Much has been written about the rise in popularity of podcasts, but little has been said of their potential to act as an effective platform for branded content [read our writer Philippa Edwards' piece analysing this subject here]. They have remained largely absent from marketing strategies, despite offering the kind of habit-forming content that consumers dream of.
Much of their popularity lies in the versatility of the medium. There are no set lengths, no particular time frames in which a podcast should be listened to, just an ever-expanding library of reportage, comedy and storytelling. And while few people have the time or patience to read long-form journalism, they do have the time to listen to podcasts in bite-sized chunks, especially during their commute to work or during moments of relaxation.
It is this timelessness that is one of the medium’s greatest attributes. What’s more, the very nature of podcasts (often serialised around a particular niche or craft) creates the kind of communities that brands are keen to tap in to. And when combined with the intimacy of audio, the bonds between hosts and listeners, and the fact that listening can be carried out as a secondary activity, the allure of podcasts only increases.
Spotify is now bringing its personalised technology to enhance the user experience for its 200 million users. It intends to make its app interface more accessible and user-friendly, and the content it will recommend to individuals will be more applicable. There is one more big change, the company intends to do more collaborations with podcast creators for ‘Spotify only’ content. The big thing for brands will be the news that spotify will be selling ad space within podcasts as an added revenue stream—a testament to the increasingly popular form of audio programming and one which Spotify think brands will want to be a part of.
While the industry has yet to establish the best way to measure listening, the numbers alone are enticing. In March last year, Apple Podcasts passed 50 billion all-time episode downloads and streams, with 525,000 active shows. That’s 18.5 million episodes. Meanwhile, the number of people in the US who listen to at least one podcast a month is estimated to be around the 73 million mark, with that number only set to rise.
So why have only a handful of brands embraced what is undoubtedly a rising trend? Brands such as General Electric, which teamed up with Panoply to create the science fiction-meets-real-science series The Message, and MasterCard, which launched Fortune Favours the Bold in partnership with Gimlet represent exceptions, rather than the rule.
If a primary focus of modern marketing is content, then why are podcasts being largely ignored? After all, Don’t they fall almost perfectly into the advertising world’s love of branded content? As the likes of Serial (an investigative podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig that narrates a non-fiction story over multiple episodes) have shown, when it comes to superbly crafted storytelling, podcasts take some beating.
Most brands’ involvement in podcasts have so far been limited to sponsorships or regular advertising spots, but it’s time to delve deeper. We’re not talking one-off pieces of communication here. We’re talking consistent, long-term storytelling. The kind of narrative that can propel a brand into the popular imagination. Because podcasts not only offer the opportunity for brands to curate their own content, they provide a new path towards engagement, amplifying a brand’s story and opening the door to popular culture.
Isn’t that what brands want? To be a part of the culture around them? To find an audience of like-minded individuals? To add value to a brand’s positioning and values?
This isn’t about long-form advertising, but it is about long-term consumption of advertising along with brand loyalty. This is an opportunity to dive into the nuance and diversity of a brand’s mission. There are rewards for those brands that realise this, and soon, especially in Asia where audio carries a lot of appeal.
The advantage of being able to listen to podcasts on mobile phones cannot be underestimated, and it automatically leads to a massive reach that brands strive to achieve. But there should also be a realization that the content will require relevance, entertainment, a high level of production, and the avoidance of overt messaging.
This is the year of podcasts, and those who ignore this platform will eventually lose out. The brands who will benefit the most are those that make the first-mover advantage towards this space now.
Huma Qureshi is regional director of PR and corporate communications for Grey Group Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer.