Ten billion. That’s how many downloads and streaming plays of podcast episodes Apple Inc. served up in 2016 according to James O. Boggs, global head of iTunes Podcasts and Internet Radio. Boggs was speaking at Apple’s 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference on June 10 at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, where he outlined the company’s plans for podcast enhancements in its iOS 11 operating system. If there was any doubt that podcasting has come into its own, 10 billion plays from a catalog of some 400,000 shows and 14 million episodes are here to dispel it.
What began as a mix of amateur hosts talking about their passions, and large media content creators such as The Walt Disney Company and its subsidiaries ESPN Inc. and Disney–ABC Television Group producing shows to support their primary programming, has grown into a tool for reaching millions. For many entrepreneurs and companies, podcasting now plays an important and unique role in the marketing mix. But businesses are only beginning to tap into the medium’s potential, largely because it is misunderstood by management.
While the earliest podcasts took shape in 2004, the medium got its first boost when Apple added podcast support to iTunes 4.9 in June 2005. “We have over 3,000 podcasts in the directory, today at launch,” Steve Jobs told ABC News that day. “And, I’m sure you know, hundreds more are flooding in as we speak.” Flood in they have—growing steadily in number and listenership year after year—and today podcasts have a legitimate place alongside print, web, radio, blogs, and social media in marketing and communications.
Podcasts give businesses a tool for promotion that builds connections more effectively than other methods. Speaking to The ACCJ Journal, John Lee Dumas, founder and host of the highly successful podcast "Entrepreneurs On Fire," explains why: “Podcasting allows you to create an intimate relationship with those who are tuning in, and there aren’t a lot of other mediums that allow you to do this. It helps you build instant authority and credibility, and allows your audience to get to know, like, and trust you and your brand.”
Trust is key. Daniel J Lewis of "The Audacity to Podcast," an award-winning how-to podcast about podcasting for passion and success said, “Usually, the hosts are in more comfortable settings and thus come across as more authentic; so the audience comes back episode after episode.”
This builds a valuable relationship between listener and presenter—and in turn the brand—he explained, adding that “authenticity, authority, and influence are far stronger through voice because, whereas the written word can be edited to perfection, the spoken word is raw, transparent, and conveys emotion, confidence, and communication ability.”
Blubrry, a subsidiary of Raw Voice Inc. founded in 2005, is one of the leading hosting companies for podcasters. Todd Cochrane, chief executive officer of both, shared his thoughts about the influence of podcasts with The ACCJ Journal. “If a business can put forth a genuine voice to teach customers about the people, culture, and makeup of the products and services, it builds trust behind a brand. People want to support companies that have a good corporate culture and are passionate about their products. But it has to be an honest look at the company and a genuine voice.”
Being genuine is critical. “You go from being a company to being a person. This allows your customers to connect on a deeper level,” said Dave Jackson, a speaker, consultant, and author who has helped hundreds of podcasters get their shows off the ground through his podcast and learning resource, School of Podcasting.
One of today’s most popular formats for content marketing is video. The ability to deliver your message with a mix of sight and sound is fantastic, and it has changed the way businesses communicate with customers and prospects. But there’s one caveat: video requires undivided attention. To consume your message through video, the person to whom you are speaking must stop what they are doing and use their eyes. Sometimes this is necessary for the message to hit home. Sometimes it isn’t. That’s where audio comes in.
“Audio can take us places, and we can take audio places,” explained Lewis. “From a consumer perspective, video requires a lot more attention. You can’t—or shouldn’t—watch video while working, operating heavy machinery, driving, and such, but you can listen to audio in all those circumstances.”
Rob Walch, vice president of podcaster relations at Liberated Syndication—more commonly known as Libsyn—agrees: “There is more time in the day for people to listen to content than there is for them to read or watch video. There are times when listening to content is all a person can do. This gives you an opportunity to get out in front of your target audience when you could not reach them with any other medium.”
Libsyn, founded in 2004, has grown to be the world’s largest podcast host, serving up 4.6 billion download requests in 2016 for episodes from the more than 35,000 podcasts—including the Business in Japan (BIJ) TV podcast, produced by Custom Media, publisher of The ACCJ Journal. The BIJ TV Podcast features interviews with executives, thought leaders, decision-makers, and entrepreneurs.
As might be expected, the company uses a podcast, called "The Feed: The Official Libsyn Podcast," to share information and interact with its customers. In addition to co-hosting this show with Elsie Escobar of "She Podcasts," a show that supports and nurtures women podcasters, Rob hosts two tech-related podcasts: Today in iOS, the first podcast to cover the iPhone, and "Podcast411," the first podcast about podcasting. In all cases, these podcasts are audio-only.
