It feels like everyone is making a podcast these days, including brands, but are they doing so successfully? We have spoken with Craig Strachan from Amazon podcasts and Joel Ronez from Binge Audio to get tips on how to create a valuable audio experience.
Head of Podcasts at Amazon Music
Co-Founder & President of Binge Audio
Comedy, news, history, food, philosophy or just conversational, there is a podcast for everyone. Whether you binge or like to listen from time to time, it is almost impossible to not be familiar with podcasts in 2022. All traditional press publications have launched one or more podcasts in addition to their core outlet, and some podcasts hosts have become internationally famous for their content.
From Dua Lipa to Barack Obama, everyone who’s anyone has at least once been a podcast guest, if not a host. In that context, many brands start to think about launching their own podcast show. However, designing an appealing podcast is not as easy as it seems.
In order to understand the latest “podcast craze”, we have asked Craig Strachan, head of Podcasts Europe/Australia/New Zealand at Amazon Music, and Joel Ronez, president and co-founder of Binge Audio, for their views on the matter.
Do you have a podcast idea? Read along to get tips about one of the most promising media of the 21st century.
Diving into the podcast craze
Everyone listens to podcasts from time to time, if not daily, and has at least once heard of some famous shows such as Call Her Daddy (hosted by Alex Cooper on feminist issues), New York Time’s The Daily, or the inspiring TED Talks Daily.
Indeed, the number of podcast listeners went from 274.8 million internet users worldwide in 2019, and has gone up to 380 million in 2021. These last few years, the craze has gained such momentum that not only do people listen to podcasts, but everyone seems to want to launch their own.
With podcasts, the radio is the last kind of everyday media meeting the digital age with the on-demand ecosystem.Joel Ronez
As of 2022, the total number of podcasts reaches over 2 million worldwide. A number that has sensibly grown throughout the last three years: “During the lockdowns two things happened – 1) People had a bit more time on their hands and started to discover podcasts, and 2) Creators had more time on their hands to make more content. Mix that together and you get more people listening to more content. Podcasts have been around for a long time, so I find it funny that people still think they’re so new!” explains Craig Strachan, head of Podcasts Europe/Australia/New Zealand at Amazon Music.
This might explain the fact that 100 million people started listening to podcasts from 2019 to 2021, as shown in the numbers cited above.
If lockdowns made us turn to new ways to entertain ourselves (and, let’s face it, feel less alone), the digital age is also a reason why podcasts are so appreciated. Joel Ronez, CEO of podcast production firm Binge Audio, sees things this way: “With podcasts, the radio is the last kind of everyday media meeting the digital age with the on-demand ecosystem.
The film industry and the music industry were already completely changed by the emergence of the on-demand ecosystem. This creates new opportunities for listeners and also for content creators.”
Moreover, the fact that so many people turn to podcasts to convey messages or reach out to specific audiences creates an environment in which there is, basically, a podcast for everyone.
“I think podcasts are unique in that they cover such a broad spectrum of genres, beliefs, communities – there really is something for everyone. The variety is immense and I think that’s what people love. I can choose to listen to a podcast on the latest news, an interview with my favourite musician or have a laugh with a comedy podcast. I think the ears are a very personal space, and having a podcast on your headphones is a much more intimate experience than sitting in front of a TV, for example,” says Craig Strachan.
And the fact that podcasts can be listened to anytime, from anywhere, also participates in their success.
Audio media really is something special and can easily take part in our daily lives, as Joel Ronez explains: “The average time spent on a listening session is 25 minutes, which is really long in the on-demand media ecosystem. If you’re cooking, going for a run, or just ironing your shirts etc, this time cannot be used for many kinds of entertainment. In that sense, the narrative content of the podcast is highly appealing.”
Podcasts are unique in that they cover such a broad spectrum of genres, beliefs, communities – there really is something for everyone. The variety is immense and I think that’s what people love.Craig Strachan
Editorial choices are at the heart of podcast innovation
So what makes a podcast more appealing than another? Since the podcast macrocosm is getting bigger and bigger, how can producers make more remarkable content?
