They engage, entertain and inform. And they have matured into a serious business. Here, we look at the best branded podcasts.
In the past couple of years podcasting has made a comeback of sorts. Last year, investigative journalism podcast S-Town had 40 million downloads in its first month with an audience of loyal fans hooked on every word.
Edison’s 2017 The Infinite Dial survey looked at the audio consumption habits of Australians, finding that 29 per cent of the nation had listened to at least one podcast and 17 per cent had listened in the past month. These proportions aren’t spectacular, but regular listeners to podcasts are intensely engaged. The same survey found that those who tune in weekly consume an average of six podcasts.
The audiences podcasts engage tend to be harder to reach, gravitating to ad-free or ad-light subscription experiences while also being affluent and educated. When ads are included, research from Nielsen shows that almost eight in 10 podcast listeners aged between 18 and 49 don’t mind ads from podcasts they listen to regularly and instead focus on the authenticity of the ads. The ability to access hard to reach audiences can power conversions. For example, the Los Angeles Times used interest in its Dirty John podcast and editorial series to amass an additional 21,000 email subscribers to its Essential California newsletter.
So it’s no surprise that brands are trying to get a slice of what podcasting can offer.
1. Artsy’s The Artsy Podcast
Artsy is a resource for art collecting and education. Its stated mission is to “make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an internet connection”. The Artsy Podcast takes advantage of the company’s knowledge and extensive databases to offer a window to what is buzzing in the art world and make the subject accessible. They use podcasting as a way to hold listeners for longer storytelling and analysis.
Each episode features art-lovers talking about what they love from a range of perspectives. The conversation is light while still being informative. It often offers lessons in art history, in-the-know recommendations of worthwhile exhibits, and market news. If you are looking to find out Why Good Artists Make “Bad” Paintings or intersections of art and law, or just to discover something you might have never heard about, the podcast is a good start.
2. Mozilla’s IRL
Mozilla, known for creating the Firefox internet browser, has centred its podcast on (aptly) the internet. However, IRL is not necessarily a podcast for tech nerds, it is an accessible way for non-technical listeners to explore the health of the internet and some of the threats that could change power dynamics for internet users. Topics include privacy and data, bots, and hacking.
The company understood the power of influencers to make the show catch on. The host of the show, Veronica Belmont, has a large online audience herself, along with knowledge of technology issues.
But on top of this, Mozilla understands that a branded podcast will only work if it passes one of the key tests of all good content marketing: “Will this be relevant to the audience we’re trying to reach?”. Meaningful branded podcasts should be engaging without sounding like marketing. With the first season of IRL gaining more than one million downloads and a growing subscriber base, it seems to be paying off.
3. Slack’s Work in Progress
Slack, a messaging service for work teams, built its podcast around a common question used to strike up conversation – “what do you do for a living?”. The thinking behind the theme is to explore how we find purpose in our work.
The end result is Work in Progress, a mixed-bag of stories that stretch from a dissatisfied retiree re-entering the workforce as an intern, to a police officer fighting the drug trade while also maintaining his relationship with his drug-addicted brother. From a woman who works as an internet hoax spotter, to a seamstress working for NASA. The podcast has found a way to talk about what Slack wants to represent, collaborating on work more easily (see the Work in Progress title), without being preachy. Though about work, the stories are sometimes fun and sometimes deeply personal, and they provide inspiring glimpses into the daily work and career progress of those around us.
4. Genea’s Modern Babies
While the impact of smartphones has certainly helped make podcasts accessible, a lot of the time they are not actually consumed on-the-go. Edison’s research found that the number one place people listen to podcasts is in the privacy of their own home. Podcasting’s intimate format can be used to reach and engage audiences in spaces where they would usually want to block brands out.
IVF clinic Genea teamed up with NOVA Entertainment when producing the podcast Modern Babies. The hosts take a subject matter that could easily be dry or even cold and clinical and instead provide information and support through fertility.
“Modern Babies was created to enable listeners to have a more informed experience around fertility and break down the stigma surrounding infertility and IVF,” Kate Day, NOVA Entertainment’s National Commercial Strategy Director says. “Podcasting provides an ideal platform for Genea to connect with listeners by sharing real life experiences, through original and emotive storytelling, around this personal and often sensitive topic.”
According to Josh Butt, co-host of Modern Babies, the podcast was created as ‘utility content’, where people will only be interested if the are trying to have a baby. Most people don’t need it, until they really need it. And when people are searching for information about fertility, the brand is front of mind. The podcast allowed the company to reach a specific, targeted audience and win best podcast award at Mumbrella’s 2017 publishing awards.
5. GE’s The message
It can be difficult to be heard through the overwhelming static of the podcast marketplace so General Electric took a novel approach – turning to fiction. The result is The message, an eight-part science fiction podcast series that follows the story of cryptographers trying to decipher and investigate mysterious transmissions from outer-space. Think War of the Worlds for a 21st century audience.
GE invested in audio storytellers like playwright Mac Rogers to create the podcast, to find new ways to show how it was evolving as a science and technology company. And it was a success, being downloaded five million times and even reaching number one on the iTunes podcast charts, because it focused on an engaging story.
“I’m not saying, ‘hey, go out and buy a jet engine.’ It’s a science fiction story to connect listeners with what the GE brand is about, without selling the GE brand.” Chief creative officer at GE Andy Goldberg told Nieman Lab.
The big lesson: just because you are making a branded podcast, doesn’t mean your podcast should only talk about your brand. Think outside the box and use the engaging medium to bring useful information to your audience when they need it.