What’s Next For Branded Podcasts?

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By Josh Adley, Managing Director.

I started writing this piece in December, but then got distracted by the many ‘end of year’ lists.

I was as much of a sucker for clicking on a ‘The Best Podcasts of 2021’ list as anyone, although my overriding feeling when reading them was that I’d not found the time to listen to as much as I’d like.

‘Ah yes, I heard that was good’, ‘I’ve been meaning to listen to that’, ‘Was that really made this year?’. Or the more honest ‘I should have… but I ended up watching another episode of The Block Australia’ (by the way if you haven’t, I can’t recommend it enough — go straight to Series 13).

Rather than list the best content from the year (whilst not so sneakily including a bunch of our own shows), I wanted to write about the area of podcasting that continues to evolve on its own journey, slightly away from the typical end of year list spotlight. Branded Podcasts.

Much has been written about this subject over the past 2 years. Campaign wrote that podcasts can be a brand’s best friend. Acast confirmed they were definitely a thing, and I’ve chipped in along the way with articles about why they are valuablethinking long-term and how to promote.

Since these blogs were written, lots of branded podcasts have been released. Many have used their podcast to change the perception of their brand, work with new talent or as a thought leadership piece. All of these are worthy reasons, but as we move into a new year I wanted to make my own list (albeit a pretty short one).

Without further ado, below are the 3 key changes I see (and would like to see) from brands over the next few years.

  1. Brands committing to 1–3 years of podcast content, rather than 3 months at a time

Wishful thinking? I’ve started with what is arguably the most important one. Not just from a business point of view (although it’s always great to be able to plan a year ahead), but because I’m convinced this is the thing that will single-handedly have the biggest impact on results in the long term.

I fully accept how much of a challenge it is for marketing directors and brand managers to be able to plan that far in advance. There’s a million things happening within the business at once, so many different marketing priorities to juggle and different types of product to promote or content to produce. But it is possible… and ambitious, future-thinking leaders will make it happen.

One of the reasons why I don’t think we see much of it in podcasting at the moment is because of how (relatively) new the medium is compared to traditional content marketing. Most brands might want a podcast (or think they should have one) and the easiest way to do that is by testing it out. Whilst I’m all for podcasts being treated that way, we are now at a stage where the medium is big and mature enough to think bigger.

Although it’s true that ‘you don’t know until you try’ — you may still not know because you didn’t try the right way.

Any brand that comes to us and wants to discuss creating an original podcast will be met with questions around its longevity. When you dig into the role of the podcast or how that brand will measure success, the answer is often ‘number of downloads’ or ‘brand sentiment’. It’s not just that both of these take time to build (which they do), but more importantly you stand a far better chance of genuinely achieving them in the long term if you invest the time up front and commit. If the goal is to make a quick ROI then you’ve got the wrong email address.

As a creative team, I guarantee we can wow you with a 1–3 year content plan that factors in your business priorities, comms planning and marketing needs in a way that simply cannot be done to anywhere near the same degree with 12 weeks’ worth of content (that needs to launch next month).

Are there branded podcasts we have produced over the years that ran as ‘always on’ for over a year? Yes. Were they designed this way? No.

A mix of short term success over and above the norm, combined with a strong vision from the marketing team, meant the series ran and ran for longer than most. We also worked creatively on the fly to constantly evolve the show and worked hard to plan ahead.

What I’m sure (and hopeful) is coming is more initial client meetings where significant time is spent planning 1–3 years’ worth of content from the off.

My recommendation for marketing directors is to put the challenge onto your creative production partners. Ask what they would do over the course of a year. A proposal for one series might be steeped in practicalities, timings, deadlines, start dates, budgets per episode. A proposal for 1+ year’s of content will be filled with creativity, strategy and crucially, a vision. This is undoubtedly where long-term results will come from.

Longer-term strategies can be built around planning the many ways to grow a show over a 3-year period that could involve spin-off shows, new hosts, accompanying coffee table books and live events. Speaking of which…

2. 360 branded podcasts will become the next ‘thing’

When I talk about 360 podcasts I mean podcasts that go beyond audio.