Jackson echoed Walch from a listener’s perspective: “I can’t read your blog, or watch your video in my car on the way to work, but I can consume your content if it’s audio. Podcasts allow you to multitask.”
This isn’t to say that video doesn’t still play an important role in the marketing mix. Cochrane, whose "New Media Show" and "Geek News Central" enjoy a thriving viewership as well as listenership, said: “Video has its place. We use it a lot. But audio is more personal—you’re literally in the listener’s head. You are talking directly to them. You can develop a closer relationship with the customer through audio.”
Speaking to The ACCJ Journal from Tokyo, Tim Romero approached the question from an advertiser’s point of view. “Audio podcasting performs much more than video. I think it is due to the targeted nature. There are going to be some types of products that lend themselves better to video, but podcasting is really similar to what radio was in the 1930s and ’40s—the Golden Age of Radio. You aren’t running a prepared ad in a podcast, you’re having a host do a read for you. It is a custom ad with the host explaining why your product works, and why he or she believes in it.”
Romero’s show, "Disrupting Japan," is about start-ups and innovations in Japan, and each week he sits down with a start-up founder. The discussion reflects the type of content that works best for podcasting: stories of personal experience. Rather than talk about their own company, Romero’s guests talk more generally about what it is like to run a company in Japan.
BIG AND SMALL
"Disrupting Japan" shows how entrepreneurs and start-ups make use of podcasting to share their message, and "Entrepreneurs On Fire" demonstrates why the medium is perfect for experts to share advice that helps businesses reach new heights. But while podcasting offers benefits to companies of all sizes, adoption still tilts to the small side.
“Entrepreneurs and small business owners have been much more open to the medium,” Dumas said. “Larger corporations have been a little bit slower to adopt, presumably because they have too many chains of command they feel they have to ‘convince,’ and many in that chain of command have trouble seeing the potential return on investment.”
Romero thinks large corporations are just beginning to discover podcasting as a medium. “It has finally reached the point that some popular podcasts—at least in the United States—are reaching hundreds of thousands with every episode. So, it has become big enough for marketing departments to take notice.”
Once they do take notice, Jackson sees a difference in mission. “Some individuals are the brand, so they are doing a typical hard sell at the end for their services,” he said. “The individual may be using their podcast to contact people and invite them on as guests in hopes of creating a relationship. A small business might have a wider view of the industry and use the podcast to position the company as a leader, using it as a tool to communicate with their current and potential customers. And a large corporation might consider sponsoring other podcasts to get their brand into highly targeted markets, or use their own podcast to answer the most frequently asked questions and share feedback from the audience to improve future products.”
The differences aren’t necessarily due to size. “There are individual podcasters doing excellent work, often using it to spread their brand and get their name out there,” Romero added. “Similarly, there are large corporations—especially media companies—using podcasting to further their brand. I don’t think it is the size, it is how you want to use the medium, how comfortable you are with producing content that is appropriate for the medium.”
MIX IT UP
Choice of content is the key to success in podcasting. Walch finds that expectations often differ between individual entrepreneurs, small businesses, and large companies. The latter, in particular, often misunderstands how to use the medium—and this can lead to failure.
“Make sure it is not one long infomercial,” he said. “The biggest mistake business podcasts make is thinking someone wants to get the audio version of their about us or product pages. They do not. You need to deliver information that educates and entertains. Make your content valuable to your listeners.”
Regardless of size, the podcasts that Walch sees doing well are those that understand that podcasting is a long-term play, and that the content they create must have value to the end users. These creators then leverage the relationship they build with their audience over time.
Cochrane gave The ACCJ Journal an example of his approach: “My company does one podcast on our product and services. It is purely a marketing information arm and is billed as such. A second podcast is really about our community of customers and creators, highlighting their unedited experience with our services and the shows that they have grown. Both podcasts are a huge part of our marketing strategy.”
Lewis’s "The Audacity to Podcast" delivers advice to help podcasters create more effective content. In keeping with that mission, he shared a simple roadmap for success.
“Don’t look at your podcast as a commercial for your business. Think of what content can bring value to your audience,” he said. “This is more about building trust, influence, and authority than trying to sell a product. But, as you progress through valuable content, it’s okay to position your product or service as the ideal solution or next step. Podcasting can be part of an overall content marketing strategy in which every piece of content and point of contact focuses on different aspects of the same idea.”
