Podcasts are booming. You've heard it before, and with good reason. There are more than 750,000 podcasts in the podcast ecosystem spanning everything from detailed narrative productions about Feral Hogs, to conversation style programs that aren't all that different to radio. There have also been more than 60 Billion downloads to podcasts just through iTunes and the Apple Podcasts platform alone, with the overwhelming majority (more than 50 Billion) occurring since 2014. We've also seen Spotify spend big on podcast companies to become a market leader in both content and distribution. Given all this attention on the podcast space, it's no wonder brands are trying to get in on the action by creating their own podcasts.
However, brands often get a number of key things wrong when they create their own shows. Here are five of the top podcast production mistakes we see corporations making:
1. Choosing a terrible name
One of the most important aspects of creating any podcast, let alone a branded show, is the name. A show name can determine whether people will discover your content in a podcast app, whether they remember the show name after hearing advertising about it, it can communicate the story of the podcast, and it can define the overall look and feel of your podcast.
There are plenty of examples where brands have created a narrative podcast only to mess it up by deciding to choose a name that matches some of their existing marketing strategy. I'm not going to name the offenders, but people don't want to listen to a show about your company. If you choose a title that is recognisable as your brand mantra or a slogan you use across your advertising, you will be alienating your listener and making it harder to attract an audience. Also - don't ever choose a name that includes the word 'podcast', - podcast is the medium so it doesn't need to be in the name. If brands can hold off on the marketing campaign and come up with something simple and interesting, people might actually download the show.
At Lawson Media, we recommend finding a show name that is less than four words, ideally one or two. It can be abstract, but it should speak to the content of the show. The easier you can make your show name to remember, the more likely is people will talk about it and share it with friends.
Here are some of our favourite branded podcast names along with the organisations that produced them:
Hackable? (Pacific Content / McAfee)
Breach (Spoke Media / Carbonite)
Flipping The Game (Gimlet Creative / Reebok)
Trained (Pineapple Street / Nike)
Fortune Favors The Bold (Gimlet Creative / Mastercard )
Wireframe (Gimlet Creative / Adobe)
2. Designing your own artwork
Artwork is one of the most important aspects of show discovery. Remember, there are 750,000 shows in the ecosystem and you want to have your podcast stand out from the crowd. The artwork might be seen small in an app or large on an Apple TV and so it needs to work well in all applications. Great podcast artwork is bold, easy to read, and communicates the story of your show.
In Australia we've found a lot of brands wanting to handle the creative, visual elements of a podcast themselves. This is a bad idea. Often what happens is design teams have the best of intentions, but struggle to think outside the corporate branding box. You end up with show artwork that doesn't stand out, carries too much brand messaging, and is a turn-off for potential listeners.
At Lawson Media we are focused on creating artwork that people would want to buy and stick on their wall. We want to communicate the message of our shows in a simple glance, and have a design that looks nothing like the competition. We work with an illustrator who creates detailed masterpieces that are likely to inspire people to at least try out the content. A great design can also be given to fans as stickers for people to put on their laptops. If someone won't stick your artwork on their laptop - it's probably not that great. Not only does the design help sell the concept of our shows, but it helps build a community.
3. Big ideas on a tiny budget
Budgets. They can often torpedo even the most well-intentioned project, and in the podcast space they can make or break the success of a show.
At Lawson Media, we are often approached by clients wanting to make a podcast in the same style as something that has been produced for McAfee, Mastercard, or Squarespace. However as conversations progress it becomes clear that the customer hasn't actually considered the true cost of producing a show. Brands will happily spend a million dollars on a single spot television campaign despite audiences flocking from TV in droves, but when it comes to podcast content they struggle to get these projects across the line when faced with the price. So what does it actually cost to make a narrative podcast?
Narrative podcasts take time and resources to produce effectively and should be considered as closer to a TV or radio budget rather than social media. If we're producing a narrative series for a brand we first need to consider the timeline, the type of story needing to be told, and the number of people which need to be involved in the project. How many episodes? How much time in the field collecting audio? Any travel required? How long will it take to script the episodes and go through approvals? Who will present the program and what will it cost to pay them to do so? And, how many people do we actually want to reach? What is our marketing budget? All of these questions will contribute to the bottom line.
