Power of podcasts: A cheaper business strategy for spoken word communication
Podcasting has boomed in the past few years, with everyone from big corporations to hobbyists considering starting one. Whether it’s the right strategy for businesses is another question.
Spike Ballantine, head of production at CliffCentral, has helped to make a variety of shows for businesses, either directly focused on their work or their area of interest more generally. This work is generally sponsor funded. “Many businesses are seeing podcasts as a valuable marketing tool, giving them a voice in a rapidly growing medium,” he says. “It can also be a cost-effective alternative to traditional advertising.”
Ballantine says the main benefits are positioning businesses and their experts as thought leaders who own the conversation. Creating content that is relevant to customers or partners can also create a positive connection. He gives the example of a CliffCentral historical show, Blind History, sponsored by a manufacturer of blinds and shutters. While the two things are not directly related, it has positively impacted the brand.
Gavin Kennedy, founder and CEO of Solid Gold Podcasts, creates a variety of podcasts, from small self-funded hobbyists to sponsored shows for large companies.
He says that “spoken word communication is currently the fastest-growing medium and is being prioritised by businesses such as Apple, Google and Amazon”. This is particularly helpful because of the move away from reading long-form content to listening while doing something else. Kennedy also says that audio content will become increasingly important as voice search optimisation (VSO) increases in terms of how search engine results occur.
Willem Klopper from Articulate-IT is the host of the Man in the Van podcast, The Professional Plumber Podcast and VODCast, which are aimed at tradespersons and plumbers, respectively.
The shows get up to a few thousand listeners every week, with dozens of episodes released. Interestingly, registered plumbers can earn continuous professional development points for listening to that podcast and answering a questionnaire.
“Our company is committed to sharing information and knowledge to empower people,” Klopper says. “Because podcasts require only the attention of the audience’s ears, it is a very convenient way for them to receive information.”
Klopper explains that the show complements the other services the business offers. Podcasts are offering them a way to share information and knowledge and generate more income. They have received good feedback from their communities.
Daily Maverick has also forayed into this medium, particularly with the flagship narrative series Don’t Shoot the Messenger, with Rebecca Davis. It is currently in its fourth season and has previously achieved over 100,000 listens per episode. CEO Styli Charalambous says podcasting is a way to explore new audiences and formats because “audio provides the kind of in-depth looks into stories that the written word would struggle with or just be very long and difficult to consume on a screen”.
Common challenges that Klopper has encountered are maintaining a broad listener base and making people aware of the shows. Regarding production challenges, equipment may fail at times, or guests may cancel at the last minute, as with many types of media creation.
“The main challenge is education,” says Ballantine, explaining that both audiences and businesses often do not fully understand the power of the medium.
Ballantine also cautions that businesses should be wary of how they measure the success of their podcast, as the pure amount of listens, a typical metric for radio commercials, for instance, is not a fair comparison. “The metric for a podcasting audience is less about size and more about quality and engagement.”
Kennedy notes that the value of the medium is, at times, held back when businesses do not fully embrace its uniqueness. “Initially, clients and agencies are producing content that still looks and sounds like radio,” he says. “Podcasting is not radio. It’s an on-demand medium and can be consumed anywhere and at any time. Content can be long, short, in a studio, remote and is frequently ‘binge listened’.”
Charalambous echoes that there was a steep learning curve for their team, including working on a tight budget and converting reading audiences into listeners. Though he says it isn’t for everyone, he encourages businesses to try.
“Like most endeavours, it’ll take more time and more money than you think, but it can be rewarding,” he says. “My advice would be to clearly define what constitutes success upfront and then do everything you can do to make that happen. If it doesn’t, be ready to pivot.”
Despite the challenges, Ballantine strongly recommends considering the medium. “Podcasting in South Africa is growing, and it offers businesses and brands a direct route to an interested, engaged audience.”
Klopper suggests starting a podcast on the side first. “Once you have been running it for long enough and people become interested in advertising on your podcast or alternatively sponsor your podcast, then let that run for a while to see if the income generated from it exceeds your current income.”
Many businesses are seeing podcasts as a valuable marketing tool, giving them a voice in a rapidly growing medium. It can also be a cost-effective alternative to traditional advertising. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.