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Listen Up! How to Start a Brand Podcast

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Podcasting is a relatively low-cost way to take up nuanced topics and humanize your brand with experts who speak directly to your customers.

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Podcasting poses a huge opportunity for marketers. A Pacific Content survey found that 26 percent of Americans listened to a podcast within the past month. The average listener plays seven a week (up from five in 2017), and 80 percent of listeners stay with an entire episode. Internet-connected cars and smart speakers like Alexa mean on-demand audio will only grow in popularity.

Farmers are even more avid podcast listeners than most. A full 50 percent use on-demand programming at least once a day, thanks to solitary time they spend in a cab or shop. (Our Director of Digital Marketing posted about this back in December.) So, with a sense of adventure and some research, we started a podcast with our agribusiness client, ADM, to complement the monthly content campaigns we were already conducting.

In the Driver’s Seat launched in February with one purpose: to help producers make better financial decisions in this tough farm economy, using ADM resources. It’s been well received, with more than 1,500 plays in its first three months.

If you’re considering a brand podcast for your marketing mix, here are a few things to consider:

Launch with a series.

A new publishing platform needs to launch strong. Producing our first six episodes all at once gave In the Driver’s Seat a cohesive storyline and momentum. Our series on grain marketing habits featured a total of 11 expert guests who built on each other’s thoughts in sequence. Not only was batching multiple recording sessions more efficient; it allowed us to introduce our podcast webpage with a legitimate library of episodes.

Prepare to be spontaneous.

A good podcast is relaxed, but a little planning and structure do wonders to pull off that feeling. Two weeks out, we phoned each guest (ADM representatives across farm country) and talked through their assigned topics. These “pre-interviews” were hugely important in shaping episode content, putting guests at ease, and getting a sense for their “on-air” presence. Adding a simple introduction and closing to these outlines created just enough “script” for client approval, while keeping the conversations spontaneous. During recording, it seemed to take about 5 minutes for guests to warm up and relax, so re-asking the opening questions later gave us stronger responses to edit in.

Edit for attention spans.

Post-production is key. There’s no one ideal length for a podcast, but the average commute time of 25.4 minutes, according to The Audacity to Podcast, is a good rule of thumb. Dive into the “good stuff” pretty quickly after the opening. Some podcasts open with their best soundbite. Out of a 35- to 40-minute audio file, we distilled conversations to around 20 minutes. Each answer averaged two minutes.

Get help with technology.

There’s plenty to organize with a podcast: the topic, the schedules, the outlines. Try to get technical support so you can concentrate on your guests and what you’re actually communicating. (We hired a freelance audio producer with his own equipment, who also composed our theme music for us.) You’ll need a quality voice recorder and, for long-distance interviews, a web call service like Zoom or Skype. Ask your guests to join from a quiet room using a laptop with at least a 4G connection to minimize artifacts like slurs and drops. We learned the hard way when one guest called from his pickup truck—and another had a quiet office, but only a 3G connection. Anticipate bandwidth issues in advance.

Publish and share.

Publishing a podcast is manageable, but attention to detail is mandatory. This checklist can help you get started:

  • First, you’ll need a server to host your audio files (WAV, MP3, FLAC, etc.). Then you’ll want to serve those files on one or more sites where the public can find it. We chose SoundCloud, which let us do both, but other popular podcast hosting sites include Buzzsprout, Podbean, and Blubrry.
  • Put some time and thought into your podcast profile. Is it complete and accurate, with a link to your website? Have you uploaded high-res art and added meta information where available?
  • Find (or create) your podcast’s RSS feed and upload it to iTunes Connect. This will expand your reach by helping your content show up in podcast search results on Mac and Apple devices.
  • Serve it up on your other relevant web properties. Your podcast may be hosted on one site, but it can be embedded, shared, and linked to pretty much anywhere else. For ADM, we summarized each episode in a promoted blog post, with the audio file embedded. One of the things we like about SoundCloud is the variety of embedding choices we have when posting our episodes on our main website. We can edit the media player’s size, how it looks, and how much information is included.
  • Finally, watch the data. Every good hosting platform will provide you with some form of analytics. That information, combined with other metrics from your website and social media can be used to see the bigger picture.

Is podcasting in your future? If your audience spends any time in a vehicle, walking a dog, exercising, or doing repetitive tasks, there’s a good chance audio programming is worth your while. Podcasting is a relatively low-cost way to take up nuanced topics and humanize your brand with experts who can speak directly to your customers. In marketing, that’s golden.