Depending on the show - and the complexity of the narrative - in Australia a brand could easily spend $70,000 or more on the production of a 6-10 episode series. That cost would buy you a skeleton team of producers for around three months, and you would then factor in a marketing budget on top. We always recommend allocating a marketing budget that matches the cost of production, and focus those resources on in-podcast advertising. A good production team should be able to handle both the creation and marketing of a show.
To put this in perspective, GE spent $500,000 making 'The Message', a sci-fi podcast which reached #1 on the Apple Podcast charts, achieved 8 million downloads and won Best Use of Native Advertising at the 2016 Webby Awards. I'd bet the majority of the budget went towards marketing - and it paid off. The Message is a complex narrative storytelling experience which is considered by many to be the standard by which all branded podcasts are measured. It is light on the brand messaging, and heavy on content which is truly unique and captivating.
Now you don't need a $500,000 production budget to make a compelling podcast, you can make a compelling show for a fraction of that, but it certainly helps to think of your podcast in the same way you think of a television spot. If your brand is spending a million dollars on a television campaign, perhaps you should think about diverting some of that money towards podcasts.
4. Making shows internally
Anyone can create a podcast. That line is part of the reason that podcasts are so popular. They're one of the most accessible forms of content creation and it is true that anybody can make one. So it's probably no surprise that a lot of brands decide to make their own, internally.
Often corporations have a content creation team which is tasked with writing content for the website, or maybe they have a video producer on staff, and usually one of these people might be tasked with making a podcast, on top of the work they already do. Asking someone who doesn't produce audio on a day-to-day basis to produce a podcast is like asking a brain surgeon to operate on a heart. Sure they can probably do the procedure, but wouldn't you want a specialist in the room?
Getting the basics wrong can easily result in a show that nobody will want to listen to. The person who writes your blogs is unlikely to be familiar with the audio dynamics of a room, the complexities of sound design, or podcast mixing and mastering. If you choose this path you will likely end up with a sub-par project and would have been better off giving your existing team more resources to focus on what they do best.
As an example, over the past couple of months I've been watching someone I respect on Twitter ask a bunch of podcast related questions. It became clear that they wanted to make a podcast for their company, and planned to produce it internally. I applaud them for taking this step and giving podcasting a try, but I listened to one of the episodes and I have to say it was terrible. The audio was recorded in a very echoey room, the quality of the recording was poor, and the content was not that exciting. It was a bad listening experience and one which I could never recommend to other people, despite my love to the topic. The worst part is, the organisation had the ability and resources to produce something really great but chose not to.
If you're going to make a podcast, hire an expert.
5. Forgetting about the audience
Who is your audience? That's the question every brand should be asking themselves before diving in to any podcast project. It's all well and good to be creating "a podcast", but it's important to create content that audiences will actually listen to. If you don't reach an audience then your spend was worthless.
Data from Edison Research, announced at Podcast Movement in Orlando, shows that 89% of new podcast listeners are below the age of 55. From Edison's Podcast Consumer survey we know that the top three reasons people listen to podcasts are to learn new things, to be entertained, and to stay up-to-date. Consumers aren't actively looking for ways to engage with your brand, so you need to design content which is both entertaining and informative.
A great example of a podcast that hits this balance really well is Breach, produced by Spoke Media for Carbonite. As a company, Carbonite helps businesses protect their data by providing backup solutions which offer a level of redundancy. It would have been so easy for Carbonite to go the safe route, and make another interview-based podcast discussing security issues. However, the company was bold enough to invest in a narrative series which uses sound design and storytelling to take listeners on a journey. The first season dives into the Yahoo hack and follows that rabbit hole for five truly compelling episodes. I listened to the whole series, but had it been just another conversation, I probably wouldn't have given it a chance.
Audiences value bold and compelling content, so be bold and create something listeners will love.
If your business is thinking about creating a podcast, reach out to the team at Lawson Media and we'll guide you in the right direction.