The term “podcast” hearkens from an earlier era. Podcasts appeared after the introduction of the Apple iPod and is the only media platform named for a technology no longer in use. This American Life has been offering podcasts since 2006 but prolific content creators Tim Ferriss, Marc Maron, NPR, Slate, and others rediscovered the platform in the late 2000s and early 20-teens. Then there was Serial, and with it, a full-blown renaissance began. According to an Activate Tech & Media Study published in Statistica.com, there are 73 million monthly podcast listeners in 2018, 32 percent of whom are 25 to 54 years old. Weekly listeners now average seven podcasts per week. A glance at the top charts in the Apple Podcast Platform display a range of topics: sports, humor, finance, politics, technology, fashion, business, narrative storytelling…and the list goes on. Within this sea of content some resourceful brands and publishers have taken a stake and are grabbing attention.
Brands Have Spied an Audience
While popular podcasts vary in both content and focus, some are more of a pure brand play. Blue Apron, GE, General Mills, American Airlines, Prudential, eBay, and Apple all produce informative podcasts that humanize their brand. McDonald’s and Trader Joe’s have taken the branded podcast to a new level. Download “Inside Trader Joe’s Podcast” and follow the Trader Joe’s team as it reveals some of what makes both their supply chain and the store unique. You can listen to the stories of the tasting panel’s’ humorous adventures, including the Flavors of Lapland introduction, with an especially low-selling item, canned cream of venison soup. Regional managers chuckle as they discuss the outsized demand for prune juice in the Florida market and customers lament their beloved, but discontinued Trader Joe’s items. Consumers love a good story, and this podcast series has more of them than a month’s worth of Fearless Flyers can ever offer.
McDonald’s went all Serial on us in their podcast “The Sauce.” This slick and dramatic work chronicles the very public customer service disaster that accompanied the fast food giant’s elimination of their Szechuan dipping sauce in 2017. In February of 2018 the brand served up the three-episode, limited-run podcast, which was a mix of honesty, transparency, and parody packaged in a well-produced and entertaining wrapper.
What’s in Your Queue?
For those interested in the retail, fashion and beauty industries, the menu of podcasts is robust. Direct-to-consumer beauty brand Glossier produces a popular podcast called “Glossy.” The weekly 30-minute podcast presents one-on-one, straightforward interviews with leaders in fashion, luxury, and beauty discussing how technology is transforming their business models. Two recent episodes feature The RealReal’s Rati Lavesque, and iconic Eileen Fisher.
While Glossy may be a side-hustle for the Glossier brand for The MouthMedia Network (which put out its first podcast in December of 2014), podcasts are the core business. MouthMedia, a business-to-business network, with a podcast recording studio and event space in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, currently offers 14 weekly podcasts focusing on a variety of topics including fashion, real estate, travel and, well…podcasts. Our eponymous Robin Lewis was featured in a recent podcast with Jan Rogers Kniffen discussing the future of retail on MouthMedia’s ”American Fashion Podcast.” Other industry-related titles include: “Fashion is Your Business,” “Material is your Business,” and “Beauty is Your Business.” While the Glossy interviews feel journalistic, MouthMedia’s podcasts are more of a community affair. Multiple interviewers lob questions at the guests in a more “sitting on the sofa” format. I spoke with MouthMedia’s CEO Rob Sanchez about this approach, “We want to pull content out of our guests that you would never get in question and answer format. We want it to feel like you are at the pool with a cocktail after attending a conference and you just happen to be talking about work, and someone is the focus of the conversation.”
MouthMedia takes that conversation out of the booth and onto the stage by regularly holding live podcasting events. On a recent June evening, Bobbi Brown was interviewed at the MouthMedia studio in front of an audience for a live podcast recording. MouthMedia also takes the booth on the road. If you attended Shoptalk 2018, you may have noticed the glass broadcast stations as you walked from session to session. Both Mouthmedia’s “America’s Fashion Podcast” and “Fashion is Your Business” have interviews posted from the event.
Other notable industry-focused podcasts include: The Jason and Scot Show hosted by the “Retailgeeks” who were also conducting on-site interviews at Shoptalk, Ecommerce Fuel, Innovative Retail Technologies, and Total Retail.
Will Podcasts Be an Integral Part of the Conversation in Five Years?
While some are quite bullish on the podcast trajectory, are they actually a fad or a long-term trend? Two obvious questions to help determine this are: Can the medium be monetized and how; and can it scale? I posed these questions to Rob Sanchez. In the case of MouthMedia, it presents informative podcasts — a particularly challenging advertising vehicle. Sanchez concurred “A hyper-niche business focused podcast does not really fit the profile of businesses that advertise on podcasts. Our listeners are not buying bedsheets or shoes, they are focused on business so their mindset is very different.” MouthMedia now monetizes primarily through live events, programmatic podcasts, and partnering with business conferences.
Some forms of podcasts naturally lend themselves to brand sponsorship as brands have the power to mold a podcast to complement their marketing. Caspar successfully demonstrated this with “In Your Dreams” with Chris Gethard, a podcast series about sleep and dream interpretation.
According to The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), ad spending on sponsored podcasts hit more than $220 million in 2017, up 85 percent from 2016, and Edison Research predicts a $395 million ad spend in 2020. Apple Podcasts and other delivery platforms offer analytics on listeners, putting data behind the value of the spend.
A new revenue stream is being explored through podcast integration with smart speakers. Content creators are experimenting with in-podcast merchandise purchases via audio commands for online listeners.
To my second question of scale, Sanchez responded, “There is a finite amount of attention that will be turned to podcasts, however, it is a secondary medium. It is the only medium where you can cook and listen. You can get deep engagement while driving or riding on the subway. It doesn’t take away time like a video or Instagram.”. The statistics support the upward climb in podcast penetration. According to Edison Research, the percentage of the U.S. population that has listened to a podcast in the last month has risen from 9 percent in 2008 to 26 percent in 2018 with 70 million listeners.
Whether the podcasts are journalistic, narrative or documentary, the technical tools are readily available to content creators. The creative minds are poised to be unleashed and industry and thought leaders are ready to be heard. The issue is how to attract and maintain listeners. As brands such as Caspar, McDonald’s and Trader Joe’s have shown, it is possible for brands to engage meaningfully with an audience via podcasts and earn mindshare. According to MoutMedia’s Sanchez “Long-term, audio is the future.” Retailers and brands would be remiss in dismissing the platform as a fad without further exploration.