What podcasts can teach advertisers about storytelling

Jun 28, 2017

If you’re like me and the millions of others aboard the podcast train, the medium has revolutionized your media diet of late.

Morning commutes are productive with a daily news update. After falling down a wormhole of educational podcasts, you’re well-versed on the origins of Hawaii’s pineapple industry and how itching works. You binge listened to “Serial” like you used to binge watch episodes of “House of Cards.”

So, why are we so hooked? And more importantly, what lessons can marketers parlay into advertising creative and content?

The story.

We’ve all heard it. Maybe even said it. Content is king. Or as I prefer to think, good content is king. Podcasts are no exception. When compelling, they engage us. They teach us. They surprise and delight us. They keep us on the edge of our seats. And, of course, they keep us coming back for more.  The lesson here is no secret, there’s no replacement for a good story.

A value exchange. 

In our industry, we talk a lot about making content “snackable.” How bullets and lists reign supreme and walls of copy are relics of the past. How digital media consumption has decimated our attention spans. Microsoft reports that people now average an attention span of 8 seconds – that’s one second less than your average goldfish!

Yet, according to Edison Research, an estimated 57 million people a month tune into weighty podcasts that are more steak than snack. And that number is only growing.

So, what’s the secret sauce? A clear value exchange. Whether it’s knowledge, laughs, a new perspective or a quick political catch-up to keep up at the water cooler, the listener gains something from tuning in.

Reality breeds intimacy.

With usually just a couple narrators (the podcast) and a set of headphones (you), there’s an air of transparency that fosters closeness. Conversations are more unscripted and improvisational in nature, and the host and listener experience the episode unfold together. And as one tunes in to episode after episode, they become more invested and the relationship between host and listener only deepens.

Frontrunners like social media and experiential marketing have been tapping into this transparency and forging connections left and right for some time, though other channels have been slower to buy in. The celebrity and gloss of channels like TV largely keep consumers at arm’s reach. Though, if podcasts are any indication, these channels are ripe with opportunity for exploration.

They don’t try to be something they’re not. 

Unlike terrestrial radio or other mass media, podcasts aren’t diluted to appeal to a massive set of listeners. They’re unapologetically focused around their subject matter and stay true to their audience however niche it may be. Just like with good brand storytelling, staying authentic is paramount when conveying what you stand for and connecting with your audience.

Theater of the mind. 

Podcasts breathe fresh energy into some core fundamentals of storytelling. Powerful words, well-timed pauses, music and sound effects establish the story, but the real power is in the listener using their imagination to bring the story to life. They become participants. Great radio advertising masters this, but a refresher course could surely benefit us all.

The listener is in control. 

On-demand in nature, podcasts are the quintessential anti-disrupters. A listener is in complete control of when, where, and how they listen. They’re in the right mindset and they’re engaged. In advertising, we throw around words like “breakthrough” and “disruption.” Maybe there’s something in going against the grain and meeting consumers where they’re at? With addressable television and programmatic advertising, we’re heading that way, but podcasts are a welcome dose of validation at the very least.

Podcasts have transformed the media landscape in recent years. They’ve shifted listeners’ expectations and made marketers question the values we hold most true when crafting a story. If you’re not already taking some notes from the podcasts, there’s no better time than now to see how your brand can harvest some creative inspiration from this flourishing medium.


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