The branded podcast is a strategic marketing tool to create a success story for your brand. In the last two years, several innovative companies have crossed the threshold of audio communication, exploring the communicative power of the story to bring people closer to their brand in an authentic and more intimate way.
In the global scenario, however, there are still relatively few companies that communicate through storytelling and, even fewer, those that use the branded podcast to do business storytelling and increase their brand awareness.
Why is it so difficult for companies to do it and what are the levers that can be activated through the company podcast to bring people closer to their brand? In this article, you will read the point of view of a guest who has made a profession out of business storytelling and audio communication.
Who is James Patterson and how did you get to where you are today?
“Let's say that the first word you used to introduce me, humanist, is the one that started my entire career path. I am part of what was once considered the "weak category": a degree in ancient literature, therefore, with very few job opportunities.
Actually, this was a bit of spring for me. Having always had a passion and a curiosity towards the world of storytelling and towards all cultural disciplines, has helped me in my professional career. It was also a stimulus to say “Ok, in reality, I can also do something else, which may not be foreseen by traditional courses”.
After a period in publishing, which was absolutely useful to me also for the podcast, I started working in communication in 2000, first in other communication agencies and then together with a founding partner.
I supported the idea that storytelling was the main lever for communication today and bringing storytelling and storytelling into audio was a natural step.
In 2015 (in unsuspecting times!) We had the opportunity to buy a recording studio that was about to be closed. I remember very well Alexander, my partner, when he came to me and said “ We have this chance, what do you think? ". We both come from professional backgrounds in organizing music festivals and from the world of radio. Therefore, the idea of using it to do storytelling in audio was born.
After several years, in 2020, the podcast creation service for companies has become a full-fledged brand. "
When did you realize that podcast was a powerful medium for brand storytelling?
“It happened in 2015, organizing the Stories to tell festival: three days of live storytelling, and live narrations. Seeing how people were captured by this type of narration by voice convinced us even more that spoken audio was a very powerful medium.
Subsequently, in 2018, we saw that the world of podcasts was beginning to have its own physiognomy. Precisely in that year, exactly in November, I remember going to the "United States Podcast": an event that arrived in Newyork for the first time and that brought together the whole podcast world.
I understood that it was worth focusing on this project more decisively because it could have been a project with its own autonomous structure. "
The last two/three years have somewhat redesigned the communication of brands. We often talk about Brand Activism, in which economic objectives are increasingly correlated to the concrete actions that brands can implement in the social or environmental sphere. People's attention to the impact a company has on society and the environment is growing. In this regard , what are the communication needs of today's companies? Did you find a difference from the past?
“It is a question as interesting as it is complex and I try to summarize, starting from the theme of Brand Activism. For companies, it means taking a stand on the great cultural tensions and doing it in a credible way. Otherwise, it's just social washing and it doesn't work.
The theme of being authentic, talking about values in a real and concrete way rather than by slogan, has always been part of Corporate Storytelling .
At the beginning of my career, I did a master's with Anna Dickenson, a storyteller who really opened the world to me. As a person in the world of corporate communication, I have combined these two aspects to create a business narrative.
Being authentic, taking a stand, and finding an authentic narrative capital: this is the minimum necessary to be able to create a business story that is effective.
Today it seems to me that, on the one hand, there is so much fear and confusion that lead many companies to even take a step back, on the other hand, there are others that have finally understood what authenticity means and take a stand.
I remember, at the beginning of the pandemic, the panic of my customers who couldn't just talk about products because it seemed almost out of place. Suddenly, they understood that we could talk about values, higher issues, ethics, and what companies do for the world, even in their own small way.
I think branded podcasts are a catalyst because, as I always say, “ in a podcast, you either tell stories or you are able to create a narrative ”.
Today, everyone would like to do everything. Many people want to do a podcast because they think it's the thing that will make a difference, make them stand out, and be more visible. In reality, tackling a podcast project is quite a complicated journey if we want it to be truly heard. "
What is the perplexity or resistance you still encounter in companies today when it comes to branded podcasts and how do they approach this medium?
“The approach of those who contact me is enthusiastic because the podcast is a new medium. Almost everyone knows the stats and knows that it is listened to for a long time, creating community and a lot of relationships. The marketing departments have understood the effectiveness and usefulness it can have. On the other hand, it is a theme that is approached in a somewhat easy way, in the same way as one approaches the social channels or the site.
