Podcasts are taking over our commutes, gym sessions and dog walks. We love them so much that Spotify has looked at the future and spent $500m buying podcasting companies. Jake Warren, CEO of Message Heard, tells CLIC exactly why podcasts are on the up and set to revolutionise the way brands talk to their customers…
Earphones in. Shut out the tinny warbling of Ed Sheeran leaking from the iPhone of a nearby commuter. Press play. Exchange the dispiriting noises coming from the train loo for new worlds of discovery. Relax. Learn. Be entertained.
There’s no doubt about it; good podcasts enhance our lives. We’re devouring them like never before because they turn moments of boredom into learning and entertainment opportunities. We’re dipping in while commuting, cleaning, travelling and exercising. Who doesn’t love to shut out the world’s white noise and do something more interesting instead?
The big players have gazed into their crystal balls and want in. According to Jake Warren, CEO and founder of original and branded podcast company, Message Heard, Spotify has spent around $500m acquiring podcast businesses over the past 12 months. Jake also observes that Apple’s iTunes has recently become far more podcast-focused. Indeed, it is now producing and promoting its own shows.
“Podcasting is here to stay,” Jake tells CLIC. “It’s a brilliant medium for today’s voice-first world because it knits together journalism and storytelling in an immersive way. Podcasts capture our attention and retain it like nothing else. Amazingly, 80% of us listen to most or all of an episode – an engagement rate that dwarves everything else.”
Jake launched Message Heard two years ago following roles as a journalist and documentary-maker for Vice, the BBC and other outlets. His new company makes podcasts to “help brands and businesses connect with their audience in a meaningful way”. It secured its first tranche of seed funding in June 2018 and by July 2019 it was the first independent UK podcast company to feature on the front page of Apple Podcasts. It’s also the first European company to sell podcasts to Spotify.
Jake and his team make traditional, editorially-driven podcasts but, perhaps more interestingly, they record them for corporate clients too. The founder explains: “Podcasts are perfect for reinvigorating stagnant corporate communication. There are three ways they can do this. First, they work beautifully as a direct-sales tool – for example, we might create a bespoke podcast for a client who wants to communicate a targeted message to, say, ten CEOs.
“Second, you can use podcasts to improve internal communications. Rather than giving your team an eight-page white paper to read, it makes sense to send them an entertaining podcast to listen to instead.
“Third, you can use podcasts as a content-marketing tool to promote your business. This gives brands the chance to become the content rather than the advert.”
This third point is, perhaps, the most exciting new use for podcasts from a commercial perspective. Jake argues that the podcast as a content-marketing device has the potential to be more engaging, immersive and effective than any traditional form of advertising – be it print, online, TV or radio.
“Podcasting is a brilliant form of content marketing,” he says. “It’s not clickbait; it’s an evocative way of getting someone to engage with your message. If you’re telling the interesting stories of your industry in a professional, clever and entertaining way then, to some extent, you own those stories. You win kudos and credibility for telling them.”
Clients who have asked Message Heard to make podcasts for them include Buffer, NatWest, Publicis and Cognizant. “The brands we work with love podcasts because they are affinity-building,” says Jake. “They break down barriers. Listening to good podcasts is like being in the pub with your mates. They feel natural, positive, human.”
He continues: “Listeners don’t judge whether your podcast is an ad or editorial. If you make a good one and they like it, then they like it. You get the reflected glory. On the other hand, if you make a bad podcast, it can be brand damaging. So you must tread carefully.”
So, what makes a good podcast? And how do you avoid recording a turkey? Jake offers five key points to help.
1) Planning is key
“Audio quality is paramount. That’s a given, so you need the right kit and set-up. But it’s also vital to realise that a podcast is a distinct form of storytelling. You can’t make a podcast by just stripping the audio out of a video and packaging that, or by reading a written article – no matter how good it is – out loud. You need to understand how to present your story in podcast form and know why you want to tell it. It’s easy to make a rambling, hour-long, flabby podcast. Packaging a succinct story into 20 minutes is much harder. At Message Heard we do a ‘Discovery Workshop’ with each client, where we stress-test your ideas and work out what you want your audience to think.”
2) Authenticity is power
“Podcasting is an experimental medium – there are no rules – but it’s important to create an authentic style. What I believe works well is almost the inversion of that old BBC-style of cold, analytical storytelling. Instead, you want the listener to feel relaxed by using a conversational style and a degree of humour and irreverence. Above all, it’s about telling great stories. You can’t con people with podcasts; they must have substance.”
3) You have six seconds to get it right
“People tend to decide in the first six seconds if they want to listen to a podcast. That’s really interesting and hard to get right. There’s no ‘correct’ way to win attention. But if you have confidence that you’re telling compelling stories in a high-quality way, then you’re in with the best possible chance.”
4) What’s your USP?
“Podcasting is full of people who think ‘I’m fascinating; my perspective is captivating.’ In most cases, they’re wrong. A great podcast has a genuinely unique selling point that gives people a reason to listen over and above existing shows. If you just copy someone, that’s no good. So what’s your unique perspective? What can you bring that’s different? If the answer is ‘nothing’ you should probably not bother.”
5) Find your audience
“If you make the best movie in the world and drop it onto YouTube, would you win an Oscar? No – it’s likely that no one would ever find it among the masses of content uploaded every day. The same is true of podcasts. So, once you’ve recorded your podcast, you need to know how to reach your audience. There’s a science to that. It’s no good expecting listeners to find you; you must find them.”
CLIC’s final word
Message Heard’s creative use of podcasting reveals just how much growth potential this relatively new medium has in the spheres of business-to-business and business-to-consumer communications. We, the audience, seem to possess an insatiable appetite for listening to good ones, and therefore the brands – and individuals – that manage to become podcast kings can add massive value to their reputations. That’s a glittering prize and within the grasp of many companies. The challenge is finding your podcast’s USP, ensuring the quality is high and getting the storytelling right. Do that and the sky’s the limit…