They have audio at their core and may well build everything around the audio, but they produce content across channels, use social for more than a place to post a link to the episode on Apple and importantly, meet audiences where they are.

Very few people on Instagram want to see an advert for a podcast, click a link (or even worse have to copy and paste a clunky URL), leave the app they are enjoying and be taken somewhere else to then save or download an episode to listen to at a later date. It’s a customer experience nightmare. Not only that — lots of people simply don’t do it. They see the advert, think it looks nice and then don’t act on it and forget the show. People are too busy to do the hard work for you.

If your podcast produced bespoke content (for the platforms you are on), you stand a chance of people pressing the like or share button and building brand love. That, combined with a multitude of other marketing efforts, is what will earn you a listener to the podcast, as well as a fan of your overarching podcast brand.

It’s not uncommon for podcasts to move outside of audio. I touched on the thinking behind 360 strategy in a separate piece in the summer. What’s less common is for this to be done by design, pre-launch.

The next step is for brands to think this way.

In 2020 we produced Play Next, a new music podcast for BMW. In 2021, the brand sponsored a stage at All Points East Festival. Except it wasn’t a BMW stage, it was a Play Next stage. I love this extension of the Play Next brand. A new music podcast for BMW plays into their wider strategic focus on music, and by creating a podcast brand, the opportunities beyond audio are significant. Naturally we recorded a bonus episode live from the festival.

We’re currently talking to other brand clients about ways to extend their podcast outside of audio (including coffee table books and more) and this is exactly where I think brands are going to win. They have a huge headstart because they have lots of pre-existing channels, pages and touchpoints to utilise (outside of audio), as well as a budget that allows them to think big (something most independent podcasters don’t enjoy).

By building out a podcast brand (eg BMW & Play Next) you are moving into the territory of becoming a publisher and seeing the value in owned, original content. Which leads me nicely to…

3. Brands using podcasts to further embrace being publishers

Or as another way to look at it — brands dropping their brand from their branded podcasts.

This is another difficult decision for a brand to take and one that, for some, may not be realistic or the right one. It really depends on what you are looking to achieve and who you want to target.

For those brands who want to build an audience around their podcast, for it to top the charts, attract big talent, achieve significant PR, podcast platform support and make it onto those end of year lists… putting the content front and centre (and top right, top left, bottom right, bottom left of the artwork) is a sure fire way to help.

We’ve all had the ‘yes but who wants to listen to a podcast from (insert name of boring brand)?’ conversation. We have had conversations with brands that have huge ambitions, wanting to top the charts and more. It’s a great ambition to have and I think that as a long-term play it’s totally possible, but only if the approach marries up with the goal. A chunk of our conversations are spent honing in on this ambition and where the wins were.

If you can build out an ecosystem of unmissable content that people actively seek out and share, there are tonnes of ways this can benefit your brand and core proposition — both directly and indirectly. It’s nothing new — plenty of brands have become media houses and publishers. But using a podcast as a way to get there (or as a part of your bigger journey) is a new and seriously effective tool.

It may not be as simple as dropping your logo from the artwork, or the brand name from the title, or the URL from every description. That won’t automatically help you top the charts. It’s the wider thinking and creative that goes into the content. When thinking about every aspect of your podcast, think about it within the context of your podcast brand, not (just) your own brand. That applies to tone of voice, talent, ambition within the format, mix of media to promote, PR partner to launch with, network you join, other podcasts you cross promote with, social assets you produce, the backdrop or set if you’re filming. And so on.

This isn’t about ripping up brand guidelines or forgetting your values, it’s about using a podcast as a premium form of content that lasts longer than most and demands far greater attention of your audience.

It’s an open goal to provide something valuable and if you simply use it as a way to reaffirm your brand colours, you’re like Ronnie & Georgia on Series 13 of The Block Australia come auction day. An incredibly niche reference for a missed open goal and one that doesn’t even work properly. But I’m sticking with it.

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