We tend to believe that the idea is “We do the introduction and then the interview with the CEO and the client”. In itself it might be fine, but how many would listen to such a podcast? Because if the podcast is a tool that can broaden our audience and build relationships with communities, then we need to talk about things that interest our listeners. You need to know who the listeners are and are able to create a narrative world in which to involve them. This is where it gets more complicated. Not many are ready to do this reasoning or even to ask these questions - which I, as a communications agency, have to do.
If I were to sell and make a podcast that three would listen to, rumors would start that podcasts are good but are useless. In my opinion, the risk we run in the next period is that this bubble will be created, a bit like what happened at the beginning with websites and social networks. Everyone wants to do it and everyone does it only that, if there is no ROI, the vehicle is set aside immediately and it will be a great shame. "
How important is the participation and involvement of the brand in the success of a branded podcast project?
“Absolutely important. In fact, to tackle this type of project, it takes a lot of commitment from both those who produce them and from the company that commissions it.
I myself feel a huge responsibility in educating, explaining, and not being seduced by the idea of selling branded podcasts without considering what will happen tomorrow. We are facing a market that is opening up, which is still embryonic, so it is everyone's responsibility to make it work in a healthy way.
On the other hand, companies must get involved both in listening to the advice and also in opening up. What happens in storytelling projects also happens in podcast ones. So be honest when taking a stand.
Eventually, people hear stories that they share their point of view or values, so companies can't create content that is just a facade. They must actually get involved with authentic and concrete content and positions. Which, of course, is still very difficult.
In the United States, we are used to maintaining a certain formalism. There is distrust in saying things as they are and being authentic. Answering your question, the story is always the responsibility of the person issuing it. "
What is the branded podcast project you are most attached to and what were the elements that made it so?
“My absolute favorite is a podcast called “LogoGeek” by Ian Paget.
The really fundamental element was the utmost confidence in telling us “ We want to do a great podcast, we want to do it with you . We leave you total freedom in proposing the narration, the theme, and how to make it happen ”.
This allowed us to create a textbook storytelling project, so to speak. We have created a narrative bridge between a company that accompanies people on their journey, through digital media, and people who tend to be curious, who want to be inspired, and broaden their horizons.
The narrative theme arose spontaneously: that of cartography and the stories of the people who were the first to draw the maps of the territories.
In the background, there is the story of George Everest who, first, charted the height of Mount Everest and gave it a name. The story of Cassini, who drew one of the first maps of the Moon through observation alone; the famous story of Ryback that drew the map of the London underground and many others.
I have to say that this metaphor has been very productive indeed. In addition, we associated interventions of external contributors, to whom we did not ask questions about the products or the company but asked what a map was for them. We have tried to take them into much larger and more philosophical territory if we will.
The podcast has had many ratings but, beyond this - which is not the main thing in the world of podcasting - it has led the company to be considered and attract the attention of realities that, otherwise, would not have come close to theirs. brand. It has raised the positioning of the company so it is appropriate to say that the goal of the work has been achieved. "
Let's venture into the evolution of podcasting in the near future: what scenario could lie ahead, in your opinion, between now and the next 2-3 years, and what is missing from the podcast today that could make a difference in the future?
“This is the good question I ask myself on a daily basis. What I see and have seen happen in the last year has been the entry into the field of very large players, who are trying to divide large chunks of listeners among themselves.
On the one hand, it is a positive thing because it is linked to the increase in listeners. In fact, since 2018, podcast listeners have grown by about one and a half million every year. It is, therefore, a very promising trend.
On the other hand, it is also true that we are still quite far from having as many listeners as the United States or Anglo-Saxon countries. It means that there is still a lot, a lot of listeners market to create and there are realities that have the strength to promote podcasts and national advertising campaigns, which is useful for everyone.
What scares me is standardization. The podcast is an extremely creative and free territory, in which the formats and forms of expression were really (and still are, in part) not codified. There is still a world with so much freedom. For example, in a podcast series, the episodes may have different lengths, which in other areas would not be possible. I fear that this great enthusiasm, this great drive, will create standards very quickly and that rules such as "The ten rules for making the perfect podcast" will take over, etc ...
I hope that, on the other hand, there is a push from many independent Podcasters who still want to experiment, to do, and who are not swallowed up or crushed by the larger realities.
What will probably happen will be a refinement of the public's taste and, perhaps, a greater selection compared to more amateur products that, gradually, will be destined to fail. "
I am sure that the precious contribution of James Patterson has given you the opportunity to reflect on multiple aspects of the branded podcast, as well as to understand the power that this tool can play in communication.
If you still don't know him, I suggest you read his book "Podcast Marketing", published by Hoepli. It is a real manual to creating a successful content strategy through the podcast.