A great podcast listen can take you to new places, enhance or change your mood, lift you from boredom, give you an insight into the experiences of people you never dreamed you'd meet, make you laugh, inspire ideas, or teach you things that change your world.
In fact, everything that's great about podcasting, is what's also great about books, journalism, radio and TV; also formats that can stretch the genres of entertainment, news or education. So what happens when advertisers utilise those platforms to create emotion or change for audiences?
As modern consumers we are regularly presented with options: either accept the ads or be prepared to subscribe. This is a transition consumers have been sliding into as the range and manner in which we consume media evolves.
As a teenager I can remember reading articles in magazines and trying to work out whether they were paid-for product placement or not. Quite savvy, really, for someone who was as worldly-wise as a daffodil at the time. I was of course aided by the big "ADVERTORIAL" tag at the top of the page.
Back in this century, look how far we've come with branded content: organisations and brands do not rely soley upon the dominant media to circulate their messages, nor do they need to dilute or adapt it to fit someone else's brand (that of the magazine, radio station et al.)
Self-curating podcast identities and audiences
Today, organisations and businesses have never been more in control of - and responsible for - their own voice and stance.
We now have everyone from Specsavers to the NHS arguing with Weetabix over their transgressions with baked beans on social media, piling in on impromptu but beautiful moments of national solidarity, just to make people laugh.
Somewhere in the now distant past, advertisers realised that by making genuinely useful, valuable content, they could better serve their audiences and win their loyalty.
They stopped asking for sales and started offering free expertise and entertainment that aligned with their values and connected them with others.
Even a business supplying paperclips has to reflect upon its values, because those are the tenets that not only influence the way they sell paperclips, but in the way they treat their staff. Which matters. Business may have always been about people, but in the present day, it's increasingly about ALL people.
The brand revolution has bumped up against issues of inclusivity, diversity and representation, evolving the laboured concept of the one perfect customer into the many. Now is an increasingly interesting time for niches that got too cosy to grow, and an excellent time for further reflection amongst businesses and organisations to think about the ethics and power of public engagement too.
Sophisticated and diverse conversations with real people, not advertising models
We are seeing a lot of this innovation take place in the social media space. Last Summer, the National Trust's report upon its under-acknowledged colonial legacy and historic links to slavery and exploitation via properties exploded debate around the remit of heritage organisations. Regardless of counter-arguments, the organisation took a stand via the mouthpiece of digital media and many followed suit. English Heritage had also, prior to this, published the (superlatively produced) podcast series "Speaking with Shadows" in order to address these gaps in our history books and open conversations about history to a wider audience, asserting history as a living, social narrative. (Ehem, I should probably add a side note to state that I produced it.)
So what's next?
Brands curating conversation via podcasting
Now that organisations are au fait with the brand risk of their comms being publicly available in perpetuity, perhaps the desire to self-curate content and reclaim a little control over the conversation has grown? Podcasting certainly presents the opportunity to create a nuanced discussion with whatever number of characters you desire. What's more, self-publishing allows organisations to lead this in a direction of travel that they - often as experts - feel is most relevant to their customers and remit.
For this reason, it is an especially lively time to be collaborating with organisations on making podcasts. As an outsider, the production company's role is to listen to and consolidate the diverse reasons a business may have for making audio. Moreover, the production company is an expert in how to conceptualise that into a content treatment that works for certain audiences. But a great collaboration occurs when both are a part of the planning process.
Nowadays it is becoming increasingly rare for a company to engage production expertise late in the day, when an idea has been developed in-house, and this is something I welcome. Being able to engage with digital, marketing and communications teams across a business at the early stages of podcast comms allows you to design a campaign that best utilises the content and expertise innate to that company. This co-creation process also allows you to deliver campaign longevity with assets across multiple communications channels. Understanding the unique values and concerns of a business is paramount to successfully addressing that of their customers.
Ultimately, a great podcast is about forging a connection that creates positive change or action in our world.
The emphasis for organisations using audio is upon winning customer engagement via comms that give first, and receive later. Whilst there is still a place for traditional advertising, there is no reason why it ever needs to be of a low quality. The power we all have to embrace digital publishing platforms and develop our own audience verticals can only mean greater focus and consideration of what constitutes true value for a listener. Once we have earned that attention and respect, the value may be returned in dividends through the trust and loyalty unique to consumers in the podcast medium.