While on the surface it may seem like podcasters and social media influencers have very little in common (namely, we can’t see podcasters or what they are eating or how cute their pet is), there may actually be a great deal we can learn from the early days of influencer marketing to help brands make the most of the podcast explosion.
There are some less than obvious similarities between podcasters and influencers that lead me to believe we have learned some of these lessons before.
Discovery is cultural cache
When influencers first started cranking out #OOTD posts, beauty tutorials with indie brands, DIY life hacks and haul videos, they were hard to discover. The people who managed to find these influencers in a sea of Instagram and YouTube content earned real cache when the exposed their friends to them. They were considered the tastemakers of their social circles.
Podcasters are in a very similar situation right now. There are tons of podcasts, and other than the high-profile suspects like Serial, 99% Invisible, NPR Fresh Air, etc., your average listener has trouble figuring out which new ones to download. The friends that uncover the boldest, edgiest, sharpest, most obscure podcasts are developing a very similar social cache.
Low cost of entry
You know what stifles real artistic creativity? A high cost of entry. You know what levels the playing field and lets the degree of your talent or ambition decide your fate? A medium that thrives off of low budget production and distribution.
In the beginning, anyone with an iPhone or a laptop could be an influencer. The output was raw and real and fabulous. Podcasting has a very similar cost of entry: just a person with an audio file and a dream. The low cost of entry has enabled writers, comedians, scientists or simply people with something to say to develop podcasts with devout and loyal followings based upon the caliber of their content alone.
At the end of the day, we all want to get paid doing what we love, turning our side hustle into our only hustle. Influencers were very accommodating with brands when they first started out. They would create posts or blog about a brand that simply sent them some free product to try. They were open to creating a custom approach to integrating brand messaging into their channels because they only had a few partnerships to tend to.
The up-and-coming podcasters are in a very similar boat. They are flexible and accommodating for brands; they will do live reads, feature brands or products in editorial, attend promotional events. While they are discerning about which brands they will work with, if they already love your brand or use your product, how you structure your partnership can be very flexible.
So what do these unique similarities tell us about how brands can make the most of the podcast revolution and influence its 73 million monthly listeners?
Brands who get in early are the winners
The brands who took a leap of faith on an influencer just starting out that they believe to have real potential were absolutely rewarded for their loyalty. Find a podcaster that you want to place an early bet on and take the leap of faith.
Some key criteria to consider when placing these early bets are audience composition, aspirational affinity alignment, velocity of popularity and authentic brand love. If your brand aspires to be a little bit edgier with a snarkier tone of voice, find a podcast produced by a comedy writer. If your brand wants to more closely align itself with how technology can make the world a healthier place, partner with a podcaster that is both a naturopath and technology buff.
Let the medium be the message
Don’t view podcasts as merely another place to distribute your audio ads. Embrace their creativity. Partner with the podcasters to figure out how to authentically and impactfully deliver your message within their world. Podcasters often use formats, segments or language that is differentiating, something they own as their unique brand. Embrace what makes the podcaster differentiated and work with them apply that to how your brand’s partnership is experienced by the audience.
Create long-term brand ambassadors
A podcast is very rarely the end goal for most of these podcasters. They want to build an entertainment or editorial brand; they want a TV show, an HBO special, a book deal. Build a relationship with a podcaster that can transcend their initial foray into the medium. After you place your early bets on a stable of the right type of podcasters for your brand, keep an eye on who is really starting to take off and have candid conversations with them about their aspirations. Work together with them when they make the leap into additional mediums. This will ensure that your brand will travel with them and feel like a natural aspect of their expansion.
Mostly, have fun with this. It’s a medium whose rules are still being defined, is ripe for innovation and has immense potential for brands.