But, Dumas stressed, “Make sure your podcast is aligned with your business goals. The most beneficial way to leverage a podcast as a part of your marketing mix is to extend the value and information you’re providing your already-existing audience. This will lead to potential exposure that your business may have not received otherwise. Podcasting can—and should—become a regular part of your content creation and marketing, and it should work together with the other promotions to spotlight what your business is focusing on in other advertising.”
That’s what Dr. Greg Story, president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan, has done with "The Leadership Japan Series," one of Japan’s longest-running business-focused podcasts in English.
“When we started in 2013, our approach was to focus on pure-play content marketing to provide value to our listeners,” he explained. “The intended audience was the expat businessperson in Japan. What surprised me was the global audience we have reached; I never anticipated that.”
In 2016, Story took a more niche approach that broke up the subject matter into three weekly podcasts: "The Leadership Japan Series," "The Sales Japan Series," and "The Presentations Japan Series." “We have learned a lot about what works after 315 weekly episodes. I have found that, to be successful, podcasting requires two key elements: original content of the highest quality and a regular, reliable release schedule.”
What return on investment (ROI) can companies expect from podcasting? That’s the question that stops many larger organizations from moving forward in the medium. There is often an expectation that a podcast episode will result in x-number of downloads or x-amount of sales. But podcasting is a long game. It’s a tool for building mindshare and supporting the overall marketing effort.
As Lewis explained: “Unless you happen to be positioned with the right content at the most popular time, don’t expect to see huge returns—yet. Podcasting, like forming a relationship is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Over time, tangible results can emerge. “Without podcasting, I would have no authority or influence in this space,” he continued. “But because I have an audience of podcasters who have received value from my more than 300 episodes—and they trust me—they often buy the products and services I have created or recommend. My podcast allows me to reach my ideal customer; build trust, influence, and authority; discover their needs; and market my solutions to their exact problems.”
But remember, to get to the point where Lewis is takes time.
“What comes first is growing an audience that knows, likes, and trusts you,” stressed Dumas. “The great news is, if you already have an existing business, chances are adding a podcast to your marketing mix will encourage your existing audience to become more committed to you and your brand, and it will also help you attract new leads.”
Measuring those new leads is an understandable concern for marketers, and this is where podcasting offers a bit more certainty than some other mediums, such as radio advertising. Hosting services such as Libsyn and Blubrry, and access points such as iTunes and Apple Podcasts, provide accurate metrics that give creators a strong understanding of their audience. The number of downloads or streaming plays per episode, devices and technology used, and geographic distribution of the audience—even down to the state level—are all measured.
For tracking direct response to a specific episode, Jackson employs one of the most common methods. “I have a coupon code for the School of Podcasting that I only mention in the episode. It does not appear in print anywhere on my website. About 80 percent of the people who sign up for the School of Podcasting use it, so I know they are responding to the podcast itself.”
Dumas recommends including a call to action in your episode’s introduction and closing, and sending listeners to a landing page through which you can track the response rate using a code, as Jackson does. “There are endless opportunities,” Dumas said. “It’s just about planning ahead and being strategic with your content and calls to action.”
Some doubt the potential of podcasting to become an effective and profitable medium, but Cochrane’s 13 years of experience building his business around podcasting indicates that the potential is strong. “Podcast measurement is incredibly contrary to what some pundits say. We are executing millions of dollars each quarter in ad deals and delivering ROI that exceeds all other mediums. We find that podcast advertising—matched with the right content—can deliver ROI nine times greater than most other ad platforms. Ad revenue is expected to exceed $225 million in 2017. There is no reason this space cannot ramp up to $1–2 billion over the next five to seven years.”
As our lives become busier, podcasting represents your best chance to connect with many prospective customers. Not only can you reach them at times when they would otherwise be inaccessible, you can build relationships that go beyond marketing.
As Lewis said, “Podcasting presents the opportunity to deliver value; build relationships, authority, and trust; and to be far more authentic with each message. I think people are being attracted to authentic marketing.”
And Romero thinks “the intimacy and focus of podcasting is its greatest strength, and what differentiates it from things such as radio.”
Returning to the start, the numbers revealed by Boggs are staggering: 400,000 shows, 14 million episodes, and 10 billion downloads in 2016 alone. But, really, things are just getting started.
“There’s still a lot of room for podcasting growth, and if businesses continue to create valuable content on a consistent basis, it’s going to help them stay top of mind and stand out from the crowd,” concluded Dumas. “The intimate relationship you can build with your listeners is incredible. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been approached by someone I’ve never met, but—because they listen to my podcast—they say every time, ‘I know this might sound strange, but I feel like I know you!’”
Custom Media publishes The ACCJ Journal for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
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