The business of podcasts

Podcasts have exploded over the last few years. Dave Howell explains how your business can use audio content as a new communications channel, and which tools are needed to create world-class podcasts.

The podcast has over the last five years become a phenomenon. What the spoken word audio report calls 'share of ear' is now divided between music, and spoken-word audio, which consists of news, sports and talk/personality radio.

Indeed, according to research from the BBC and Podnews, 94% of listeners consume podcasts while performing other tasks. Doing chores at home (61%) and driving (55%) were the most common, with exercising, shopping and running errands also popular. Within branded podcasts, the brand stands out from the content. Brand mentions in the podcast deliver on average 16% higher engagement and 12% higher memory encoding than the surrounding material.

“When you listen to a podcast every week, it inevitably becomes a real presence in your mind, in the way that reading a writer’s articles does not. There’s an intimacy with podcasts that makes people interested in getting more,” Gabriel Roth, Slate Plus Editorial Director told What’s New In Publishing.

Audio can also now become a vital component of your business’ sales funnel. Research from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Edison Research reveals 65% of listeners are more likely to buy a product featured in a podcast with 45% stating they would visit the sponsor’s website.

Nearly six million adults listen to a podcast each week in the UK, according to Ofcom. This vast audience is looking for content they can often consume while commuting to work.

“Podcasts are transforming the ways people listen to audio content, just as on-demand video is changing how people watch television,” says Ian Macrae, Ofcom's Director of Market Intelligence. “It's fantastic to see how UK radio broadcasters, as well as newspapers and other media companies, are embracing podcasting and offering more choice about what we listen to than we've ever had before.”

Inside knowledge

Small Business Essentials spoke with Mark Kendrick, Founder and Podcast Producer, Ventoux Digital that has been creating audio content for the business space for several years, and began by asking why businesses should create a podcast? What is the business case for audio content?

“I get asked this question a lot and my immediate response, or even now flinch, is to say, that in 2018 YouTube had 23 million different channels,” Kendrick responded. “Whereas podcasts have 700,000 active channels. Podcasting and its awareness are growing at a rate of 6% year upon year since 2015, with a reported 51% of Americans have listened to a podcast. So, it’s a proven area which is not going to go away any time soon.

“Speaking directly to companies, podcasts are an excellent way for your business to have a voice and connect with customers, potential customers and the industry as a whole, in an entirely different approach to how people have been reaching out. Podcasts are perfect and proven medium to give commentary on the latest news, politics, events and products.

“Podcasts are something which is listened to in solitary, and so you get to talk to that person directly. And a podcast for your business is an effective way to reinforce the passion customers have about your business.”

What are the key pitfalls to watch out for when creating podcasts for your business?

“The number one issue I always encounter is that people overthink things. You don't need to get all Hollywood and produce something big and epic if it's not something which fits your brand, or your audience would expect from you.

“You need to create something which your audience expects and is realistic. However, most importantly, it speaks to the listener! The late Terry Wogan, who was the host of the successful BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show, where he had millions listening to him, always said he had one listener, and he talks to them. This is the approach you need.

“The essential thing to always ask yourself when considering making a podcast is:

Who are you making this podcast for?

Who do you see listening to your podcast, and what do you know about them? What would they enjoy listening? This will dictate many things, including the tone and type of content you produce.

When are they going to be listening?

I have discovered that a lot of business podcasts are listened to on the commute to work or during business hours. Therefore, potentially, this could be 7 am. Do you want to have loud blaring music at that time of day? Probably not, unless you’re a children’s entertainer! Think about the length too. Do something which fits into their commute.

What would they expect you to say?

If you’re a tech company, do they expect your views on Brexit? Probably not. If you say you are a stocks and shares podcast, lay it out quick what they hope to hear in these podcast episodes.

How can you effectively deliver this message?

Are you going to make it like a news broadcast? Is each episode going to be a different interview, or are you going to make a magazine show? You can make a mix of all these kinds of styles together, but make sure they come back to a common goal that reflects the aims of the podcast you are creating.

Consistency is key!

Make sure you plant your flagpole in the ground and say we are producing a weekly episode. This means you need to do something weekly! So, have you got resources in place to ensure you can meet this?

