Podcasts were a thing before today. And then they weren’t. Remember that? A decade ago, they died a death. Nobody knows exactly why they went to the place where things go to die, but many have their reasons: we weren’t ready for them, the technology wasn’t quite right, it was too difficult to monetise and so on and so on.
I don’t need to tell you that they have come back with a bang. Risen from their cold, dusty graves as dramatically as a new-born white walker.
These days my Twitter feed is full of people asking for or offering up podcast suggestions, my friends rave about their favourites and you just know the guy that let out an inappropriate cackle on the metro is listening to one.One-fifth of Americans now listen to podcasts.
So what changed?
OK. Many things changed.
Our time became less available so rather than sitting down to watch something on a screen we started to embrace consuming on the go.
We let out a collective groan at commercial radio and as a people became fed up with it.
Media streaming through the likes of Netflix became a common thing and so adoption changed.
Internet speeds got faster, allowing high-quality content to penetrate.
Audio streaming services like iTunes and Spotify made it easier to distribute and listen to podcasts in an environment where users were already familiar.
Podcast networks sprung up which meant that a professional outfit could turn a poorly produced soundbite with potential into a perfectly polished series.
And now every brand and his brother wants to cash in by creating their own podcast. Check out the growth of the search term ‘start a podcast’ below. Slack, GE, Shopify, Basecamp, Sephora, Samsung, Trader Joe, McDonald’s, Blue Apron (obviously), eBay, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft and the list goes on. These guys are producing branded podcasts that are good, but plenty more of them out there in the ether are failing to succeed.
There are solid reasons why podcasting is good for business, especially in the B2B arena:
- It can build your authority on a subject in your field
- It can expand your target audience reach and open you up to new audiences
- Instead of relying on arbitrary targeting measures like demographics, podcasting allows brands to reach an audience based on their interests, which yields much better results in terms of listenership, loyalty and conversion-intent
In her CMI post about attracting listeners, Jodi Harris notes that storytelling can be a businesses silver bullet: “Consistent audio storytelling can offer businesses the chance to win massive audience attention for their brand messages – and do so in a way that many feel to be less “markety” than other scripted content formats.”
If you are thinking of starting a podcast for your business, I want to talk about some considerations before you do. Call me cautious.
Getting the setup right
The idea of planning and setting up a podcast is often enough to deter even the keenest of creators. Many just want to start talking and already have LOTS to share. That may be so but I urge you, hold your horses. A poorly produced podcast may as well not have been produced at all (I’ll share some research on this later on).
You’ll need to decide whether to produce it in-house or go through a hosting service. A host is where the podcast content will be uploaded to be served to directories, like iTunes and Spotify. Both have pros and cons. Doing it solo means you have complete control of everything, from setting up hosting to production to publishing, so you’ll need a bit of techie know-how.
But unless you know how to set up your own RSS feed, you’ll need a podcast host to make sure every episode gets where it needs to: your audience. Here’s a great rundown of some recommended hosts by Rachel Corbett. Some on her list charge a fee for hosting, but some commentators in the space query whether that’s a fair move these days considering you can host a video on YouTube or Vimeo for free. Nir Zicherman from podcast hosting company Anchor has a good but slightly salesy writeup on the argument.
If you want to approach a podcast network like Gimlet or Panoply, you’ll be seriously thinking long-term and high-quality about your podcast as the networks will need you to hit a minimum number downloads per episode before they will even look at you. This is because they have advertiser quotas and CPMs (more on this later) to achieve and it’s just not worth their investment if they can’t achieve them with your show.
Being part of a network means being a small fish in a big pond of other shows, but they create, distribute, monetise and measure the show, so this might be for you. And they have the scale and partnerships to boost a podcast.
Planning the show
Before any talking begins, you’ll need to plan out the show. This includes choosing a topic, coming up with a name, a description, getting a logo and online presence set up for your show, and writing your first few episodes, launching the podcast, and planning how to promote the show.
Speaking of topics. Remember that you need to offer something of value. Nobody is going to tune into a 30-minute sales pitch. All content needs to be created with the consumer of that content in mind, no matter the medium.
With that said, ask yourself these questions:
- What are am I an authority on?
- What topic do I know more about than any other player in my field?
- Where can I add true value for listeners?
The answers will lead you to what your podcast should be about. It will not be about you, your business or your product.
You’ll also need to get the actual stuff to make the thing. Podcasting equipment can be as cheap as using the mic on your phone, but don’t do that. You’ll likely read lots of blogs that say “it’s so quick and easy to start podcasting, just use your phone and bish bash bosh”, but let’s consider that for a moment.
Recording it cheaply means the end result will sound cheap, and that’s enough to turn it off. From the outset, invest in a decent microphone and plan somewhere with the right environment to record—somewhere with the right acoustics and where you won’t be disturbed. Somewhere Gary from accounting can’t find you. Finding this space might be a bit of trial and error knowing what works with your sound.
