SOUND TEST: WHY PODCASTS ARE RIPE FOR EXPERIMENTATION – Podcast transcript

Jessica Kingman
Hello, everyone, and welcome to The Richards Group Digital Trends podcast. I’m your host and Digital Strategy Group Head, Jessica Kingman, and in each episode, I’ll be diving into one of our 10 Digital Trends for the upcoming year, 2020. And today, I’m really excited to be talking with digital strategists, Patrick O’Neill and Kyle Davis, on their trend, Podcasts as Digital Test Labs. Hi, Patrick. Hi, Kyle.

So on this very meta podcast about podcasts, talk to me a little bit about your trend of Podcasts as Digital Test Labs, and why advertisers, clients, and brands should care in the coming year?

Patrick O’Neill
So, we did a podcast trend a few years ago, but since we did that podcast trend, the barriers to entry for podcasting have dropped significantly, and we think they’re going to drop even more in the coming year. Basically, one of the biggest reasons why clients kind of shy away from podcasting is it just tends to be really expensive. What they don’t understand is that there’s a really wide variety of ways that you can activate on a podcast, it can be either through a live read, you can create your own content. So we want to make clients aware that there are more ways for them to engage with podcasts than ever, and the stakes are going to be lower and lower every year.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah. So, beyond the fact that we did a trend about it a couple years ago, I’m always really interested in where the ideas for these trends come from. So, I’m interested on why you guys decided to focus on podcasts for your trend for 2020.

Patrick O’Neill
So, a couple of our, a couple of the brands we work with are actually making their own podcasts. So for instance, Salvation Army is an account that we work on and they came out with what they called the Do Gooders podcast, which is in conjunction with Caring Magazine, and basically what it is, is them pulling stories from people within The Salvation Army or connections that they have, to talk about what it means to be involved with, they call it the “Fight for Good.” Which is, entails, you know, helping people, helping the homeless, is kind of the most obvious thing, but just everything involved with serving the dispossessed, and the otherwise, like, kind of, forgotten. But they’ll talk about things like what it means to live a joyful life, or they’ll talk about, they’ll talk to a lawyer who actually was homeless for a period of time. Like the fact that something like one in three Americans experienced homelessness at some time in their life is a big thing that they emphasize, and being able to find stories that communicate that and really make, just kind of show that their mission is important is what they try to, is what they’re trying to pull together. So that’s one example where we’ve seen a brand doing it, but on top of that, we all just, we both just have kind of a personal interest in podcasts. And just more and more, we’re hearing brands pop up on the things that we listen to all the time.

Kyle Davis
Yeah, I would say that’s what attracted me to it. Just generally, I listen to hundreds and hundreds of hours of podcasts. I’ve done so since early college, and as soon as I heard that we were writing something and there’s a possibility of even making one, I instantly latched on. I wouldn’t call myself an expert in making them or how best to play some, but I think just by osmosis, listening to them the amount that I do, it was just an instant connection for me.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah. So you both open your trend by talking about what a juggernaut that was/is Serial. So I’m interested if you guys think that there are any magic ingredients that Serial kind of put together to basically hold our collective attention over the span of 10 one-hour-long episodes, and beyond the fact that it’s just a murder mystery, right? Because there’s millions of murder mystery podcasts out there.

Patrick O’Neill
No, that’s a super-great point and I think Serial’s an, I mean Serial is definitely a worthwhile podcast to talk about because when it’s still like the most downloaded podcast to date, but also, I think it kind of started what sort of resembles this second podcast boom, a little bit. And I think based on the reasons that you’re talking about, which are, like, I mean, really the format – like, hour-long, true-crime drama is something that people are really familiar with. So, it wasn’t as much of a jump to, like, these sprawling, three-hour-long interview formats that kind of just take a little bit more interest in the medium and, like, interest in the talent. So I think that was one big part of it. Obviously, she’s a really great storyteller, but the fact that storytelling was such a central component to the entire project, I think was also really beneficial to it. Like, if you read about Serial, one of the coolest things – I think one of the reasons why it resonates with people so deeply is that if you watch a true-crime show, or like even, like, a crime film, it’s – there’s kind of like a sterility to it. You know, but when you’re listening to Sarah Koenig talk about it. She’s, like, totally befuddled by the whole thing. Like, she’s trying to figure it out too. And she is so surprised. And there’s this kind of incredulity that comes through everything she talks about. So you feel like you’re sort of discovering this stuff along with her. And she doesn’t necessarily know all the answers, or is going to uncover everything. But it has this, kind of like, ambiguity to it and you feel like you’re just discovering everything for the first time, with the host.

