Executives from two U.K. advertising companies were recently discussing concerns such as ad fraud, viewability and brand safety. “How can ad money solve the world’s problems?” asked Social Chain’s Theo Watt. “Because there’s a hell of a lot of it, $500 billion spent on digital advertising last year,” answered Amy Williams, CEO of ad-tech company Good Loop.
The industry likes a good story, but the interesting point here is where the conversation took place: a B2B podcast. Digital agency Social Chain produces Social Minds “to demonstrate we can do that for others,” says U.S. Managing Director Oliver Yonchev. “Too many agencies don’t tell their own story well enough.”
Outnumbered by podcasts for the general public—not nearly as popular as, say, “This American Life”—B2B podcasts are gaining traction. Creative agencies are wooing brand marketers, consulting firms are going after MNCs, and even the military is getting into the game. One branch of the armed services is prototyping a podcast on safety training.
As podcast listening reaches record numbers and business topics climb to the top, it’s time to start experimenting, say industry insiders. Otherwise, “in 18 months, you’re at a strategic retreat saying, ‘We probably should have gotten out of the breakdown lane and dipped our toe in,’” says podcaster Ted Canova, who spent decades in TV and radio.
The total number of the U.S. population over 12 who have ever listened to a podcast has passed 50% for the first time, according to the 2019 Infinite Dial study by Edison Research. Companies hoping to reach on-the-go audiences would do well to follow the example of organizations that have already taken the deep dive.
Take McKinsey & Co. It’s not a client of his agency, but William Burghes is a fan.
“They’re such impressive thought leaders, consistently ahead of the curve,” says Burghes, executive director of data and analytics of Forsman & Bodenfors. “It’s a clear B2B podcast, but they go out of their way to appeal not to just a person in that sector, but also people who are intellectually curious.”
Forsman & Bodenfors regularly recommends podcasting as part of the marketing mix. One of its clients is an investment bank whose podcast shares technology and economics content with social angles such as the effect of consumer attitudes on the economy and self-driving cars.
Personality is as equally important to a podcast’s popularity. “There are those big Wall Street CEOs and star analysts admired by people in the financial industry who would read anything they wrote,” he says.
Don’t skimp on quality
B2B brands interested in starting podcasts should consider production quality and promotion, both of which need to be executed to a T.
From the outset, the content should create an intimate and personal experience, says Canova. He called a podcast “the brand within the brand.”
Simon London, global head of digital communications and host of The McKinsey Podcast, says the company was an early adopter in the mid-2000s, when podcasting first developed after the launch of the iPod. Back then, someone would read articles aloud.
From 2008 to 2013, an Edison Survey showed the percentage of Americans who had listened to a podcast within the previous month remained steady at around 12%. Then the number started to increase gradually, reaching 26% last year.
“About four years ago, podcasting had moved on and become more established. It was clear to me we needed to do something conversational and engaging,” McKinsey’s London said.
As he revamped the podcast, he started with recorded phone conversations, and sometimes subject matter experts had to be interviewed at different times. The required splicing resulted in a stilted product. “There is no substitute for being face to face,” he says, “except in instances where the person being interviewed does a lot of media.”
London will often add recording sessions to his existing meeting agendas when traveling, and for consistent quality, McKinsey has budgeted for an agency to supply local crew. “An audio engineer for a morning is not a vast amount of money. I’d rather get it right than cut corners and not have it sound very good.”
For hosting, McKinsey uses Simplefeed, a platform designed for major corporations. Customized packages include fees for start-up, training, social integration, and monthly usage.
In the initial days and weeks after launch, a few thousand listeners would tune in. Social sharing—McKinsey has 2.2 million followers on LinkedIn—has raised that figure to an average 50,000 listeners per episode, spiking to 100,000 for topics such as the “business value of design” and blockchain.
McKinsey, which has produced 82 episodes, and Social Chain, with 30 so far, are in the minority of companies with long-term momentum.
Of the world’s 705,000 podcasts, a couple hundred thousand “are dead,” said Todd Cochrane, CEO of RawVoice/Blubrry, a podcast-tracking and hosting company that also developed PowerPress, a free podcast plug-in for WordPress sites. Fifty percent of the podcasts he tracks never make it past seven shows, he said.
Cochrane offered three tips for keeping momentum alive:
The first is a reality check. Customer acquisition via podcasts can be a “two-year play” unless a company has significant social media followers that can be converted into listeners. “Businesses want fast returns, but they need to put the time in. If they’re not established, they have to build authority,” he said.
One strategy for remaining committed is to use the plug-in; if the podcast is on your home page, you won’t forget about it. “We do know our podcasters produce significantly longer than the average,” he said of the 75,000 podcasts his technology powers. “Don’t just say ‘go subscribe to iTunes,’” he said. “We want them coming back.”
Another must is structure and resources to reach customers from as many touchpoints as possible. RawVoice’s content managers plan blog content six months in advance, adjusting the schedule to take advantage of news hooks. Planning podcast topics has a shorter window of a couple of weeks because of the need to accommodate guests’ schedules.
Semantic search services, such as those provided by Mention.com and Meltwater, help organizations identify who’s talking about their industry, he says. He routinely responds to Twitter conversations or offers advice on Facebook podcasting groups, without being sales-y.
“Maybe they’ll do a Google search and will wind up a customer,” he said. “I’m on social media 18 hours a day. There’s that much going on.”
Lastly, a guest who can riff alongside the host is a must-have. Amidst all the production planning and promoting, spontaneity during the actual recording adds the spark that launches loyal listeners. Otherwise, people will walk away, as if from a boring couple at a dinner party.
“I was keen to make things feel natural,” said Good Loop’s Williams. For her appearance on Social Chain’s podcast she did her usual interview prep of writing down the three key points to convey and focus on hitting those points as clearly and as often as possible, she said. Otherwise, “I really just intentionally let things flow. Positively NOT over-preparing.”