Podcasts are everywhere! About 80 million Americans tune in at least once a week, during their daily commute, while doing the dishes, walking the dog or working out; and advertising revenue is set to cross the $2 billion mark by 2023.
For professionals, business- and career-related podcasts are possibly the most convenient way to learn new things on the go, fitting valuable content from the best minds into the cracks of our day.
IAB’s Podcast survey from a couple of years ago recorded 13 million households that identified as "avid fans," and 52 million households as "casual fans" of business podcasts. In 2022, LinkedIn and Hubspot threw their hats in the ring, launching their own podcasts networks with top-of-the-line business and career-related content.
Can B2B Brands Pull off Podcasts?
If podcasts are growing, and everybody from independent content creators and micro influencers to business media publications and industry bodies are in the game, can B2B brands be far behind? We’re seeing a growing number of B2B brands either experimenting with or going all-out with podcasts as a way to connect with audiences and establish their ‘voice’ in a crowded, noisy market. (Editor's note: We sure are trying, too!)
But audience expectations are already sky high. When it comes to business podcasts, stand-out content, top-order guests, slick production values, a smooth user experience and detailed show-notes are the baseline.
Can brands compete with podcasts created by neutral industry experts and experienced media outlets? No matter who you are, the starting point for any new initiative is always the "why."
Related Article: Podcast Ad Personalization: Is It Going Too Far?
Why Would You Start a B2B Podcast?
In the B2B context, some common reasons to start a podcast include:
- Build brand awareness, credibility and authority, by sharing insider insights, interviewing experts and creating educational content that helps business buyers make smarter decisions.
- Generate demand: Graham Brown, of award-winning corporate podcast agency Pikkal & Co, said podcasts can be effective as both — a tool to acquire prospects and influence existing customers, especially when selling conceptual services with long sales cycles. Of course, this needs a large audience who find recurring value in the content.
- Strengthen the omni-channel experience: In an omni-channel world, podcasts are an increasingly important channel to engage with audiences.
- Engage and retain existing customers: This is done by leveraging exclusive, differentiated content they won’t find elsewhere. While this approach would address a smaller set of listeners, the content would have to be deeper and create exceptional value.
- Create an alternate revenue stream: Podcasts are one way to monetize content and community, with complementary sponsorships, subscriptions and branded content.
- Internal use: As part of employee and partner communication programs.
Related Article: Does Your B2B Company Need a Podcast?
Making Smart Decisions on B2B Podcasts
Clarity on the "why" helps B2B marketers make smarter decisions about starting a podcast and truly finding the right fit.
Consider the following:
Unique ‘Voice' of Brand Matters
There will always be a lot of great shows about the same topic, so finding a unique, authentic voice is more important than trying to compete with others. But finding the sweet spot between expert content and brand messaging in a podcast should come out of the central content strategy. Brown, for instance, sees many brands hand their podcast strategy over to a content producer who only has experience in creating audio or operating within a derivative channel. Podcasts, he said, are not just content. “They are the experience, the values and the people of your organization,” he added.
What Is the Nature of the Content?
Content marketing strategist Tim Queen said that while aligning podcast content with brand goals is important, alignment with client (audience) needs and challenges should come first. “A podcast is not about you, it’s about them,” he said. One of the advantages of original podcasts is that the content can be repurposed into shorter audio and video clips. But, he added, the reverse "text-to-speech" approach that converts blogs into podcast episodes harms the entire ecosystem and frustrates the audience's need for new and interesting quality content.
Do You Have the Right Show Format?
Will your content, audience and goals be better served by a talk show, interview, tips and tricks or news style format? Do you need only audio or audio+video (important if your content needs accompanying screen shares and visuals)? One host or an expert panel? What should the frequency be? What additional descriptive content needs to go with the podcast to enrich the experience?
What Technological Support Will You Need?
What production support and tech stack are needed? While logistics may not seem strategic, the right equipment, post-production and packaging can elevate good content to a great listening experience. Planning and sticking to a recording, production and distribution schedule also needs a significant resource commitment.
How Will You Distribute the Podcast?
High visibility, discovery, reach and traffic are all crucial to success, but more social media push is not necessarily the answer. Brown reminds us that reach is a function of the ability to define the ideal audience avatar. “We’ve seen corporate podcasts grow from 10 to 100 to 1,000s of listeners with negligible social media push, just by getting the fundamentals right,” he added. When it comes to discoverability, Queen cautioned that aggregator platforms (Apple, Google, or Spotify) are heavily dependent on their algorithms. “While those are based on listener preferences, a more targeted distribution would need each individual episode to be optimized for search,” he said. Along with rigorous SEO, he suggests active promotion of new episodes on owned channels (website, newsletter); cross-promotion with industry thought leaders; and content discovery ads as additional ways to amplify reach.
What Does Your KPI Program Look Like?
While the key metric for B2B podcast reach has traditionally been downloads, Queen said, modern marketers should focus on engagement metrics such as listening completion rates, shares, returning listeners and responses to CTA based on special tracking links. Companies also shouldn’t confuse company KPIs (leads, engagements etc.) with podcast performance, said Brown, whose firm uses a combination of audience metrics and engagement data to establish what they call Podcast Market Fit (PMF). “We use the 75 - 75 - 75 rule — an episode with good PMF has 75% of the maximum audience, and 75% of those listeners listen to 75% of the episode.” High PMF — or "champion" episodes — then serve as a template to build and iterate future episodes that resonate more with audiences.
Related Article: CX Decoded Podcast: Analyzing the B2B Marketing Playbook
What’s Next for B2B Podcasts?
Podcasts, like any content, need to offer the audience value, but the real-time conversational element offers possibilities that more static formats like text cannot. Queen, for instance, is excited about hearing more "unpolished" real-time mini-podcasts in audio spaces such as Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and the upcoming LinkedIn Audio Events.
Podcasts are also valuable because of the way they allow anyone to tell their story. In the B2B context, Brown says the idea of "one brand — one podcast" will be replaced by several podcasts coming out of a single brand platform.
“Podcasts are to business leaders what websites are to businesses,” said Brown, who added they give each function, leader and project team the chance to tell their own story in their own voice. “For example, McKinsey, EY, Deloitte already have multiple podcasts each representing a different internal unit or geography,” he said. He called it the "storytelling organization," and it might be just where our increasingly visual, spoken world is headed.