Jessica Kingman
And I think storytelling is a really interesting focus, right, of what makes a podcast perhaps more successful than the ones that we may be more familiar with, which may involve some talking heads, you know, like, Joe Rogan kind of comes to mind as being the leader of that. And we saw New York magazine run a cover a couple of months ago that seemed to claim that we’re at peak podcasts; there’s 1.5 million podcasts or 219 podcasts for every American, and I’m sure storytelling is no secret to those who are starting or trying to start a podcast. So, do you both feel like there is a cluttering of the podcast space that may make it harder for brands to break through in an impactful way?

Kyle Davis
I think that we’ve reached a point to where the listeners are much more critical. So, if a brand seems – wants to attach themselves to podcasts, the likelihood that they will receive some form of ROI to however they attach themselves is stronger just because the ear is much more critical now. We know what a good podcast sounds like. We know what type of host we want to listen to, we know what type of format we want to listen to. So all of that being known, we’ve reached a point to where it’s you’ll hear it a lot, “the Golden Age of Podcasting.” But the individual, it’s just become such a normal thing in the routine. You’re listening to it while you go to the – while you’re grocery shopping, while you’re driving to work. But basically, the stars will rise and if a brand wants to break into it, you, all you have to do is identify that natural star that you want to attach yourself on and just ride the coattails of their success.

Patrick O’Neill
And I think it’s kind of one of those, like, advertising phenomenons where something has finally gotten so big that advertisers are willing to recognize it.

Kyle Davis
Yeah.

Patrick O’Neill
So I mean, just the fact that they’re starting to see that they can get involved – like, really, there aren’t a whole lot who are doing it. Like it’s still, for a lot of these guys, sort of, totally uncharted territory. I mean, just think about the podcasts you listen to now. You hear, it’s like, Casper, it’s ButcherBox, it’s 23andMe. Like, it’s all these, sort of, more digital-savvy, like, digital-only brands and manufacturers and companies. So I think there’s still just a ton of opportunity for brands, first of all, to find out like what their level of tolerance is, with getting into podcasts, but also really, like, sort of rediscovering who their core audiences are and really finding out what are those interests? Who are those celebrities? Like, who are those potential hosts who are going to kind of align with what the brand actually believes in?

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, that’s a really interesting point about the core audience because you guys speak about the fact that podcasts are really built on niche or niches of culture. You know, you talk about, you know, how many podcasts are there about Game of Thrones, but even more, you know, like, there’s a podcast about the Bravo shows that I watch, like, Vanderpump Rules and Below Deck. But, you know, playing devil’s advocate a little bit, and thinking about a point that you brought up earlier about the CPMs that come along with podcasts. Why would you recommend a brand invest in podcasts over something that has more mass reach, like radio, for instance?

Patrick O’Neill
I mean, that’s a really good question. That is the most obvious question, I think, when we get in a room with clients, and we’re starting to point to podcasts as a possibility. I mean, thankfully, I think we’re getting better at moving a lot of our clients and just the industry in general towards this, like, 70:20:10. Like, let’s call this the 10% thing, and let’s all recognize that it’s a test and see what we learn from it. But I will say that what they put into a little bit of a test with maybe a smaller, more niche audience, they can find out information about who that audience is and, like, what the demographics are, and whether or not their message or the activation resonates with that audience. They can take that information and do something else with it, they can take it over to social and they can like, you know, target look-alikes or something. So it’s not necessarily, like, it’s the single activation that terminates on itself. And the podcast reader is going to read your ad and that’s the end of it. Like, there’s a lot you can learn about that – like, those listeners and what they’re interested in and really get a more intimate understanding of what it is you’re, like, who your audience really is.