Level up with a mixer so that you can have co-hosts and phone interviews added in seamlessly and process the show before it goes live. And consider paying for a producer, and maybe even a videographer for bonus content.
Should I run the show or hire a pro?
Who will manage and present the show? If you have never done something like this before, it’s probably best not to start now. So this leaves 2 options:
- Finding someone with the right skillet in-house or;
- Getting an external professional to host
If you choose to bring in the expertise, here are a few things to consider beyond their previous experience:
- Check their social following. Are they influencers in their own right, podcast aside?
- If your podcast will feature ads, keep in mind that advertisers also buy into hosts, as well as their audience
- Authenticity & connectivity – choose ones that care about their audience and what they will sell to them. This has positive effects on brands too
Another thing to consider outsourcing is a podcast producer/engineer. Someone with a solid production process to edit out the awkward pauses, mix in external content and deal with publishing. Here’s a thorough list of questions you should ask when hiring a podcast manager which should also give you an indication of the production level your podcast should reach.
Will Podcasting make me money?
A podcast that brings in money turns it from a marketing channel into a revenue-generating product in its own right. And making beans from your efforts depends on two things:
Whether you monetise listenership yourself and if you are signed up to a host that pays out advertising revenue to its podcasters.
Subscription tends to work for the highly produced, scripted shows (top 1%) so don’t dive right into this model. It’s worth considering for the future though, as the business model is getting attention. In the last few weeks, podcasting startup Luminary raised nearly $100 million in funding for a subscription-based business model that it hopes will deliver on its plans to become the Netflix of podcasts.
On advertising in podcasts
There are many schools of thought around ads in podcasts, but one thing is certain: a show needs to be a hit to cash in on ad revenue. That’s because it’s all sold on a CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) basis. If you can’t hit those thousands of listeners, you’re not seeing much of a return.
Should it be a money-making exercise? Perhaps not. Perhaps audience engagement and awareness are the goals; that value ad that sets you apart from others in your field.
A couple of things to know about advertising in podcasts:
How they work: There are two popular kinds of podcast ads: dynamic ad insertion, where ads are automatically placed in a show and happen at consumption time, and baked in ads which are manually inserted into the recording.
Are listeners tracked in podcast ads? Not via the podcast itself but it can happen on podcast delivering apps. As a medium, users and their actions are far less tracked. Ads aren’t targeted based on behaviour, but the demographics of the show, like the old days.
It has some of the highest CPMs in advertising for two main reasons: low competition and decent performance. Two-thirds of listeners don’t skip ads.
Commitment: how much time and money do you want to invest?
Let’s bust some common myths:
“Podcasting is a cheap and easy way to get content out there.”
Sure, you can do it on the cheap, but why would you? Would you listen to a tinny, poorly produced piece of music? So why would you subject a listener’s ears to a mediocre sounding podcast?
Sound quality matters.
Podcast Motor found that when it comes to podcast quality, most listeners agreed that it is really important. Some said they might make concessions for new shows or top-notch content, but for most, it’s make-or-break.
You will be given some concessions for poor quality when you first start out because you are finding your feet with this new medium, but don’t rest on the assumption that it will be cheap to run forever. You will need to invest in recording and editing equipment if you want your podcast to be taken seriously by listeners, and if you want to build a loyal listenership that might one day become your customers.
“I’m a blogger already creating great content, it will translate to audio.”
In a perfect world, great bloggers would also be amazing podcasters, and content would work well on all mediums, but it doesn’t. I know not everyone cares about how engaging a host is or how well organised a show is, but for me, these elements are essential to keeping my attention.
Podcasting comes with its own set of best practices and it’s worth paying attention to them if it is to be worth the time and effort put into it.
“It won’t take long. Just put me in front of a mic and I’m done.”
“You need to have commitment, because your audience has committed to you.”
Back in 2008, podcasting veteran Bob Knorpp was able to keep his platform alive in a time when all other podcasts around him were sinking further into failure because he continually offered something of value: “…podcasters tend to forget that the reason people listen to podcasts is because they want to be entertained.”
On episode length, Bob urges that less isn’t always more. Many Podcast listeners now settle in for 40-minute episodes of their favourite shows at a time. So don’t assume they don’t have the time or attention for something deeper. “People who say that your podcast should be shorter are talking about people who don’t listen to podcasts.”
So if you want to create something that attracts loyal listeners, you should expect to invest quite a bit of time and money. We already spoke about equipment and we know that it’s tempting to quickly get started on the cheap, but you risk doing so and seeing no return.
Podcasting can be a wonderful content medium for B2Bs. It has a low barrier to entry and potentially high yield in customer captivation and for the brands that get it right, it’s an excellent way to share brand messages and convert customers. But I think we all need to have a healthy appreciation that it’s not a medium to dabble in if you want to see returns. Once you can find the topic that you are qualified to speak about and get the setup, planning and promotion right, you should see the impact.
Have you started podcasting for your business? I’d love to hear how it’s going for you. Let me know in the comments below.
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