podcast one use

Autumn 2014 may come to be seen as a watershed for the podcast. 

In September, Apple rolled out the iOS 8 iPhone update that, for the first time, included the Apple Podcast app as part of the bundle. Weeks later, true-life murder mystery Serial made its debut - delivering the closest podcasting has had to a water-cooler effect, and seriously raising the profile of its sponsor, email marketers MailChimp. 

The two events opened more eyes to the possibility of podcast-based marketing - and only last week petfood brand Lily’s Kitchen announced it was sponsoring a show. But while pundits tip podcasts as the new frontier in digital, fmcg brands have generally been reticent to embrace the format.

61% of podcast listeners are male

36% of podcast listening is via a mobile phone

59% of downloaded podcasts get listened to

90% of podcasts are listened 
to alone

Source: Rajar/Ipsos Mori

Mainstream brands take time to adopt new media, says Paul Campbell of Leeds-based online marketing agency Effective Group, adding podcasting is only just becoming mainstream.

“Podcasting has gone through three growth phases,” he says. “The first when Apple added podcasts to iTunes; the second when the iPhone launched; the third when Apple launched its podcast app with the latest version of iOS.”

Factor in the growing multitude of players available to Windows and Android users, and it keeps getting easier to listen to podcasts.

“There’s a lot of thinking within the marketing industry that, as a direct response medium, podcast is the next big thing,” says Ian Dodson, director of the Digital Marketing Institute. “Big hits like Serial can attract multiple millions of listeners; even niche products come with audiences in the five or six-figure audience range.”

But despite Serial’s success - and hits such as the BBC’s The Infinite Monkey Cage - podcast audiences are dwarfed by traditional media. Research for radio audience monitor Rajar shows podcasts account for just 2% of total UK ‘listening hours’ versus 76% for live radio. 

“Podcasts may be perceived as too niche but it’s an ideal way to get the ear of a captive and engaged audience,” says Sarah Green, MD of shopper marketing agency GreyShopper London. It’s a view echoed by Charlie Cottrell, head of editorial at We Are Social. “The format is best suited to brands with a clear story to tell, and an audience that already consumes this kind of content,” she says. “But the rewards for investment is an audience who are deeply engaged, content with a much longer lifespan than traditional social formats, and excellent word-of-mouth referral.” 

Making the most of a podcast requires understanding how and why an audience listens. For example, if your audience are commuters then give them stories than can be told in 10 to 20-minute chapters. With 66% of podcasts listened to on smartphones or digital music players [Rajar], the format is suited to emotive content. 

“There’s an ‘in-ear’ intimacy that lends itself to storytelling or real-life, human-interest reporting,” Cottrell adds. 

Lily’s Kitchen

Embracing human interest stories - or in its case canine interest stories - is Lily’s Kitchen, which has partnered with the Houndsounds podcast. Featuring ‘first-hand tales of dogs and their owners from around the world’, the shows will look into the culture, history and science of dogs.

“This is where a brand like Lily’s Kitchen has an advantage over bigger fmcg brands, as the founder is a dog lover herself and has a genuine story to tell,” says Richard Morgan, associate creative director at Geometry Global, adding some players may not be a natural fit with an existing podcast.

“Control is an issue for brands,” he says.

“If the podcast is independent, as a brand you can’t control it - you’ve got to be brave enough to embrace what the podcasters are doing.”

Brands are wary of ‘loose cannons’, but podcast hosts need to be given freedom to say it as it is and integrate the brand message, adds Green. “Sponsors need to trust the medium,” she adds. “Don’t give an overt scripted brand message: ensure the podcaster is excited, empathetic and engaged.” 

The success of Serial has shown podcasts can make a lot of noise. 

And for some fmcg brands, missing out on such an opportunity would be a crime.