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    As podcasts democratize communication, brands must be receivers as well as transmitters

    We’ve already been through a couple of podcast revolutions, but this relatively new form still has the power to change the media landscape. For The Drum’s Deep Dive into all things audio, Ian Schofield, head of podcast production at agency APS group, tells us that as podcasts democratize communication, brands must embrace the new landscape of two-way communication.

    A DIY podcasting revolution is blurring the lines between creator and consumer.

    The media landscape, dominated by studio-produced, big-budget content, is being revolutionized by affordable ‘plug and play’ equipment and online recording platforms, fuelling an explosion of creativity.

    Following this explosion of creativity closely are the brands.

    Brands walk a tightrope between innovation and saturation. Their instinct when they see a new, successful media format is to absorb and assimilate it. Just look at the stratospheric rise of the Instagram influencer, tempered when the mark of authentic recommendation became perceived as a click for hire.

    The conflation of creators and consumers means that brands looking to adopt podcasting as part of their communication strategy should first pause and refocus on what it really means to connect.

    It’s not just about Joe

    The phenomenal global success of the Joe Rogan Experience is undeniable. Stop anyone on the street and ask them to name a podcast, and more than likely they’ll namecheck Joe. ‘One man, one mic, one conversation’ is a simple and seductive formula.

    Joe Rogan has what most brands would kill for: homespun integrity; an honesty that’s inbuilt; a willingness to court controversy. And what all this translates to is a fiercely loyal listenership and an ever-growing community.

    But it’s not just about Joe.

    The Joe Rogan Experience stands on the shoulders of a format that for decades has been building deep, long-lasting relationships with audiences through just a microphone and a voice.

    To go further, it also builds on over a hundred years of broadcast radio.

    In podcasting, connections are made with a unique kind of authenticity. On-demand and transmitting straight from creator to listener, the middlemen and the gatekeepers have gone. Welcome to the democratization of communication.

    In this democratic space it’s not enough for brands to simply try to recreate their own flatpack Joe Rogan. 

    Podcasts speak to a new generation of consumers who have become saturated by the hard sell and wise to branded hijacks of their (counter)culture. Now that the consumer is also the creator, the challenge for brands is not to just sound authentic, but to be authentic.

    There’s no guidebook on authenticity. But podcasts, more than any other format, give brands the platform and opportunity for authenticity.

    Transmit and receive

    Whether original or sponsored third-party productions, branded podcasts deliver real authenticity when they are audience-focused. What feels more authentic than a brand going to a lot of effort to try and not sell you anything?

    Take the Churchill Insurance podcast, Little Chapters of Chill. Designed to keep kids occupied on long car journeys, it’s an example of an audience-focused podcast that is far enough removed from a hard sell (but close enough to the brand ethos) to stay authentic.

    Similarly, Play Next by BMW, hosted by Edith Bowman, is a show dedicated to new music, not a 20-minute car advert. It’s principally about the future of music and, by association, soundtracking the future of cars.

    Before embarking on a podcast strategy, brands need to ask themselves the fundamental question: what is our authentic voice?

    It’s not as simple as it sounds. What works for a campaign propagated through mass media won’t necessarily resonate in the more authentic and personal space of a podcast. This is where, paradoxically, engaging with a specialist podcast agency is a first step to entering this democratic, DIY space.

    Traditional branding is about transmission: send a message, sell a product. But podcasts are about conversation, and brands need to be ready to both transmit and receive.

    The audience is waiting.

    For more insight into the worlds of podcast and sonic branding, check out our Audio Deep Dive hub.

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