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To Podcast or Not to Podcast
The Popularity of Podcasts
Podcasts are now everywhere. Thanks to the ubiquitous cell phone as well as music and radio streaming services, people have easy access to a wide range of podcasts to listen to whenever they have time to “listen” but not necessarily “look/see” such as riding a bike, working out, folding laundry, washing the car, riding a train, driving to work or taking the dog for a walk. “What podcasts are you listening to?” is replacing “What are you reading?” as the most common and telling get-to-know you question. If you haven’t listened to a podcast yet, you are the exception, not the rule. A recent survey found that 82.4% of Americans listen to podcasts more than seven hours a week, and 59% of respondents spent more time listening to podcasts than on social media. Even more interesting for businesses, 55.6% of respondents said they purchased an item after hearing it advertised on a podcast. So people are tuning in to podcasts and really listening, and here’s why. Apple showed over 800,000 podcasts being published in December 2019 and Podcast Insights reported 850,000 active podcasts offering more than 30 million podcast episodes in January 2020. Considering there were just 500,000 active podcasts in February 2018, this is pretty dramatic growth. However, Google says there are over 2,000,000 podcasts today. That’s a lot of content. Topics span just about every genre, diving into every topic imaginable. Every topic. Business. Finance. Leadership. Politics. Music. Food. Art. Movies. Games. Sports. Religion. Parenting. Design. You name it.
That may explain, in part, why podcasts have gone mainstream. Although they’d been around for 15 years – with the term podcast originated from a blend of iPod and broadcast – they really skyrocketed in status and acceptance in the last few years. As of last year, not only were nearly 90% of all Americans aware of what a podcast is, up from 74% in 2018, most Americans reported that they listened to podcasts occasionally and almost a quarter of all Americans were listening to podcasts a few times every week.
Given that remote work and stay-at-home orders have pushed people into isolation, it is no surprise that podcasts– both making them and listening to them — have become even more popular thanks to Covid. And social distancing hasn’t affected podcast production since podcasting can pretty much be done from anywhere. Given that most people have more time on their hands, new podcasts are continuously being released. There is really a podcast for just about everyone.
For example, speaking to a new generation of sophisticated, success-driven millennials, National Public Radio publishes How I Built This, a podcast with a cult following. It is particularly popular with the business-minded, bootstrapping-startup-founder crowd. Host Guy Raz invites a variety of innovators and entrepreneurs to tell their stories of finding success in ventures like Bobby Trussell, founder of Tempur-Pedic, one of the largest bedding providers in the world today, and Melanie Perkins, founder of Canva, the $6 Billion online design platform.
If a business podcast sounds stuffy, the Decoder Ring might be more appealing. This popular podcast is for the overly curious person who loves the idea of listening to someone answer all of the random questions being pondered in the wee hours of the morning or night. In each episode, Slate’s TV critic Willa Paskin examines the history of a different cultural conundrum, habit, or object—ranging from the origin of “Murphy’s Law” to why gender reveal parties for expectant parents have become so popular. It’s a funny / interesting way to pass the time.
Questions to Consider for Potential Podcasters
So why are so many willing to invest the time and energy it takes to launch and host a podcast? Highly successful podcasters are parlaying their popularity into massive fan followings and (before Covid) sold-out in-person events across the country. When handled correctly, podcasts provide an opportunity for companies to connect directly with supporters, build brand and encourage engagement. And, the low barrier to entry means any business or individual can create and launch a podcast using one of the myriad of free platforms.
That said, many podcasts are actually money-makers. Wondery makes $77.8M a year, and NPR’s This American Life / Serial makes $2.6M. Meanwhile, on Patreon, Chapo Trap House earns over $140k/month, True Crime Obsessed generates $54k/month, Last Podcast on the Left makes $55k/month, and Tiny Meat Gang rakes in $52k/month. The Wall Street Journal’s The Ringer earned more than $15 million from podcast advertisements in 2018 while The Washington Post’s Pardon My Take nets about $50,000 each episode. And Digiday’s Barstool Sports made $15M producing 25 podcasts in 2018. For companies that think “well, that’s fine for media companies, but my business could not make that kind of money with a podcast. Think again. If nothing else, it could be net neutral… a marketing effort that does not generate a profit but effectively engages with customers and builds the brand while costing nothing to the business. And that’s a win.
As with any popular medium, businesses are jumping on the podcast bandwagon. But, simply having a podcast offers little benefit to a business. To be successful in the realm of podcasting, the content must be appealing, engaging, and highly self-aware. Even still, with so many creators launching new podcasts, how many will fizzle out because they are competing for listeners? How many podcasts will be like the blogs, vlogs and YouTube Channels of yesteryear… yet another marketing ploy companies try and then terminate when the toil exceeds the treasures they were expecting? Before jumping into the fray, marketing teams and company leaders need to consider a few things to determine if they have the tenacity, talent, topic and time to commit to podcasting as a marketing strategy.
1. Is there a unique angle?
What distinct story, voice or vision is the business looking to convey? Will the podcast be comedic, serious, or informational in nature – and can the host carry off the right tone and feel for that topic and approach? Someone trying to launch a podcast about real estate investing will not be able to sustain it if the approach is comedic and shallow. If the podcast will feature guests, can the podcasting team be able to secure the kind of people that will connect with the audience? Whether this is an individual endeavor or a corporate one, it is important to sketch out the concept comprehensively at the outset.
As companies head into fall, it is important for a brand or individual with a podcast to look forward to the next six months or year and brainstorm the topics that should be in the pipeline and how strategy can shift as needed depending on what happens in the fast-changing business landscape. Where appropriate, prepare topics and material in advance but recognize that, if things change, there may be a need to be flexible and shift gears.
2. Is there capacity to podcast regularly?
Doing anything regularly takes a big commitment. That’s why so many blogs launched, published for a few months or seasons and then eventually fizzled out. Like any other regular marketing strategy, podcasts require an investment of time, energy, and resources. To build up followers, the organization or host must commit to producing new episodes on a regular schedule. Will there be a daily episode or weekly? It takes discipline to produce and create episodes on a weekly, bimonthly, or monthly cycle. For podcasts that will host guests, does the company have the resources and network to pitch and secure new guests continually? If the company doesn’t have the talent, time or resources to produce a regular podcast, is it willing to commit to hiring a professional producer?
3. How does this fit with the company’s marketing plan?
Given the glut of new podcasts thanks to Covid, even well-known, well-respected and iconic podcasters can expect to compete for listeners. That means the podcast will require marketing in order to attract listeners. The business should create a plan—and budget—for marketing its podcast prior to and during launch. An integrated marketing plan should include email blasts, social media marketing, and earned media promotion. The podcast will take time to catch on and find followers. And it may require honestly assessing both the content and marketing and then strategically adjusting the approach in order to connect with listeners in a genuine way.
For companies considering the podcast path, the bottom line question is whether podcasts are worth the investment. The short answer is that they can be, with the right host, topic, angle, and plan as well as a deep commitment to stick with it. A thoughtfully planned and executed podcast can be a compelling part of a company’s way of boosting its brand and engaging with its customers.
Next week, we will look at why podcasts are an effective marketing tool, and what it takes to get started podcasting. Stay tuned.
Quote of the Week
“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.”
© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.