Listen up, folks. Podcasts are going mainstream. Finally. 

We’re boldly entering the golden age of podcasts and opportunity is ripe. 

If you’re convinced podcasts are a small, under-the-radar platform, it’s time to reconsider.  Spotify invested $500 Million this year acquiring podcast development platforms along with content in the likes of Gimlet. Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify noted these acquisitions are part of Spotify’s strategy to become, “the world’s leading audio platform”.

Meanwhile, Google has indexed more than 2 million podcasts across the web and is focused on addressing the discoverability of podcasts with episodes now rolled out directly in organic search results alongside ads, maps and videos.

Sure, podcasts initially remained a relatively small business in their humble beginnings, but that all turned around in 2014 with the likes of the ‘Serial’ series. Suddenly, podcasts broke into iTunes libraries around the globe.

Since then, the podcast industry has continued to transform. Future changes will likely continue to be rapid as content creators and brands realise the previously untapped potential of podcasts to connect, form tribes and create communities.

Futurist and leading keynote speaker Patrick Dixon emphasises tribalism as the most powerful force in marketing and brand development today. From mind to heart, tangible to intangible, the past, present and future of branding has been and will continue to be emotion. Tribalism creates belonging, identity, community and teams. People are actively seeking new tribes and they’re turning to podcasts to find them.

Podcasts inherently encompass trust and intimacy, foster community and build tribes in a powerful way. True-crime obsessives, entrepreneurs, fitness enthusiasts and every other niche has a podcast to serve them. And they can listen practically anywhere – doing chores, running on the treadmill or during their commute.

Audio is everywhere, transcending the barriers of screen accessibility.

As a hybrid across both content and paid media at iProspect, I am eager to see brands and content creators connect to their audiences in a new way through podcasts.

For brands, there are three ripe opportunities worth tapping into immediately.  

Three podcast opportunities for brands

1.      Native Audio & Display Ads

In the world of paid ads, everyone is familiar with YouTube and video ads, but audio is powerful, and audio is everywhere – 79% of audio engagement travels with us where visuals can’t go.

Podcast advertising is incredibly effective with 87% of listeners hearing either all or almost all a podcast episode and 7 of 10 listeners being able to correctly identify a brand after hearing an audio advertisement. In a world of increasingly shrinking attention spans, podcasts are an engagement gold-mine.

If you still think podcasts are a small business, think again. The podcast industry is projected to surpass $1 billion by 2021. For context, it was only $479million in 2018. Change is coming.

2. In-Podcast Branding

Let the host tell your story.

As listeners spend more time on their favourite shows, they begin to feel a personal connection with the host. In fact, 52% of podcast listeners trust advertising more if the podcast host endorses the brand. This added endorsement is a big bonus.

People are tuning into podcasts eager to listen and actively engaged. Host-read ads foster a seamless audio experience and get your brand message into the ears of devoted listeners via a trusted voice in an authentic way.

Hosts understand their own audiences. They won them over with their unique voice and angle. To fully realise the benefits of these established relationships, brands must release the reins and hand over some creative freedom to the host – listeners will sniff out inauthenticity otherwise.  

There’s a reason host-read ads accounted for 63.3% of US podcast ad revenue in 2018.

3. Branded Podcasts

Telling stories is one of the most powerful ways to connect, inspire and inform people. There’s a reason we all turn to movies and books – little else engages us quite like a story.

Spotify founder, Daniel Ek, said it like this: “there are endless ways to tell stories that serve to entertain, to educate, to challenge, to inspire or to bring us together and break down cultural barriers.” As we trace back through the generations, we realise the oral traditions of storytelling have reigned supreme.

The spoken word has handed down ideas and beliefs from generation to generation. It’s how we learn and connect, not just with other people but with ideas. Just think of the lasting impact of Martin Luther Kings, Jr.’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. 

Telling your own brand story through purposeful, creative and original content supports your overall marketing strategy, builds your brand voice, reflects your values and fosters trust.

Who’s done this well so far?

McDonald’s: The Sauce

The backstory to this Podcast is particularly interesting.

The Sauce was created to address a public relations problem sparked by a Rick and Morty episode. In the American animated sitcom, Rick tells Morty that he’ll go find the “Szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce”, a limited-time-only promotional dipping sauce for the Disney animated film, Mulan – launched in 1998 and never seen again.

The Rick and Morty episode got the ball rolling with thousands of people across American signing petitions for McDonald’s to reintroduce this rare sauce, which they did in 2018. The problem? They didn’t source enough sauce, resulting in a PR nightmare.

In February, McDonald’s not only reintroduced 20-million packages of Szechuan sauce, but they launched a 3-episode podcast as part of the marketing strategy.

McDonald’s, unafraid to try new things, demonstrated how brands can utilise Podcast content as a powerful tool in storytelling. After all, storytelling is the very essence of content and branding.

Lyft: Pick Me Up

With just 5 episodes, Lyft tapped into a fresh audience with content that supported their brand voice and values with “a show all about people driving toward something big.” 

Pick Me Up is a podcast “all about the people who are driven to get behind that wheel, and what motivates them on the way there. You’ll meet five people who are driving toward something big. Like Marcelis in Oak Park, Illinois, who’s set on publishing his first children’s book, dedicated to his brother who recently passed away. Or Samuel in Manhattan, who’s rebuilding his life in a new city after losing his job to Hurricane Maria.”

Podcasts are a powerful tool for any brand and have resurrected a form of communication as old as humanity itself – oral storytelling. 

Don’t miss the beat

With the podcast boom here and now, you’ll want to be right on the beat.

Branding is driven by emotion, tribalism and a sense of belonging. With the future of podcasts looking brighter than ever, it’s the ideal time for content creations, brands and marketing professionals to tell their stories. 

Don’t undervalue the way podcasts will impact how we build communities online, tell stories and evoke emotion.

There is power in the podcast.

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Sequoia Painter

Sequoia is an Executive across both Paid Media and Content Marketing at iProspect in Brisbane. Sequoia is passionate about the power of words and having a strong, interconnected digital strategy. As a multi-passionate woman, you can bet-your-bottom-dollar you'll find her on the weekends chipping away at a new project, dreaming up big ideas or pampering puppies.