of commitment from audiences most other content forms don't. Listeners can't skim podcasts like they can skim articles. It takes much more time and focus to listen to a 20-minute podcast episode than it does to scroll through a brand's Instagram feed.
So if you want to create a branded podcast, how do you keep audiences hooked for the long haul?
That's what I was wondering after writing my analysis of the benefits of podcast marketing. I've never doubted it was possible, but believing in something and understanding exactly how to put it into practice are two different things.
When you think of a successful branded podcast, you probably think of The Message, GE's wildly popular podcast that built a sci-fi story around some of its more sci-fi-esque initiatives. But The Message is a bit of an outlier. Most businesses don't have Hollywood-worthy products you can build a suspenseful tale around or the production budget necessary for a high-quality audio drama. So what other routes can a marketing department take?
To answer that question, I went searching for some of the most engaging branded podcasts out there. The four companies profiled below are all vastly different from each other. But all four have managed to create podcasts that earn good ratings and amass a regular following of casual listeners.
Each of these branded podcasts taught me some interesting strategies that almost any business can draw from to make their podcasts successful-and they were pretty entertaining, too.
Why We Eat What We Eat
My first stop was Blue Apron's new podcast, Why We Eat What We Eat. This show mixes investigative reporting with storytelling to provide fresh insights into the unseen forces that shape our eating habits, examining topics from the sudden kale craze to the evolution of Chinese food in America.
The podcast benefits from a likable host with a bit of influencer power (food writer and blogger Cathy Erway), creative insights, and authentic conversations with guests from all walks of life. I was especially captivated by the episode on how climate change may change our diets in the near future. (The good news: There will still be plenty to eat. The bad news: It's time to get used to the idea of eating bugs.)
How did it do as a marketing initiative?
Blue Apron was never mentioned at any point throughout the podcast other than the credits, so it was easy to forget I was listening to a branded podcast. However, more overt branding would likely undercut the show's feeling of authenticity, which is one of its greatest strengths. Instead of being a thinly veiled commercial, Why We Eat What We Eat is a genuine exploration and celebration of food. Listeners don't leave the podcast convinced that Blue Apron is the best meal delivery service out there, but they do leave it excited about cooking and tasting new, exciting foods-something Blue Apron can certainly help with.
Why We Eat What We Eat demonstrates how branded podcasts can draw on features that successful non-branded podcasts are often defined by-authentic stories, likable hosts, and fresh insights. These factors help build a dedicated audience that, through the course of the show, eventually becomes genuinely interested in what your company has to offer.
Rise and Grind
Branded podcasts are generally targeted to B2C audiences, but B2B brands have a place in the podcast landscape as well. ZipRecruiter's show, Rise and Grind, proves this concept. It speaks to entrepreneurs eager to take their budding businesses to the next level. Each episode is formatted as an interview, with Daymond John (of Shark Tank fame) asking a different entrepreneur about how they approach their own personal "grind."
Interviewing someone is generally a sure bet for a successful podcast format, and Rise and Grind demonstrates why. Interviews allow for authentic discussions that are structured enough that they don't stray off topic, but unstructured enough that the conversations feel organic. The result is an engaging show that manages to take listeners to the heart of what makes these guests successful.
This show has a little more overt branding than the other branded podcast examples I'm profiling here. Besides the credits at the beginning and end of each episode, there's also a brief break in the middle where Daymond John interviews an executive from ZipRecruiter. This executive provides entrepreneurial advice based off his own life experiences similar to wisdom provided by John's other guests.
If you're going to blatantly mention your brand, this is the way to do it-with information that's relevant to your listeners and fitting with your show. At first, I was happy to listen to this entertaining "commercial break." It wasn't until these soundbytes started getting reused that I grew bored and began fast-forwarding through them.
Interviewing guests is a smart strategy for getting unique, interesting podcast episodes without having to write a new script every week. If the interviewee or interviewer has some influencer power, so much the better. And if you do want to mention your brand outside of the credits, that's fine-as long as it's in a way that's interesting and useful to your audience.
Having just wrapped up its second season, DTR (which stands for "define the relationship") is Tinder's platform for exploring love and romance in the digital age. I wasn't expecting much when I started this podcast-the episode descriptions sounded slightly sensationalist, and I tend to be cynical when it comes to romance. But once I started listening, I ended up pleasantly surprised.
Some episodes follow a specific person or group of people as they navigate online dating, while others explore dating issues unique to the online scene. In each one, the podcasters find everyday people to interview about their experiences. Instead of being sensational, DTR is firmly grounded in reality, openly exploring online dating in all its messy complexities. I found myself becoming invested in the people featured in each episode and rooting for their relationships to blossom. DTR cut right past my cynicism with its honest host, relatable guests, and personal, real-life stories.
Since Tinder is a product that lends itself to interesting stories better than most, it wasn't hard to mention the brand in a non-obtrusive way throughout each episode. That being said, DTR did an admirable job of not getting pushy with its branding. There was no discussion of how Tinder compares to other dating websites or any direct promotion of online dating in general. DTR has its focus on storytelling firmly defined.
Authentic, compelling stories will always engage an audience. Relatability is a strength, too-and everyone loves a love story.
There's plenty being said about cybersecurity these days. But somehow, Hackable? has found a new approach to the conversation. Formatted as an investigative look into hacking myths, this podcast from McAfee manages to be genuinely amusing while instilling in its listeners a healthy fear of hackers.
Hackable's episodes typically begin with a description of a fictional hack (examples from Mr. Robot feature pretty heavily). The host then spends the episode interviewing tech experts and white hat hackers to discover if these hacks are possible. Surprise: They almost always are. The show has an investigative, Mythbusters-esque feel to it as white hat hackers recreate hacks while a flabbergasted host watches his accounts being breached (or his car getting broken into, or a hacked car wash trapping him inside . . .)
McAfee's presence is felt in Hackable? primarily through a subject matter expert from the company. This expert often chats with the host about the technology behind the hacks he's investigating and, more importantly, how to protect against them. And no, his advice isn't to buy McAfee's security solutions. He gives vendor-neutral tips-changing passwords, avoiding public Wi-Fi, and the like. Hackable? doesn't overtly promote McAfee, but it does position a McAfee employee as a knowledgeable expert capable of keeping you safe and demonstrates in every episode exactly why you need his expertise.
Podcasts like Hackable? show how a product solves a real-life need and demonstrates that need in authentic scenarios, keeping the listener hooked while subtly making the case that they should buy the product themselves.
The Secret of Podcast Marketing Success
Podcasts are fantastic tools for reaching new audiences, but only if they're done with care. The good news is that, as these podcasts demonstrate, every company can find authentic stories related to their brands, whether those stories are revealed through interviews, investigations, or real-life demonstrations. With some serious thought about what kind of stories your brand can tell and a commitment to honesty, you have what you need to begin making an engaging podcast, no matter what industry you're in.
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Featured image attribution: Igor Starkov