If you’ve ever worked on any kind of audio storytelling, here’s a stat that should make you drool: According to a recent study by Podtrack, most episodes of the top 200 podcasts are downloaded more than 100,000 times.
Podcasts have been mainstream for a while, but if there’s one area still behind the times, it’s content marketing. A few major brands like GE and eBay have committed to audio and are seeing results, but less than 20 percent of brands currently use podcasts as part of their marketing efforts. That means both brands and freelance podcasters have an opportunity to own a medium with impressive engagement potential.
“Audio content has always been a very personal format,” said Nick Westergaard, host of the On Brand podcast and author of the new book Brand Now. “You’re literally whispering in your audience’s ears. When you pair this with data from Edison Research that shows that over a quarter of Americans age twelve and up listen to podcasts and eighty percent listen to most or all of a podcast, that’s pretty impressive.”
So how can podcasters pitch brands to take a chance on audio?
1. Find the right host
“The most important thing is that when the microphone goes on, you know how to hold peoples’ attention,” Jay Acunzo, founder of Unthinkable Media and host of the Unthinkable podcast, told me. “Not enough marketers are talking about this.”
As you’re pitching, you may be tempted to make concessions on the caliber of host for the sake of winning the bid. Resist that temptation. Instead, educate the client on the need to have a narrator or host with the experience and storytelling chops to engage an audience on a regular basis. Chances are, that’s not going to be someone associated with the brand or its marketing department.
2. Get the listener to the end
Podcasting offers “intimacy that scales,” as Acunzo put it. Video might be ubiquitous, but it typically has to be short and easily digestible, which can translate to easily forgettable. But after years of This American Life and Serial, audiences are conditioned to commit to 30, 40, 50 minutes of audio. They’re primed for the long haul.
That’s why Acunzo has one golden rule when it comes to brand podcasting: Get the listener to the end. It’s no longer enough for brands to grab our attention—they have to hold it for a long period of time. In his experience, too many brands are front-loading their listeners with CTAs and housekeeping announcements. “If you put the most boring part of the show at the beginning, people are going to bail,” he said.
3. Don’t be afraid to try new things
The fact that 80 percent of brands aren’t investing in audio means there’s opportunity for experimentation on the part of freelance producers. “It’s early enough in the medium’s evolution where people are experimenting with the creative and doing things others haven’t seen before,” Acunzo said.
Consider ditching the Q&A format for a narrative focus. Or find a topic that interests a brand’s audience without directly referencing the brand itself. Point is, look for one or two unique hooks to include in your pitch—themes, story structures, or reporting devices that will elevate the content from traditional marketing.
4. No matter what, tell great stories
Both Acunzo and Westergaard point out that podcasting, like any other form of media, is just a container. What matters is what you put inside it, and an engaging, entertaining story will always fill that, whether it’s science fiction or an SEO primer.
So if you’re looking to work with brands, stick to the fundamentals. “As with any story you have to focus on your audience and creating something that has value to them, whether that’s entertaining or educational,” Westergaard said. “From there, you can layer on both journalistic and storytelling features to create a dynamic and engaging podcast for your community.”