10 Top Tips for Creating a Successful Branded Podcast
In October of 2014, the podcast 'Serial' launched. Despite the producers' scepticism on how much attention the show would garner, it got to over 5 million downloads faster than any other podcast in history, and catapulted podcasting onto the national scene. It was the podcast that got so many people listening to podcasts, including me.
After binge listening to all kinds of podcasts from true crime, to self-help, comedy and business, and looking at the growth statistics, it became abundantly clear to me that podcasting was here to stay. As a marketer, I started to ponder how the incredibly intimate and seemingly progressive medium could be used by brands, including the brands we work with. And, for many reasons, my thoughts went straight to McAfee. In the summer 2016, we pitched the concept of a branded podcast to McAfee and on August 1st, 2017 we launched our first episode of 'Hackable?' An Original Podcast From McAfee. Like the team behind Serial, we weren’t sure exactly what to expect, but all of our planning, research and learning paid off - we hit a home run.
'Hackable?' is going into its 4th season and is in the top 1% of all podcasts ever produced based on the number of downloads received within the first 30 days of each episode release.
Given on our experience, we wanted to share 10 tips for creating a branded podcast:
1. Be strategic and purposeful. Don’t just jump on the bandwagon. A branded podcast isn’t for everyone. It needs to align and support your business strategy. In our case, Hackable? fit beautifully into McAfee’s strategic imperatives to build thought leadership, positively impact consumer sentiment and net promoter score (NPS), and provide cyber security education in an entertaining way. If it isn’t a good fit, consider in-podcast advertising for awareness and direct response.
2. Have great stories to tell. Listeners will tune out quickly if you treat your podcast like a 30-minute sales spiel. Dell’s podcast, 'Trailblazers' tells stories about digital disruption, aligning with the Dell brand, but not at all about advertising Dell’s products. Each episode of 'Hackable?' features a hack from a pop culture reference, like an episode of Mr. Robot, then it is put to the test Mythbusters style by white hat hackers to determine how nervous we really need to be, then ends with a few tips and tricks to keep yourself safe.
3. Think and act like an entertainment company. The production quality matters - the story, the host, the sound effects and editing are all critical to entertaining your listeners. Check out the top podcasts in your category, that’s your competition. Two dudes and a couple of microphones won’t cut it. It doesn’t stop at production either. Promoting a show is very different than advertising a product. Look to how ABC, Netflix, Pixar, and Universal promote their latest releases and follow their lead. We created a trailer video and promoted it on social, we did lots of advertising to listeners of podcasts that had similar content, we promoted the great reviews the show received. Sound a bit like what the studios do?
4. Plan for the long term. Just as a great TV or Netflix show, you want to be prepared for the programme to be a hit and that it will run for more than a single season. The biggest consideration here is obviously planning to have the budget to support the production and promotion for multiple seasons.
5. Do some listener research. Once you have a strong idea and the pilot episode is produced, do some research by letting a small sample of your audience listen and get their reactions. Based on the feedback you can make adjustments to your show content. We used Audience Insights to test our pilot with 300 consumers. We found that Hackable? had a huge lift in brand sentiment scores, while entertaining and educating the listeners.
6. Keep the branding light. Branded podcasts aren’t advertisements, but rather audio drama that engages the listener in entertaining storytelling that happens to be brought to you by a brand or company. It’s about the great stories first, then, oh by the way, the brand telling the story. In a typical episode of Hackable? McAfee is only mentioned 2 - 3 times in about 25 minutes, yet brand recall is extremely high because listeners love the content.
7. Have a strong launch and on-going support plan. Audience development cannot be overlooked, because getting people to listen to your podcast isn’t easy, as there more than 600,000 active podcasts for listeners to choose from. Compose a full 360-degree plan leveraging paid - particularly in-podcast advertising and social - earned (PR), owned (website, blog, social, product/packaging) and internal (your teammates and company social champions). Heavying up at launch is a good way to build your audience quickly, but don’t stop after launch. Have a plan to continue to spread the word and get new listeners into the fold.
8. Pay special attention to Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. The more traffic you can send into these apps the more potential you have to get recognised and featured by them. As you can imagine getting featured in Apple Podcasts’ 'New and Noteworthy' or in Google Podcasts’ 'Now Trending' sections gives your podcast huge visibility and drives more downloads and subscribers. We’ve had the great fortune of having Hackable? featured in both apps.
9. Ask your listeners for ratings and reviews. Here’s what our partners at Pacific Content say about this topic: “Ratings and reviews can be a valuable way to understand how your audience feels about your show. Ratings and reviews pay dividends, especially in apps where they count towards charting or discovery. Podcast ratings and reviews matter because they're social proof. Think of them as part of your podcast's packaging.” I couldn’t agree more.
10. Turn to the pros. If you are thinking about creating a branded podcast, my last piece of advice is to reach out to experts. Many brands have tried doing podcasts and have failed because they didn’t fully understand the space, the craft of superior audio storytelling and production and/or the intricacies of audience development and distribution.
Just like everything else the podcasting space is changing quickly. Since I am so deeply involved from production to promotion, I’ve stayed very close to the changing tides of the industry. If you’ve got questions or want some friendly advice, reach out.
Carolyn Walker is CEO and managing partner at Response Marketing