Also, make each episode the same length. I cannot stress it enough, consistency is key! I have found that the growth of the audience is directly linked to timely releases of each podcast, as you’ll find that the audience will start to incorporate your podcast into their weekly habits or schedules. I know what I’m like: I listen to this football podcast on a Tuesday morning, comedy show on the way home, etc. If the podcast isn’t available, it throws my commute out!

The other key thing is you will not get millions listening to your podcast. You will not reach thousands… maybe. There are only so many listeners, and they only have so many hours in the day. The results of a recent study are telling in that the average listener number of 10,000 podcasts in the survey was 124.

I’m not saying to expect 124 listens as you may get hundreds more. However, podcasts cannot be put alongside your latest PPC campaign or open rates. Podcasts are different. Podcasts connect with people in different ways. You will see results if you give people a reason to believe in your business and brand.”

How should adverts and sponsors be handled with business podcasts? Can you charge listeners to access your business’s podcast?

“Advertising in podcasts is something which is accepted, and a trend which is increasing it seems week-by-week. However, there are lots of pros and cons: There are lots of podcast distribution platforms that dynamically insert advertising breaks on your behalf into your podcast. Yet, you have no control as these are primarily set for non-business podcasts and so, you may get a competing business's advert to appear within your production. There is nothing you can do about it.

“Therefore, I urge businesses to host the podcasts themselves as this keeps them in control of their own advertising. These ads can be placed at the start, in the middle or end. Sponsored content can also be highly effective.

“The key to all podcasting adverting is that it’s telling a story, never sell, sell, sell. The best adverts are ones where customers talk about their everyday role and how the product or service has helped them. Or perhaps, it's an industry influencer talking to a customer about their views on the industry, and it just so happens your product has helped them.

“Ultimately, you need to remember that when creating a podcast, you are talking to someone and getting them to do something. We have seen 90% of podcasts are listened to in solitude (Edison Research, 2018) so you have a captive audience. We've also noticed that 93% of people listen to a podcast to the end (wired, 2018) so you have got someone’s attention. The killer fact, in my opinion, is 81% of people have researched or purchased something they’ve heard on a podcast! (Spotify, 2019).

“If you want to promote a white paper, direct them to that white paper, if you are promoting a book, send them to where they can buy that book. By putting your podcast behind a wall of some kind is fine if you have that audience already waiting for content.

“I'm a huge fan of cycling, and The Cycling Podcast launched a members-only premium content stream alongside their weekly podcast for £10 per year. These are focused on podcasts and exclusive interviews. It works but only if there is that loyal listener base there from the start.”

What is the minimum equipment needed to create a professional podcast?

“You could quite easily make your own podcast using your smartphone; it's that easy. However, will it be something which your audience expects from you? If you are looking to record interviews, you could quite easily buy a Yeti microphone and get someone to join via VoIP and record that conversation. However, if you have the budget, it's best to bring in a professional who can help depict your brand and add production to make a production reflective of your brand.”

How do you see business podcasts developing over the next few years? Are there any trends you can identify, business owners should pay attention to?

“I think it's taken a long time for businesses to recognise podcasts over videos and other content platforms. It’s still a battle which is in full swing, but slowly we are seeing more and more business’s thinking it’s a great way to communicate with their customers and audiences.

“Also, we’ll see over the next few years, more ways to measure audiences, more creative methods of advertising and interestingly, podcasts branching out into other mediums.

“Perhaps things like Tim Ferris Business Show, which is hugely listened to the podcast, branching out to be a magazine or other content. In the sports world, we have seen podcasts such as The Football Ramble become a stage show and go on tour and also countless podcasts be turned into Netflix tv series. I think the way people listen to podcasts is something to keep an eye on, as that will dictate how content is made. For example, the smart speaker rise will be an interesting one. You can imagine in a year, maybe months; it'll be a case of saying "Alexa, play me the latest IT News.

It’s such a new platform that each quarter we see new trends emerge. One thing which I've noticed a change in 2019 is how not all listening is happening through mobile, as had been over previous years. We are now seeing people listen to a variety of ways and interestingly, 20-22% on average listen on desktops. One podcast I work on has seen as high as 40% on desktop. This says a lot about the audience. So be careful on the decisions you make early on as to the podcast, who will listen and where they will listen!”

Audio content is fast becoming the new battleground for customers. As video content before it, audio content – which is expanding from podcasts to include audio reports and whitepaper content – is growing to deliver new listening experiences. The business case is clear: Having an audio content strategy for your company is imperative.