4 podcast pitfalls brands need to avoid

By Garth Thomas

The Globe and Mail

Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Many brands are turning to podcasts to appeal to increasingly sophisticated audiences. Done correctly, a podcast can be an effective brand-building experience. But there are some pitfalls to avoid.

Through our Globe Content Studio, The Globe and Mail creates podcasts for brands from Microsoft to Lincoln. Editor and Podcast Producer Stephanie Chan shares some of the Studio’s learnings, including what to avoid during the consideration stage.

Podcasts can be a wildly successful content product, but companies need to avoid falling into some common traps.
Podcasts can be a wildly successful content product, but companies need to avoid falling into some common traps.

Pitfall 1: Not being willing to take a risk.

“Before doing a podcast, a brand needs to know that they may not be able to have tight control over messaging,” she says. Since most podcasts involve recording interviews that aren’t easily edited after the fact, it can be a new experience for teams used to finessing every word of a media release.

Script too tightly and it sounds like people are reading instead of conversing, making for an uninspired show. “You can give people speaking points, but then you need to let them talk, which requires a certain level of trust,” Chan says. “Not all companies are there yet.”

In her career, she adds, one of the most successful episodes was one the client initially resisted. “It was a controversial topic, one they felt was less on-brand, but that tension made for an interesting show. The audience responded and the risk paid off.”

Pitfall 2: Choosing the wrong host.

Most podcasts have a host to bind episodes together while bringing their own style and individuality to the show. “Ideally, you want an articulate host who is comfortable letting their personality shine,” Chan says. “If you choose your host only based on expertise, or because they’re an executive in the company, you may miss the chance to engage your audience.” Listeners might initially come for the content, but if they don’t like the host, they’ll leave.

But it’s a balance, Chan points out, noting that some companies overcompensate by going for the most interesting or biggest name they can secure. “Brands forget they can’t control everything the person says, and to overly censor them will mean delays in production or come across as inauthentic.”

Pitfall 3: Treating podcasts like a digital brand ad.

As with every marketing product, brands that know what they want to achieve with a campaign will see better results. “Podcasts are best for overall brand awareness and for certain types of e-commerce or retail businesses where you can add a product coupon,” Chan says.

Since branded podcasts are still maturing, Chan says it can be difficult to measure success with the numbers brands are used to seeing: “We can assess download numbers and do brand-lift studies, but podcast metrics aren’t at the same level as other types of digital advertising.”

But, she adds, if you keep waiting for those to appear, brands might lose the opportunity to get their podcast out while interest is high among listeners.

Pitfall 4: Not prioritising authenticity.

The podcast audience skews younger and demographics such as Gen Z value authenticity. “As well as your host being authentic, you need to consider podcast topics and your approach,” Chan says. “Know what the podcast audience is looking for and how to deliver.”

For example, a technology company with a podcast that only discusses the benefits of its own products is less engaging than one that seeks to educate listeners about the issues their products are designed to address.

And a bonus success tactic:

Listen to as many podcasts as you can, Chan suggests. She does a regular check of the Apple Podcast charts, but there are awards, such as the Canadian Podcasting Awards, that highlight successful shows. “By listening to a broad range of what’s out there, you get a good sense of the trends, what makes a good podcast, and what audiences are enjoying.”

Podcasts can involve a good deal of work but can also be a successful vehicle to promote brand messages. “Podcasts are where the new generation of consumers are at and where you should be,” Chan says.

About Garth Thomas

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