Kyle Davis
And I mean, just thinking about the micro-niche listener. I mean, I listen to a podcast about Cereal. It’s breakfast cereal. It’s positioned as a relaxation and kind of an anxiety depressant, to kind of calm you down and whatnot. But think about the person who’s listening to that. They are super-interested in what this host has to hear. So anything that you attach yourself to that fits that bill that might have this really small micro-culture, they’re totally leaned into it, and they’re going to take that host’s word, not necessarily as gospel, but they’re going to value it. And when the host finally comes around and says, “Hey, well, we’re coming to that time of season where we’re going to put out listener surveys,” they will probably activate and tell – be truthful to this host because it’s this kind of, this weird one-way connection where they’ve become such – so familiar in the year. It’s this kind of, I don’t know, this “holy word” that they preach. And if you’re able to, you know, attach your 10 percent to that, you’re going to see some good return on your investment.

Patrick O’Neill
I think that’s something else that really make – I mean should make this kind of an attractive space to play in – is because you have podcasts and hosts like that who’ve already created these really strong relationships with their audience. And it’s not necessarily like social influencers, where in a lot of cases, like, their reputation is sort of tarnished by the fact that, you know, they’re – Like, this is almost kind of an untouched space where you have a really authentic relationship, and you can still be a part of that conversation without disrupting or spoiling the authenticity of it. I think about, you know, My Favorite Murder, it’s another, like, true crime, like, weird, wild, and crazy murder podcast. But if you look at who advertises with them, it’s like ButcherBox, which is, basically it’s, like, grass-fed meat and all this stuff. But if you look at their list of influence – or their list of advertisers, it’s all people who have a really, like, tight, or at least cheeky alignment with what it is, what it is they’re selling. So whenever they insert that into their programming, it doesn’t feel as repellent as something that may show up in, you know, as a mid-roll ad or whatever.

Kyle Davis
Yeah. And that’s what makes I think podcasting so compelling in general is that the host is going to be the filter of, to what is on their show. So if you approach a host and it doesn’t seem like an obvious connection to their brand, their listenership, they’ll probably tell, you know, they want to, I think, inherently they want to feed their listeners something that they’re going to value. And I think a lot of the times when you’re listening to a podcast, and they do an ad read, it’s almost anecdotal, they’ll riff off of it, they’ll really endorse the product more so than just read the bullet points you provide them.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, that and that’s a really great point that brings me into my next question is, you guys have brought up a lot of really compelling points about why as a brand, they should enter the podcast space. So, I’m curious, you know, if I’m a brand who’s sitting in front of you today and saying, hey, Patrick, and Kyle, I want to, you know, try podcasting out. What are the things that you think that I, as a brand should be concerned about? Or not even wary of, but what are the points to make sure that I’m really partnering with the right podcast?

Patrick O’Neill
I think what Kyle just said is a really good point. It’s like, hey, when we are approaching some of these podcasters, like, they are going to be selective about who’s going to be on their show. So, let’s make sure we have a really clear understanding of what, like, really what our brand is, what our brand objectives are, so that when we’re approaching individual podcasts, like, we’re finding people who align with what we sort of already believe in. After that, another obvious question is, like, do we have any existing content? If you have existing content, you can make your own podcast. One example that we have in the trend is John Deere, who basically publish it – they have this, they have this magazine that they’ve had for like 100 years, and they still publish it for farmers, but they just pull those stories out and create podcasts of their own. So if you already have content you’re creating, you can make something. And then after that, I would find out, like, “Okay, are you guys at least willing to test kind of a live read?” And that’s where you start getting the conversation about, like: Who’s the host? What do you want them to tell? How much creative license do we want to give them? And then what do we want to achieve with it?

Kyle Davis
Yeah, the John Deere example and, you know, creating your own podcast is a very extreme example. We – obviously you don’t have to recommend that to every brand. And it’s this kind of sliding scale. You have this bullet point factor that you serve a host and they read off of it, riff off of it, endorse the brand, or you have this extreme example with John Deere, Trader Joe’s, where you start producing your own content. It’s really, the question that you want to ask the brand is, what are you trying to accomplish? What is it that you want to do? Do you want to go so far as be a voice on your own? Or do you want to supply points to a voice that already has this repertoire and clout, per se? And then in between that, there’s this really fun space to play in, that really, the format itself lends itself to ingenuity. And so at the end of the day, you just kind of have to evaluate yourself as a brand and have that whiteboard session and see what you want to attach yourself to.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, so the sliding scale that you brought up, it’s really interesting to me, because you guys have brought up Casper and ButcherBox. And, you know, then on the other side of the spectrum, right, it’s the Trader Joe’s and the John Deeres of the world. So I’m interested in how you guys have begun to see brands capitalize on the podcasting space. What is in the middle of the spectrum from bullet reads to creating your own podcast?

