Podcasts. Most everyone has heard of them and many of us actively subscribe and listen to them. While the medium has roots from the 1980s on bulletin board systems with audiophile creators annotating their experiences by voice, it wasn’t until after the iPod achieved broad popularity that podcasts had their first taste of popularity. With a recent resurgence due to platforms such as Anchor, Buzzsprout, and Captivate, it has never been easier for creators to start a podcast.
Why should brands consider using podcasts as a marketing channel?
The question begged is whether the mere existence of podcasts justifies companies giving them attention from a marketing perspective. Consider newsletter advertising. Selective advertisers are willing to crowd out their competitors in perpetuity on chosen newsletters because the audience can be more or less predetermined for very specific niches, allowing for focused targeting. Further, annual advertising contracts on the right newsletters can end up costing a fraction of a day’s AdWords spend.
In essence, podcasts can be thought of as audio (and sometimes video) formatted newsletters. The creators are passionate about specific subjects with targeted audiences looking to consume that specific content. Also similar to newsletters, the influencer format that tends to work best is that of the interview style for conveying authority, wherein a podcast host walks through a line of questioning that implies authority for the sponsor either in a back-and-forth format or interacting with an ad in a storytelling narrative.
How do podcasts tie back to influencer marketing?
It is necessary to provide a brief overview of what influencer marketing is. The short version for marketers is that influencer marketing is the digital equivalent to word of mouth; the important takeaway is to not fall victim to biasing all influencers as vanity-centric narcissists posing in front of the camera, as the influencer ecosystem is incredibly diverse.
There are three general classifications for influencers, aside from the various filters we marketers may apply to them such as categorical interest, perceived compensation ranges, ideal network selection, and geographic focus. All influencers can generally be grouped as either aspirational, authoritative, or peer-centric. It’s possible for an influencer to exist in multiple groups depending on who is performing the calculation, but for the basis of this short article, it will suffice.
Podcasts can be thought of as audio (and sometimes video) formatted newsletters.
Aspirational influencers are what most laypeople and even some marketers might immediately think of when hearing the word influencer. These are the celebrities, both major and minor, whose big broad audiences are largely generalized. As the description implies, aspirational influencers are those individuals that the audience aspires to be more like. Since we cannot all live in a beach mansion, we might instead be able to purchase some of the same consumer products pitched as a proxy to that lifestyle. Aspiration influencers command the highest compensation but are often not the best suited influencers to a project.
Peer influencers are the everyday people in our lives. Your parents, your friends, and your neighbors. Your spotter at the gym and your babysitter. While peer influencers usually have much smaller audiences, they are hyper focused and trusted in those specific areas where an individual may assign trust. For instance, it would be wise to trust my opinion on a weightlifting regimen but not wise for me to pick out an outfit for you (all my close friends and family absolutely know this to be true). Peers command the lowest amount of compensation currently, however when used in aggregate to match aspirational audience sizes, the returns on these campaigns are resulting in advertising ad budget shifts. There are numerous ways to use these micro influencers, which brands are only now starting to realize.
Authoritative influencers are the real subject of this piece. These are known experts within their fields and tend to have larger audiences than the typical peer influencer but smaller audiences than their celebrity counterparts. Authority, like credibility, can take a lifetime to accrue and mere moments to lose, so authoritative influencers tend to be exceptionally focused on the areas in which they know. In order to justify their higher-than-peer compensation, they generally seek to apply their influence in areas highlighting their expertise, eschewing irrelevant campaigns.
So given the similarities with newsletters, how can authoritative influencers be used?
The primary rule when working with authoritative influencers is to not oversell. Rely on providing a special value for the audience of a particular podcast and lean on the expertise of the top podcast host. Since the hosts are invariably experts as far as their audience is concerned, their expertise can be used in whatever format tends to work best for that particular show.
Two examples to consider:
1. Every evening before bed I listen to SciShow, a YouTube channel that discusses scientific findings of the day and I hear how they weave in their sponsors such as Skillshare at the end of an episode, connecting the ad to the previously explored content. The shift from organic content to advertising content is clear, yet the transition feels natural.
2. This Week in Virology is an entirely different format. Their podcast is in the form of a panel of PhDs and MDs discussing research papers from a virologist’s perspective; anyone listening to the podcast immediately assigns expertise and authoritative influence to the group. Each week they endeavor to bring on a guest, such Anthony Fauci, and interview that other expert on that week’s subject matter. By the end of the episode, the casual listener almost certainly is willing to assign authority to that guest as an expert.
Either of these examples work in the context of using authoritative influencers for brands. A cleaning product marketer being interviewed on a podcast for life hacks around the house for quickly cleaning up everyday spills has the capacity to capture the audience’s trust as would that same podcast discussing cleaning hacks and then transitioning to a sponsored message segment explaining how all life’s messes could be solved by a few sprays of Product X.
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