As podcasts democratize communication, brands need to be receivers as well as senders

We’ve been through a few podcast revolutions already, but this relatively new form still has the power to change the media landscape. For The Drum’s Deep Dive into all things audio, Ian Schofield, Head of Podcast Production at APS Group, tells us that as podcasts democratize communication, brands need to embrace the new landscape of two-way communication.

A DIY podcasting revolution is blurring the lines between creator and consumer.

The media landscape, dominated by high-budget, studio-produced content, is being revolutionized by affordable plug-and-play equipment and online recording platforms, fueling an explosion of creativity.

How can brands learn from the new masters of podcast media? /Matt Botsford via Unsplash

Closely following this explosion of creativity are the brands.

Brands walk a tightrope between innovation and saturation. When they see a successful new media format, their instinct is to absorb and assimilate it. Just look at the Instagram influencer’s stratospheric rise, tempered when the genuine endorsement brand became seen as a click for hire.

The confusion between creators and consumers means brands looking to embrace podcasting as part of their communications strategy should first pause and refocus on what it really means to connect.

It’s not just about Joe

The phenomenal worldwide success of the Joe Rogan Experience is undeniable. Stop anyone on the street and ask them to name a podcast, and they’ll more than likely check Joe’s name. “One man, one microphone, one conversation” is a simple and attractive formula.

Joe Rogan has what most brands would kill for: craftsmanship integrity; an honesty that is built in; a willingness to argue controversy. And it all translates into a fiercely loyal following and an ever-growing community.

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But it’s not just about Joe.

The Joe Rogan Experience is built on a format that for decades has built deep and lasting relationships with audiences through microphone and voice.

To go further, it also draws on more than a century of radio broadcasts.

In podcasting, connections are made with a unique authenticity. On demand and transmitted directly from creator to listener, the intermediaries and gatekeepers have disappeared. Welcome to the democratization of communication.

In this democratic space, it’s not enough for brands to simply try to recreate their own Joe Rogan flatpack.

Podcasts cater to a new generation of consumers who have become saturated with hard selling and wise to the brand hijackings of their (counter)culture. Now that the consumer is also the creator, the challenge for brands is not just to appear authentic, but to be authentic.

There is no guide to authenticity. But podcasts, more than any other format, give brands the platform and opportunity for authenticity.

transmit and receive

Whether original or sponsored third-party productions, branded podcasts offer real authenticity when focused on audiences. What feels more authentic than a brand that goes to great lengths to try not to sell you anything?

Take the Churchill Insurance podcast, Little Chapters of Chill. Designed to keep kids busy on long road trips, it’s an example of an audience-focused podcast that’s far enough away from a hard sell (but close enough to the brand ethos) to stay authentic.

In the same way, play next by BMW, hosted by Edith Bowman, is a show dedicated to new music, not a 20-minute car commercial. It’s primarily about the future of music and, by association, the soundtrack of the future of cars.

Before embarking on a podcast strategy, brands should ask themselves the fundamental question: what is our authentic voice?

It’s not as simple as it seems. What works for a mass media campaign won’t necessarily resonate in the more authentic, personal space of a podcast. This is where, paradoxically, engaging with an agency specializing in podcasting is a first step to entering this democratic and DIY space.

Traditional branding is about transmission: sending a message, selling a product. But podcasts are about conversation, and brands need to be ready to both transmit and receive.

The audience is waiting.

For more insight into the worlds of podcasting and sound branding, check out our Deep Dive Audio hub.

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