For a growing number of brands, the story of standout content marketing success in 2018 might just sound like a podcast.

Though podcasting certainly isn’t a new medium, it has come into its own as a content platform over the last few years. With the success of high-profile series like Serial and S-Town, highly successful podcast networks like Wondery and Gimlet, and the growing legitimization of audio content as a vehicle for high-caliber performers and other creative talent, consistent audio storytelling can offer businesses the chance to win massive audience attention for their brand messages – and do so in a way that many feel to be less “markety” than other scripted content formats.

Power of the podcast

Just how large an opportunity could podcasting represent for marketers? Consider these findings on its engagement benefits from Edison Research’s 2017 Podcast Consumers report:

  • Listener growth is strong: The percent of monthly podcast listeners has increased from 21% to 24% of the population year over year.
  • Adoption is surging among younger adult audiences: Forty-four percent of consumers age 18 to 34 consume at least one podcast a month.
  • Podcasts capture – and sustain – the audience’s attention: Fifty-five percent of podcast consumers listen to most of each episode they download, and 75% listen to more than half of each episode. And, while the format only accounts for 2% of the audio content consumed by listeners, it is the No. 1 audio source based on time of consumption (30%).

Beyond those data points, podcasting also offers plenty of soft benefits that content marketers crave:

  • It can help build personal connections: Podcasting can be an intimate way to interact with your audience. As CMI Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose explains about his and founder Joe Pulizzi’s long-running PNR: This Old Marketing podcast that recently concluded: “Joe and I share our family and personal lives on the show, and many times they are issues others struggle with … I think being in someone’s head when your voice comes through those headphones is a wonderful experience. It creates a connection that other mediums can’t make.”
  • It is ideal for on-the-go consumption: Like most mobile-friendly platforms, podcasts can be streamed anytime, anywhere; yet they can also be easily downloaded and saved for offline consumption. Furthermore, they require a different kind of attention than visual or text-based content, making them an ideal way to engage listeners at the gym, in a car, doing chores, or at any other time when they might be in the mood for a good story or new knowledge but need to keep their eyes focused on other tasks.
  • It is highly monetizable: In addition to providing a way to build lucrative subscribed audiences, podcasting can be a strong revenue-generation play for content creators, especially those open to third-party sponsorships. For example, during PNR’s 211-episode run, Joe estimates the podcast generated approximately $500,000 in direct revenue for CMI via sponsorship support. More broadly, according to Bridge Ratings estimates reported by Inside Radio, overall podcast ad revenue is projected to reach $534 million by 2020.

But, despite its strong growth, plethora of marketing benefits, and tremendous creative potential, marketers have been slow to incorporate this format into their content marketing mix: According to CMI’s 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research, only 17% of B2B and 13% of B2C brands leverage podcasts. There’s still room for players on the brand side to start planting their flags in podcasting’s pay dirt before the market becomes too saturated for early adopters to sustain an advantage.

Getting listeners to push play on your podcasts

Podcasts offer great versatility in terms of their storytelling approach, business purpose, show format, creative features, and even how they are produced and distributed. But all podcasting hopefuls should be aware of a few guidelines and considerations:

  • Be your inimitable (brand) self: As this Entrepreneur article reminds us, just because this growing medium is expanding the parameters of branded storytelling doesn’t mean that brands should abandon their existing identities or depart from their overarching content missions. Branded podcasts work best when they perfectly align the story with a familiar brand voice and tone.
  • Be ready to invest time and budget: Though there are plenty of ways for budget-conscious brands to podcast on a shoestring, to make a big splash, be prepared to shell out some cash. In an interview for Digiday, Ad Results Media President Russell Lindley estimated that a full season of a branded show requires a mid-six-figure investment, and asserted that one with high production value can cost quite a bit more.
  • Publish consistently: As with all content formats, it can take some time for your business to develop a strong, loyal podcast audience. Once you have earned the attention of some loyal fans and followers, make sure you don’t disappoint them by failing to deliver what they are listening for. Be on time, every time.
  • Satisfy, don’t submerge: While you might love 60 minutes of brand talk in a clip, that might be too much to ask of a casual podcast listener. When starting, consider instituting realistic time constraints (both per segment and per show). Once you find your storytelling groove, you can extend specific shows when their stories are just too juicy to rein in.
  • Create recurring segments that audiences can connect with: As Jay Acunzo explains, giving your podcast a reliable, repeatable structure provides listeners with a sense of what to expect and can help make the ideation process easier on your content team. Experiment with a few micro-themes or conversational…