If you and I were sitting right now in a circle of miserable-looking people, I would rise, cough meekly, and announce: “Hello everyone, I’m Luke, and I’m addicted to podcasts.”
Then as part of my supportive cadre of sad losers, you would chirp back: “Welcome, Luke.” And so, the first part of my podcast addiction relief would start. I have at least admitted I have a problem.
Although even that is something of an issue, since I clearly see no problem with it. If anything, as I peruse my handy Podcast app, Instacast, and the 28 separate podcast feeds I currently subscribe to, I’m kind of amazed I went so long without them in my life.
And I’m not sure how I ever survived previously without my now-familiar train-ride ritual: that of clicking Instacast and soaking into my daily bath of fresh pod goodness.
But what on earth is the point of podcasts, I hear you ask? Basically, podcasts are your one-click ticket to great conversations of your choice. Whether you love German speed metal, spandexed superheroes, foreign language lessons or drop-dead cake recipes, there is very probably a podcast out there dissecting and delving into that topic for you. Even better? They’re still completely free.
So how can you too create your own smooth-riding pod-fuelled lane to work and back? And what might this sleeper-hit in content creation soon hold for Asian brands, once many more of us become hooked to the pod? Here’s your answer, in one handy listicle.
1. The Oldest New Format
Okay, look. I didn’t invent the term, and I don’t especially love it — but don’t let that put you off. For those born in an era when clouds were just fluffy things in the sky, let me break it down for you. Podcasting is simply radio on your smartphone.
Thanks to computerised phones, 4G networks and a range of awesome-sounding headphones and earbuds, we now have more free direct access to pre-packaged audio product than ever before.
Think about it. Radio is now global in reach. It’s free to consume, and it’s relatively ad-free. And forget about tuning in at the right time — it’s available whenever you want it.
We are now truly spoiled for choice when it comes to information. Boring train rides? A thing of the past. Meeting someone randomly on the bus? Fat chance. Then again, who needs random when you have Tinder?
2. I Must Tell You This
But why would someone with Bluetooth-enabled Beats headphones and a usually incessant hunger for music spend time listening to people talking?
Podcasts are a perfect tune-up for my workday, a day that revolves around both creating and tuning into a lot of conversations. At its best, a great discussion can carry a lot more learning and nuance on a topic in a shorter time than reading can — while the listening part leaves your hands free to drive or navigate your commute.
Podcasts as a format feel very human, too. It’s a warm and inviting medium to consume, one that doesn’t take a lot of effort or eye strain. Plus, in a world that’s increasingly distant and corporate, this is anything but. You’re literally tuning into clever folks having a yarn. It’s like tales around the campfire. Which, at its finest, is an extremely powerful format.
For some, the joy of the format is its lack of rules: “The beautiful thing about podcasting is it's just talking,” says celebrity podcaster and comedian Joe Rogan. “It can be funny, or it can be terrifying. It can be sweet. It can be obnoxious. It almost has no definitive form.”
And when the conversation is set up well, it’s frequently hilarious. I’m a big fan of National Public Radio’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, where the NPR writers and editors literally geek out on everything from Star Wars and Eurovision, to whether or not they’re “Team-Cap” or “Team-Ironman” (A Civil War reference. My favourite comment? “I’m Team-It’s-Complicated”).
Most of the time, you search your app based on an interest in the core topic — although with the good podcasts, free-forming chats on topics are highly rewarding too. For the curious out there, many great conversations are now available. Many are created by traditional media powerhouses. Be it the Guardian, TED, BBC, New York Times, NPR, Harvard Business Review or countless other media brands, the rush to produce great podcast content has truly picked up since 2014.
And what exactly sparked that rush? The question should be ‘who’, and the answer would be Sarah Koenig.
3. One Story, Told Week By Week
In podcast terms, Serial wrote the map. This single story, delivered in the format of a traditional radio show by host Sarah Koenig and her avid team from This American Life, proved so addictive that it was quickly dubbed podcasting’s first runaway hit.
A case in point? Serial was such compelling listening that a series of popular podcasts about the podcast quickly bloomed. Now that’s post-modern for you.
If you don’t believe me, you can still listen to the stories of convicted murderer Adnan Syed (season one) and Afghanistan soldier and POW Bowe Bergdahl (season two) in their entirety right here.
What Koenig and her team did so effectively was to utilise the power of great investigative journalism: and critically, to then format the story in such a way that the serialisation left you wondering all week what might happen next — and to bug your friends to get in on the action too.
The fact that it was a story concerning actual people made Serial the ultimate real-life mystery. And as it gained popularity, things got so crazy at one point that even Adnan’s family became caught up in the ins and outs of the retelling of an event that actually happened back in 1999.
“Everybody is waiting so anxiously,” Adnan’s mother told the Guardian of the podcast that reopened her son’s case. “I just hope there’s a good ending, that’s all,” his brother Yusuf commented.
4. Branded Podcasts?
But what, if anything, might a runaway podcast in Chicago have to do with a company’s brand in Asia? First up, Serial and other popular podcasts have proven the market for audio content delivered in a digital format.
The Wall Street Journal noted in May 2016: “While some big marketers still view podcasting as a niche category, about 17 percent of Americans over the age of 12, or around 46 million people, listened to at least one podcast a month last year, according to Edison Research, up from 15 percent in 2014.”
As the WSJ notes, many at the top end of the market are now looking at paid formats. For companies like audio book provider Audible, an offshoot of Amazon, the task of creating “Netflix for Podcasts” may still be an uphill battle. But it’s one that is certainly attracting interest, and drawing creative spirit.
Can big brands get in on the act? Don’t look now, but they already have. As recently as December last year, Motherboard (a side-project of Vice.com), reported that brands were indeed eyeing that 46 million person prize — and that story-filled podcasts (defined by someone at Macworld as “time-shifted amateur radio”) are already being created by companies like General Electric, IBM, and Slack. The most famous of these to date, GE’s The Message, recently topped iTunes’ Podcast charts.
Will Asia-based brands catch on? For many in a typically cautious market, there’s bound to be a degree of ‘watch and wait’. And for many brand managers, the lure of the high-production video holds more glamour — indeed as companies like Marriott have demonstrated with Two Bellmen, the promise of branded movies is certainly a rich area for content.
This however, hasn’t stopped Marriott itself from pursuing podcasts as well: Marriott Careers has produced its own original series, The Wandernaut Show, with an aim to “dissect business buzzwords and get to the truth of what it all means”.
5. Don’t Forget to Recycle
For those brands eager to start out on the podcast path, the example of TED is a good one to look to. Its core product, the TED Talk, is clearly centred on the video format. However, the speeches that make up these videos are so engaging that the talks make a perfect podcast series as well.
With nifty slicing and labelling, any strong series of speeches that have been professionally recorded for your company can be repurposed as an internal podcast series — giving extra legs, greater duration, and a better shot at ROI for your marketing dollars.
I’d personally rather listen to speeches than watch them anyhow. And with good editing of the format, the speeches can be a great way to connect with a far-flung team, offering each member a way to gain richer connections to your brand and its leadership.
And what does the format offer to the podcaster himself? Let’s return to podcaster and stand-up comedian, Joe Rogan: “It's one of the best ways to explore an idea,” he says. “And certainly much less limiting than trying to express the same idea in stand-up comedy. For some ideas stand-up is best, but it's really, really nice to have podcasts as well.”
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