For Craig Strachan, what a podcast should do is pretty clear: “I think a podcast needs to do one of these three things: educate, inform or entertain. I see these as pillars of creating, what I call, podcasts with purpose. I think we are past the time where you can just tell people what you had for breakfast, and we’re at a point where, with the increased number of podcasts out there, you have to create something genuinely good for it to get listened to. I’m a big supporter of podcasts being a platform for under-represented voices.”
With the increased number of podcasts out there, you have to create something genuinely good for it to get listened to. I’m a big supporter of podcasts being a platform for under-represented voices.”Craig Strachan
Hence, the editorial choices you make when designing your podcast may be the most important element out there.
An opinion shared by Joel Ronez: “Just like Netflix, the goal of podcast makers is to keep listeners as long as possible. The thing is, you cannot maintain people listening against their will. You have to create valuable content and give them a reason to stay with you. To achieve that, you have to consider the technical quality of your recording, but also the quality of what you’re saying and conveying, and the visual aspects as well (cover image, etc). To create a real connection with listeners, you have to have a talent for narrating or telling things. That’s why at Binge, we make sure to work really thoroughly on the storytelling side of our podcasts.”
Just like Netflix, the goal of podcast makers is to keep listeners as long as possible. The thing is, you cannot maintain people listening against their will. You have to create valuable content and give them a reason to stay with you.Joel Ronez
When we speak to him about the recent improvements regarding sound design or 3D sound, Joel Ronez has a clear view of the matter: “Until now, audio innovation has been mostly on the content. We are going to enter the age where technology has a role to play, but we don’t know exactly which kind of role yet. Technologies involving speech to text for the indexation of the content could be part of it, and help improve algorithms and personalising content recommendations. I think innovation around sound design, involving binaural sounds and things like that, will not be major game-changers. People do not care as much about the technical specs, they want good stories, and they want them to be easily found and accessible. The rest is like VR or 3D for the cinema. Where are they now? Nowhere. Nobody cares about them, people just want good movies.”
What should brands consider before launching a podcast?
With considerable attention span, adaptable topics and easy-to-get technology, many are the brands considering podcasting as a powerful means to reach a broader audience.
Niche content welcomed by the podcast microsystem is also appealing to companies. In that context, what are good practices for brands in order to not only take part in the podcast craze, but provide meaningful stories and content?
Here are a few things to consider when brainstorming your podcast ideas: ”Make sure you are clear on why you are creating a podcast. I’d ask people to think beyond the first season and think about whether the podcast idea can successfully sustain over a while rather than being a flash in the pan,” advises Craig Strachan.
To Joel Ronez, the quality of your message should be at the heart of your strategy: “If you just want your brand to be known, buy a TV commercial or a billboard ad next to the motorway. If you want to sell something, maybe consider a YouTube product placement. But podcasts are made to deal with more complex topics. It’s a nuanced media that can offer a place of reflection for people. For a brand interested in podcasts, this means a deeper connection to their audience. This takes time and real work. There are no short-cuts with podcasts. What brands should not do, is try to push their ideas too hard on the listeners. Some brands that come to us are very controlling regarding the content or the topics they want to discuss. That ruins the authenticity of the conversation. You have to be willing to work with open-mindedness if you want to launch a podcast that will reach people in a meaningful way.”
Finally, make sure you localise your content and know your target listener well, concludes Craig Strachan: “The most important thing we observe is that podcasts are local – so in France, what people listen to are French podcasts – even in the UK, local podcasts account for 95% of the popular podcasts. And what’s popular in each marketplace is different, so it’s really important that we’re tapped into the local podcast ecosystem, so we can make sure our service is as locally relevant as possible.”
Podcasts are made to deal with more complex topics. It’s a nuanced media that can offer a place of reflection for people. For a brand interested in podcasts, this means a deeper connection to their audience. This takes time and real work. There are no short-cuts with podcasts. What brands should not do, is try to push their ideas too hard on the listeners.Joel Ronez