Brands keep their ears on the prize as podcasting continues its rise

Podcasting, as StopPress noted back in July, has been growing in popularity here and around the world and as the medium matures, brands are starting to get more involved, either through advertising on the good ones or, in the case of Xero, making their own. 

 Xero recently launched weekly podcasts in Australia that aim to help address the trials and tribulations experienced by small business owners. The announcement follows Xero’s earlier release of a similar podcast entitled Xero Gravity, which was aimed at the American market.

Xero In is a 30 minute weekly show co-hosted by Xero’s territory sales manager Robert Stone and various guest hosts such as Valerie Khoo, a freelance journalist and Jeanne-Vida Douglas.

The podcast will focus on different topics every week, aiming to arm small business leaders and accounting professionals with real-world insights and strategies to help them grow their business and achieve their goals.

Xero’s chief marketing officer, Andy Lark, said the company was inspired to create a show that spoke to the issues Xero’s customers and business owners face daily. 

“We’ve listened to feedback from our customers about the constant challenges they face as business owners. Whether it’s marketing, payroll, HR or business management, we think there is an opportunity for us to draw on the wisdom of experts that have been there and done that in small business, and share their ideas with the wider public.”

The podcasts are currently available in both Australia and New Zealand and a Xero spokeswoman says there are plans for more New Zealand based guests to appear soon.

Lark said podcasting is growing in popularity because of a growing preference for on demand content. They also served as an additional channel where the growing accounting software firm could communicate with its customers.

“​Podcasts shift content across time, place and device. They provide another avenue in which we can help customers and inform their small businesses.”

The launch of Xero’s podcasts follows other large companies producing their own content amidst the decline and fragmentation of traditional media channels through which brands formerly pushed their messages.

The managing editor of ANZ’s Bluenotes, Andrew Cornell, recently told StopPress traditional media is losing its monopoly of the audience to social media, meaning television, radio and newspapers are no longer as successful at reaching the masses.

“You’ve still got the same amount of content that you think is valuable, and ours is news, opinion, analysis, it’s not marketing, so if you’ve still got that content that would have gone to radio, or television or to a business newspaper or to a weekly magazine, you think ‘we still want to get it out there, it’s still valuable’, so now we do it ourselves.”

Lark, however, rejects the label of “branded content”, which is often seen as being an ad disguised as bonafide media content.

“We don’t see anything as branded content – only as content. What we are producing relates to what small business owners have told us they want to hear. We are simply amplifying their agenda and hopefully enriching it. Some of it relates to Xero, but mostly it doesn’t.”

Lark, who was recently named as one of the top three most innovative marketers in Australia, says social media engagement is a key component to consider when judging the overall success of the podcast. 

“​We judge the success of our podcasts on the number of listeners and furthermore, the number of listeners sharing and reposting the content. The more shared the content, the better job we are doing​. Our goal is to grow a vibrant community of online listeners that direct and steer our content. Our aim is to give them as many avenues as possible to access great content that both entertains and informs.”

Part of growing this presence will be about integrating the podcast with the accounting software firm’s other online channels such as the Xero blog, which offers practical advise for small business operators such as “7 ways to avoid cash flow surprises that could kill your business”.

Paul Spain, founder of Podcasts NZ and host of the NZ Tech Podcast, says targeting niche audiences in producing podcast content can allow the company, which serves as a compendium of local podcasts, to align with brands. 

“What we’re doing is really building out the network so we’ve got a lot more content we can offer to brands and then it’s a matter of finding the brands that align well with the content we produce. Sometimes those more niche type of advertisers want to hit a particular audience.”

According to Nielsen, 257,000 New Zealanders downloaded a podcast for the month of October. And Spain agrees with Lark that the growth in popularity of podcasts reflects a preference for on-demand content and says the medium is well placed to surpass traditional forms of media. 

“Over time, I think we will see a lot more podcasts than there are radio shows just because it’s so accessible. Anyone can produce a podcast. We’ve already connected with a lot of the listening audience locally so we can launch a podcast very quickly.”

Because anyone can produce them, however, that means a whole lot of them are decidedly average. The vast majority are in the chatty, unedited interview style and only a rare few personalities can pull that off and many of them are also aired on traditional radio networks (Kim Hill, Terry Gross, Marc Maron and Mark Pesce, for example). Others that seem to do well have an idea at the centre (such as Judge John Hodgman, No Such Thing as a Fish and, locally, Cheap Tuesday and The Worst Idea of All Time). And at the premium end of the podcast continuum, the shows that are gaining most of the attention—and most of the premium ad dollars—are highly produced and edited shows (such as This American Life, Radiolab, TED Radio Hour, Planet Money, 99% Invisible, Reply All and most of the other efforts from podcast-specific media start-up Gimlet).  

  • Podcast nerds can check out Slate’s list of the top podcasts of 2015 here

In a recent episode of StartUp, Gimlet co-founder Alex Blumberg broke what he said was one of the most important rules of business and gave his secret away. But because the secret was to keep refining and editing to get the best story, he said he doubted too many would be willing—or able—to replicate it. 

Serial, a weekly true crime series that followed the cold case murder of a Baltimore teen in 1999, became one of the most popular podcasts globally last year (over 100 million downloads to date have made it the most downloaded podcast ever). Season two, which is again hosted by Sarah Koenig, is reporting on the case of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who spent five years in Taliban captivity after leaving his post in Afghanistan. Pandora has come on board for this season, alongside longtime podcast advertisers MailChimp and Squarespace. And while no numbers are available for season two yet, there’s plenty of talk about it and it has gone straight to the top of the iTunes podcast chart

While podcasts attract the highest CPM of any media channel, the audience data and targeting ability is still limited when compared to other digital media and, as Planet Money said in its recent episode about A/B testing, while publishers might know how many times a podcast is downloaded, they often don’t know if they listened to it, how long they spent listening or who/where they are (plenty of companies are trying to figure that out, however, and the NPR One app does offer more insights). 

Another example of brands supporting podcast content is the General Electric and Panoply science fiction podcast The Message. And while podcasting is a 21st century medium, the idea of companies producing original content (whether you call it branded or not) for radio certainly isn’t. P&G brought the idea of ‘soaps’ to radio. And back in the 1950s there was ‘General Electric Theatre’, a series of plays performed by some of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars like James Dean and Natalie Wood and hosted by a future president known for his gift of the gab.

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