Kyle Davis
So there’s a really good example. And if you don’t listen to the podcast, you should, so Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell. The way he formats it is he looks into things that are often overlooked and tries to reevaluate them and bring in some new light. So, in his most recent season, the second half of it, he brought on Mo Katibeh, who’s the CMO of AT&T. And instead of doing a typical ad read, he just had a conversation with his ad spots. So – and they were discussing the concept that’s this very convoluted – 5G. What does it mean? We’re on the cusp of understanding it. And they discuss it from a business perspective. What can it mean? And that sort of idea, this weird, kind of floaty, ethereal concept that is 5G and what it can do fits Malcolm Gladwell so well, it just inherently lends itself to the listeners, to – they’re coming to him because they’re interested. So this sort of format of just a conversation, it’s something that personally, I would like to see more of. And but yeah, that’s just one of the most unique examples I’ve seen recently.

Patrick O’Neill
It’s kind of like this storytelling Trojan horse thing, which is why I think podcasts, like, the space is just so ripe for that type of, like, that type of partnership. And another good example is 23andMe does a ton with podcasting. So, like, you’ll just hear them, just, they do straight ad reads with so many different podcasts. One of the most interesting ones? There’s this podcast called Last Podcast on the Left, which is – it’s all about weird, like, kind of true crime, occult, just crazy horror stuff. But they did this one episode on the weird history of eugenics and then they had a read for 23andMe, which is all about DNA, which is still kind of like a morbid partnership, but an effective one. But on the other end of the spectrum, 23andMe, they do a bunch of live reads, but they also created their own podcast. So they have this podcast called Spit, which is all about DNA and DNA testing, but it sort of spreads out into conversations about, like, ethnicity and family and identity. I think their very first episode, they had John Legend on, talking about, you know, those exact things and just using cultural influencers and celebrity to talk about their background, but always positioning it through the lens of DNA, but never, not always DNA specifically. There’s a couple of other episodes I know recently, they had – I think it’s Muhammad Ali’s daughter talking about Parkinson’s. They had Nikki Sixx from Mötley Crüe talk about, like, addiction, so there’s always – they’re really smart about their celebrity and influencer alignment with their programming.

Kyle Davis
Yeah, it’s very blue sky. And I think approaching it and then evaluation – sense of every brand is going to have some sort of permission to speak to something, whether it’s 23andMe speaking about DNA, or I don’t know, ButcherBox, inserting themselves on a murder podcast. I think it’s this kind of question of, what do you want to do? What do you want to say? And how do you want to say it? Do you want to say in bullet points? Or do you want to create your own content? But really, it’s this kind of back and forth conversation. I think you will naturally end up in the most appropriate space for the specific brand.

Jessica Kingman
I want to circle back to John Deere, because that was one of the examples when going through your trend that really struck me the most, because if you think about John Deere, I mean, they could have created a podcast about anything from the engineering of their product, to the scientific approaches to how we grow food today. Instead, they focused on depression in rural communities, and the disproportionately high suicide rate of farmers. So it’s a very morbid topic for a tractor brand to take. Right? So I’m interested to hear from you guys, like, why you thought John Deere is taking that approach and how they cultivate content around their brand.

