Why so many branded podcasts fail

Podcast check list

By: Dave Beasing & Steven Goldstein

There are several companies pitching businesses to hop on the branded podcast bandwagon. My friend and colleague Steve Goldstein (link:  amplifimedia.com) and I have these thoughts on why so many branded podcasts will fail.

Here’s why: it’s the most challenging category in all of audio. Despite the hopes and wishes of many companies, most people simply don’t want to engage with a brand or business. It is a high hurdle to get them to care. As Bob Hoffman reminds his Ad Contrarian readers, “no one in his right mind volunteers for advertising.” True that. I like my orange juice just fine, but I don’t need a podcast about it.  

Of course, there are exceptions where there is a wonderful synergetic relationship between a brand and a podcast. We know a good deal about this. Amplifi Media and Sound That Brands co-produce what podcast insiders consider the most successful branded podcast anywhere. It has millions of downloads under its belt, and when a new episode is released, it rockets to the top of the chart in its prolific category. 

We’ve collected learnings from this podcast and our other well-known brand partners and sharing four proven building blocks to deliver a winning branded podcast.

1. Ask WIIFL: What’s In It for the Listener?   

“WIIFL,” short for “What’s In It for the Listener,” must be your guiding principle. Every journey in content creation should begin by charting the value proposition for the audience. The best podcasts have an unwavering focus on the listener rather than being a vehicle for the host or brand. Podcast listening is intentional, and users seek content to listen to on their schedule. Your podcast needs to offer a substantial benefit communicated quickly and clearly — if you want to earn someone’s time. 

Why is your podcast interesting to them? What stories do you have to tell? What is remarkable about the people featured in your podcast? 

Another consideration is the emotional response to your podcast. Do you want the audience to feel inspired or informed? To learn or to laugh? Crafting a roadmap for your stories and establishing an emotional intention can help your podcast find its voice and deliver effectively for an audience.  

2. Prioritize Sonic Branding: Sound like the Brand

As audio takes on more prominence for many marketers, a new question to ask is, “What should my brand sound like?” It’s essential to establish a signature sound aligned with your company and podcast. No two brands are alike. No two branded podcasts should sound alike.

A recognizable sonic brand can borrow from your existing media campaigns, such as a voice or song easily associated with your company. It could also be something fresh and unusual, such as a particular production quality, episode style, or music. The key is that when a listener plays your podcast, they quickly recognize it is your brand behind the show.

The cadence of the production must fit the brand too. Fast? Fun? Forward attitude? Mischievous? Earnest? Provocative? Everything is on the table when translating the brand’s essence into audio. 

3. Make Something Useful and Valuable

The secret sauce of podcasting is scoring the correct format, and this is where many brands fail most in their efforts. No one wants to listen to a long ad, and the best branded podcasts don’t sound like a late-night infomercial. Instead, they tell stories and take the listener on a journey that interests and excites them. Your podcast needs to have an emotional hook and a strong concept that threads through every episode. 

The “skip” and “delete” options are the worst-case scenarios for any podcast. As audio content providers, you want to attract listeners, keep them until the end of your show, and get them to come back for more. However, many podcasts run too long or lack a proper episode structure, prompting listeners to abandon them. 

Of course, success is impossible to attain unless it has been defined and is measurable. The expectations for your podcast should be clear and achievable.  

4. Innovate to Stand Out

Podcasting is a playground for innovation, and we encourage brands to push creative boundaries. Engage people with new ideas and fresh approaches. That could mean avoiding overexposed formats, such as Q&A style interviews. Your show could feature a “day in the life” with a customer or employee or peel back the curtain and invite the audience to a place few rarely get to see. Production styles can vary as well. Instead of a studio production with tracked music, your podcast could be produced in the field with natural sounds instead. Unpredictability often attracts attention, and that can help your podcast – and in turn your brand – stand out.  

Some brands are innovating by placing their content inside other podcasts that have built loyal audiences. We call these minisodes and Brandlets™, and they can truly endear a brand if they add to the listeners’ enjoyment of the host podcast.    

If you want to find success with branded audio, all of these building blocks are necessary: put the listener first, give your audio a sound that represents who you are or what you do, and provide valuable quality content in an innovative way.