Heda Bayron | July 05th, 2023

Social media may be flooding us with videos, but it’s a scientific fact that humans respond faster to what they hear than what they see. It’s not a surprise then that recent research has shown audio ads outperform social media and video formats across the marketing funnel, achieving higher scores for brand awareness, consideration, conversion and loyalty.

This is good news for the podcasting world, where there are now over five million podcasts on Spotify alone and a growing number of downloads. In Asia, podcasting was slower to emerge as a marketing tool compared to North America and Europe, but it is gaining ground. Branded podcasts are becoming part of the content repertoire of organisations in the region across sectors, such as offerings from Adyen on digital payments in APAC; J.P. Morgan Asset Management on investments; Fidelity International on China; McKinsey on the future of Asia; and, the University of Hong Kong on fintech regulations.

But with millions of voices already on the digital airwaves, the questions for marketers are: Is it too late to add podcasts to one’s content strategy? And how can late movers make themselves heard?

Advantages of audio

Audio is a powerful marketing medium due to its intimacy with the audience. Especially as many listen on their headphones, a podcast can be an immersive experience and is more conveniently consumable than video: you can take in a programme while driving, exercising, doing your laundry or running errands. This creates a new “white space” for marketers to connect with audiences at times when access to other media is limited.

A study commissioned by the BBC and carried out by neuroscience researchers found that podcasts create a high state of engagement for brand mentions, which increased brand awareness, consideration, favourability and purchase intent. According to the study, because podcasts are consumed at times when people are performing other activities, content is being taken in through a process that has a “lower cognitive load,” which allows for longer engagement. As such, podcasts have allowed institutions to creatively explore multifaceted topics, such as sustainability - that would have otherwise required a long-form paper - in standalones or over a series of episodes, like PwC’s “ESG: Defining Asia Pacific’s Future” and BNP Paribas Asset Management’s “Talking Heads.”

A podcast is generally quicker and cheaper to pull off than a video clip while providing the agility to quickly reach audiences with substantive information and insights. Whereas videos take hours or days to produce, companies can bring together thought leaders for a podcast from anywhere in the world in minutes. For example, within hours of the US Federal Reserve’s announcement to keep rates steady for the first time since March 2022, J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s “On Investors’ Minds – APAC Edition” podcast published an episode featuring Shanghai-based experts discussing the rate pause.

Notwithstanding these benefits, companies and institutions need to be clear, deliberate and strategic in deciding whether to start a podcast.

Finding your niche

It really begins with asking the right questions: What do you aim to achieve with a podcast? How does it fit into your brand’s overall content strategy? Who is the target audience? How will your audience engage with this medium?

Branded podcasts that make it to the top 20 or 30 most downloaded in the business category in Hong Kong and Singapore tend to be narrowly focused on a certain audience profile or topic, underscoring the need to identify your niche. A survey showed that people listen to podcasts because they want to learn something new. Marketers need to address how their company can enable this knowledge discovery and how to uniquely engage with the audience.

As with any other content, quality goes a long way. For instance, the podcast network Wondery is known for its originality, research, high production values and Hollywood-worthy emotional storytelling – all qualities that have made its shows bingeable.

At the same time these podcasts are editorially driven, a quality that cannot be overlooked in branded podcasting as editorial integrity is what drives a podcast’s sustainability over time. This includes planning the episode calendar, shaping each episode’s storyline, finding compelling angles, working with internal stakeholders on how to tell engaging stories on audio, booking interesting guests, writing for the ear, and testing new formats and styles.

BlackRock’s “The Bid”, for example, which helps financial advisors and end-investors understand economic and market developments, leveraged listenership data to develop a mini-series format on its top performing topics, invited external thought leaders and created a story arc that linked several episodes. It also added music to help the narratives come to life. Last year, The Bid had approximately 300,000 downloads, and the firm’s research found it not only built goodwill among listeners but made them more likely to recommend the firm to others.

Launched in 2021, Societe Generale’s “2050 Investors” explores global megatrends in the context of sustainability, an issue that other institutions have also tackled. But what makes this podcast stand out is its original style. Kokou Agbo-Bloua, Societe Generale's Head of Economics, Cross Asset & Quant Research, adopts a personal storytelling style, with playful use of sound effects (such as the voice of Siri), even the courage to launch into a James Brown song.

However, we have also seen some branded podcasts lose sight of quality — potentially undermining both their podcast and brand. It’s hard to captivate your audience when conversations sound like people talking through a tin can, or the content is overly scripted to the point of dryness. Podcasts should not be treated as simply a spoken blog post or advertorial, devoid of that human connection and authenticity that audiences value.

While we can’t overemphasise the value of quality and innovation, another key element that late movers can’t ignore is amplification – help your audience discover your podcast by promoting it across different channels, such as social media and even other podcasts that your audience may like.

Late movers can still prevail

For those looking to experiment with this medium, it’s by no means too late. In Asia, the podcast market is large and expanding with China boasting an estimated audience of 690 million listeners while India offers the third-largest audience in the world and is growing fast. And the audience tends to be young, affluent and educated – an attractive opportunity set for any marketer.

In marketing, there are few times when one has to say it’s the final innings for a particular medium. Print, for instance, remains effective for certain markets and purposes. The upside to being a late mover in the audio space is that one will have more data available to determine how best to reach your target audience and weigh that against your own resources and capabilities, and learn from early movers. The bottom line is podcasts are like products; if you offer something of value to your listeners, deliver it with consistently high quality and continue to innovate, listenership will follow.

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