Patrick O’Neill
That one really shocked me too. But I think what we learned from it, is that, people will just tolerate different levels of content or how shocking things are in podcasting, because they’re a lot more invested and there’s a little bit more intimacy with either the programming or the brand or whatever. So think about John Deere, who is, I mean, a pretty uncontested authority in the space of agriculture, farming, however you want to say it. So, I think that the fact that they, first of all, understand that they have that authority. They’ve taken the time to build a really deep connection with that potential audience. And then they also have other signals from, like I said, before that publication they have, The Furrow, which has literally been published for I think, over 100 years and they still continue to publish it. So they know that their audience is already interested and they’re already invested in what they have to say. And I think taking that extra step, and being willing to, kind of, talk about those things that wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate in other formats, talking about it on a podcast that they’re creating on their own. I think approaching those taboos is sort of what endears an audience and I really admire them for taking the risk. And there are other instances, even, like, Trader Joe’s sort of does the same thing. I don’t know that it’s quite to the extent of like, as, like, more of it as the one that John Deere did, but, like, really fascinating. But Trader Joe’s, while on their podcast, they don’t just talk about, you know, low prices or whatever, it’s about sustainability and they talk about things like package design, which is something they always get a lot of praise for. They talk about why it is their, you know, employees are so happy all the time. So I think looking at what it is, you can justifiably talk about as a brand, like truly authoritatively talk about, and taking a risk and leaning into it.

Kyle Davis
Yeah. And I think what – this is me maybe putting myself in the shoes of the creator a little bit too much – but what it sounds like is they obviously had this authority and they might have asked themselves, what is the problem that we can address? And if you have that authority, no one’s going to bark at you for trying to solve that problem. And I think it’s super-admirable, and I wish more brands would take that leap.

Jessica Kingman
Well, so just to bring it all home, if I’m a brand and I want to start exploring and activating a digital test and podcasts, what are the three things that you two would want me to kind of keep top of mind?

Patrick O’Neill
Well, first of all, if you already are creating content and you have content somewhere, I mean, that is a great place to start. If you have long-form video, or you have some kind of content you’re creating regularly, it’s worth looking into it and deciding whether or not that can be extended into podcasting. The second thing I would say is, make sure you understand audience affinities and are there any, you know, areas that you can realistically play in that you may not necessarily play in for your other marketing initiatives. So, do you understand some, kind of, small insight about your audience and what they’re interested in enough to go find a podcast that, sort of, appeals to that interest?

Kyle Davis
And I think lastly, sort of related to that point is, understanding authority, understanding what you can speak to, kind of evaluating yourself, maybe having that “come to Jesus” moment where you can confidently say, like, we can talk about this. I think that’s something to really keep in mind during this whole process.

Jessica Kingman
So, my final question for you guys, and I hope you’ll humor me. We talked about the media consumption and how that will evolve. I’m interested: what podcasts are you guys listening to now?

Kyle Davis
I’m unique in this office. I have a much longer commute than most people, for better or worse, most times worse. So I listen to a lot of podcasts. Namely, right now I’m listening to one called Critical Role. It’s a podcast about Dungeons and Dragons where a bunch of voice actors play it. I listen to a design podcast, weekly, called 99% Invisible; a comedy podcast called My Brother, My Brother and Me. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. But that’s just kind of the stereotype box that I’m trying to check off, I guess.

Patrick O’Neill
I just came off finishing the Chernobyl podcast.

Kyle Davis
Oh, yeah.

Patrick O’Neill
That was, like, so basically Chernobyl – HBO made the show Chernobyl, which is absolutely fantastic. But there’s an episode-by-episode podcast with the show runner that really looks into, like, not just the making of the episode, but how much of the historical, like, realism they kept intact, and just that whole, like, that whole thing is just absolutely insane and just a really fantastic podcast, a fantastic show. Revisionist History, always, I’m catching up with season three, that’s a really great one. There, I mean, there’s some episodes of the Conan podcast that, like, had me in tears.

Jessica Kingman
Really?

Kyle Davis
Oh yeah.

Patrick O’Neill
Honestly, yeah.

Jessica Kingman
I don’t know.

Patrick O’Neill
There is this one episode with Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz, that like, killed me. And then Film Spotting, is kind of a go-to, that was, like, the first podcast I ever started listening to regularly, so.

Jessica Kingman
Awesome. Well, to read more about Patrick and Kyle’s trend of Podcasts as Digital Test Labs, as well as our other trends that we predict will make an impact in the advertising landscape in 2020, please go to trends.richards.com. Patrick, Kyle, thank you both very much.

Kyle Davis
Thanks, Jessica.

Patrick O’Neill
Thanks a lot, Jess.

 

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