Audio – the future of branded content

Whether you converged on Mumbrella Audioland from the world of radio, advertising or branding, the inaugural audio marketing conference, held in Sydney earlier this month, had something for just about everyone, and didn’t seem to disappoint anyone.

At the conclusion of the daylong event, there was a collective energy among the 300 plus radio executives, podcasters, musicians, content producers and ad creatives that attended the conference – and it wasn’t just because it was wine o’clock.

The unique conference theme was a timely nod to the power of audio in branding and marketing, and an exciting exploration of Australia’s growing interest in the (relatively) new kid on the media block: podcasts.

While an avid podcast listener (and creator) myself, I was pleasantly surprised by the statistics presented by plenary speaker, Larry Rosin, President of Edison Research, who kicked off the day.

Rosin’s 2019 Infinite Dial Australia Report showed direct comparisons between media consumption in Australia and the US, and set the scene of growth and opportunity in the audio-sphere.

Who is listening?

The plenary report started with insights into traditional audio media – radio and music – showing that the number of Australians listening to AM/FM or DAB radio is still very high.

With just a five per cent reduction in listeners over the past year – from 88 per cent in 2018 to 83 per cent in 2019 – this was obviously welcome news to the radio advertising sales execs in the room.

When it came to music, Spotify led the pack among the major streaming services in terms of awareness and listenership in Australia, but interestingly, YouTube came out on top as the “sneaky surprise monster of the audio space,” according to Rosin, with 48 per cent of Australians choosing to listen to their favourite music via YouTube, in comparison to 34 per cent on Spotify.

But it was the podcasting statistics that got everyone talking.

In comparison to last year, the awareness of podcasts among Australians jumped significantly from 78 per cent in 2018 to 83 per cent in 2019 – 13 per cent higher than podcast awareness in the US.

When it came to actual podcast listeners though, the story was very different, with only 30 per cent of Australians being active podcast listeners, in comparison to 51 per cent of Americans.

This shows that while big name podcasts like The Teacher’s Pet or Serial have increased awareness of the platform in Australia – perhaps due to mass media attention – there are still a lot of people who haven’t yet tuned in, which is both a challenge and a huge opportunity for growth.

Creating a podcast hit!

Following the plenary, we were treated to a panel discussion featuring some of the biggest names in the Australian podcasting industry, including Grant Tothill (Podcast One); Kellie Riordan (ABC Audio Studios), Wendy Syfret (VICE); and Kate Montague (Audiocraft).

If there was one theme to extract from the session – which was all about “Creating the Next Podcast Hit” – it would have been the importance of authentic storytelling to a hyper-targeted audience.

The panellists all agreed that the unique benefit of podcasts for the listener is that you can aggregate your own audio entertainment experiences by finding podcasts on just about any subject of interest. This presents a great opportunity for content creators and brands that are looking to connect with targeted audiences.

The key to creating great podcast content is to figure out exactly who your tribe is and what they want to listen to, then delivering it in a way that makes them feel like they’re part of the conversation.

If you’re thinking about creating the next podcast hit, or just want to connect your brand with your audience in a unique way, here are some of the key tips from the professionals:

  • To make a hit, start with a good idea, bring it to life with good quality content and execute it well.
  • Create content that will get into people’s psyche and get them talking – word of mouth is the strongest promotional tool for podcasts.
  • Have hosts that are compelling and authentic – it’s not radio, think connection over perfection.
  • Make podcasts for purpose – don’t retrofit the radio format to podcasting – think niche-cast rather than broadcast, and never rollout a radio style ad on a podcast!
  • Tell a story and paint pictures – think about characters, plot, hooks, scenes, sound design, and pace.
  • Connect to the listener – people are listening through their earbuds and headphones, it’s an intimate immersive experience so you need to respect the closeness of that relationship.
  • When thinking about a theme, start with specific communities of interest then find the best stories to tell in order to reach them.
  • Be innovative with the format, use music and sound design in a way that’s unique to you – get creative.
  • Think about how people are listening and create podcasts for different scenarios, a commute to work (20mins), a run or walk (45mins), cooking (30mins-1hour), shopping in the supermarket (10-15mins) … try to figure out what people do for 5 minutes and make a podcast for that!

How can you build a podcast audience?

Establishing a good fanbase is the key driver of podcast discovery, which was the focus of the next panel session featuring content producers and directors: Alana Mahony (Whooshkaa); Jennifer Goggin (Podcast One); Jay Walkerden (Nova); and Sharon Taylor (Omny Studios).

The buzz-word of the session was “discovery” which is basically just a fancy podcasting term for getting your podcast in front of the right people through smart distribution!

According to the majority of panel members, the strategy for discovery is three-fold:

  1. Create high quality content (see above)!
  2. Find a host that already has a following and utilise their status and influence to build your audience; and
  3. Pay for promotion, either on social media platforms or with live read advertising on other podcasts in a similar or complementary genre.

Alana Mahony from Whooshkaa noted that while it is easier (and quicker) to connect with new audiences when you have a high-profile host, a number of independent podcasters, such as Zara McDonald and Michelle Andrews from the Shameless podcast, are reaching audience numbers that are equal to shows featuring bigger names – so it’s less about fame and more about connection, authenticity and finding your tribe.

In terms of distribution, Whooshkaa is an excellent platform for independent podcasters – it’s the platform we use here at Fuller to distribute for our Dark Arts podcast – as it aggregates content across all of the major podcast listening platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

The panel also mentioned that the best way to increase followers once the podcast has been distributed is through word of mouth – encouraging your listeners to talk about your show, and to like, share, and subscribe is essential for amplification.

Apart from touching on the use of themed keywords in podcast descriptions, there wasn’t much discussion of SEO, which can only lead us to believe that Fuller’s own Demystifying the Dark Arts “blogcast” format remains decidedly unique!

What does your brand sound like?

While podcasts were certainly the focus of the day, the final highlight of the conference was a presentation from Andy Walsh, founder of Listen, a New York audio branding company that worked on a sound identity (or audio brand) for Microsoft.

Andy argued that while brands spend a lot of time and money on perfecting their visual identity, they often forget about the emotional connection audiences have with music and sound, and how powerful this can be as a marketing tool.

With audio-controlled devices like Google Home bringing our houses, cars and offices to life, strong, consistent sound is even more important for future brands, as audio identities can be used not only in public places and advertising, but also the Internet of Things – from event playlists, changing rooms and hold music, to vehicles, washing machines and fridges.

Andy’s advice was to approach an audio brand in the same way you would a visual brand identity – with a strategy session that identifies your brand story, key target audiences and the platforms, places and spaces where your brand will be heard.

He also, rather refreshingly, implored the packed house of attendees to skip the algorithms and stock music and work with real session musicians and audio professionals that can create an authentic and emotive sound, unique to you and your brand. Music to our ears!