Branded podcasts. They’re a thing.

By Jack Preston, Acast Creative UK Lead

Branded podcasts are nothing new. The headline of this article sounds like something you could’ve read at any point in the past couple of years.

But, save for some shining examples, there have been very few branded podcasts — those created by a specific brand — that have ever really taken off in the same way as the leading shows they’re competing for attention with.

Indeed, even a year ago, many brands and media agencies would usually give you a pretty dim view of branded podcasts. They were seen as too much of a risk; they’d prefer to align with existing shows and established audiences.

By the end of 2019, however, we’d hosted and distributed more branded podcasts in the UK than ever before. There was a significant increase versus 2018, which had in turn been an increase on the year before.

And in 2020 we’re going to be doing at least twice as many. This is the year of the branded podcast.

One reason for this is that the global podcast listener base has skyrocketed in recent years. According to MIDAS data, 65.1 million hours of podcast listening took place each week in 2019 in the UK alone — a 50% increase on the year before.

But there’s another big one: the entire media industry is waking up to the power of podcasts. Brands have started to realise the need for a proper strategy that gives them a serious presence and a voice in podcasting.

What is it good for?

For a relatively new medium, it’s natural that awareness and understanding has taken a little while to develop, but the continued growth of podcasting globally shows it’s finally coming of age.

Crucially, the media industry is beginning to realise the true value of listener engagement, and what podcasts are good for — as well as what they’re not so good for.

In the past we’ve seen brands wanting to use podcasts to increase social media following and email subscribers, for instance. But a podcast is rarely going to make that happen. While it can be a strong performance tool if used correctly, it’s far more valuable for brand building.

Some of our branded podcasts have had hundreds of thousands of listens, but one trap marketers can fall into is comparing these figures to the number of views a typical video published on Facebook or YouTube might get. That’s neither a fair nor sensible comparison — they’re completely different mediums that should play very different roles.

Engagement, for example, is an area where branded podcasts really demonstrate their value. Based on a sample of six of our branded podcasts last year, the listen-through rate was more than 28 minutes — an incredibly high figure that you’d struggle to come close to with any other branded content format.

Podcasts are an active experience for the listener; a ‘lean-in’ moment and a choice they’ve consciously made. And, even for branded shows, we find that the majority of people are listening to multiple episodes.

Podcasting is a long-term strategy

One of my favourite examples of a successful branded podcast is Natwest’s award-winning show, which has been going since 2017. It’s newest series is called Championing Women’s Voices, and is hosted by the inimitable June Sarpong OBE.

What I like most about Natwest’s approach is that it’s a long-term, strategic commitment to podcasting — and a clear understanding that a podcast audience isn’t built overnight.

If you’re a brand launching a new product and you think running a branded podcast for a couple of months would give it a boost, think again. You need a proper, long-term strategy around it.

Even for the biggest podcasts on our network — including global hits like My Dad Wrote A Porno — success can be a relatively slow burn. You need to allow time for discovery, and that’s truer still for branded podcasts.

Natwest had the foresight to realise that podcasting was on an upward curve, but that a couple of half-hearted episodes was never going to cut it. Instead it’s continued to publish regularly, and has built a solid feed over time.

And, if proof were needed that evergreen podcast content works, episodes published more than two years ago are still getting hundreds of listens every month. This is no flash in the pan campaign.

There’s no magic formula

Another winner is toothpaste brand Zendium. A podcast about toothpaste sounds like an idea that should never have been squeezed from the tube, but Zendium’s 2 Minutes of Zen show is far more creative than that — and you can listen to a whole episode in the time it takes to finish brushing your gnashers.

It’s a brilliant example not only of creativity, but of a brand breaking down the constraints of what people think a podcast ‘should’ be, and showing there’s no magic formula for success. It turns out you don’t need a 30-minute roundtable conversation, after all — two minutes might be the best length for your brand but, equally, you might need two hours.

We’re also working with a household name that, having spent significant amounts on podcast advertising for years by dipping its toes into existing content, has realised that now is the time to create its own show. I can’t say too much about it yet, but it’s going to use it as a platform for brand building, rather than just customer acquisition, and it’s been fascinating taking the brand on that journey.

Opportunities abound

This is far from a saturated space, and there are still countless opportunities for brands of all shapes and sizes to step up and create shows that could become hugely popular.

Health and fitness is one sector crying out for a relatable branded podcast. We see the Couch to 5k podcast by the NHS fly up the pod charts every new year, but what if a brand with real street cred, like Under Armour or Adidas, took up the mantle?

Or how about a digestible podcast on all things money, specifically targeting younger generations, by a challenger bank like Monzo or Starling? There are lots of financial advice podcasts but most are dry and difficult to understand, so there’s a significant gap in the market for a brand to fill.

2020 is going to be another huge year for the whole podcast industry, and brands are waiting hungrily for their slice of the pie. But a branded podcast is not a walk in the park (although that’s another good idea for an interview format) — it’s a long-term, strategic commitment.

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