Earlier this year, social media marketing agency Social Chain created a new agency entirely dedicated to the production and distribution of brand podcasts.

Since its launch in early 2019, Cast Chain has produced a number of successful podcasts, including ‘Behind Closed Doors’ for online fashion retailer, Pretty Little Thing, which went straight to the top of the charts upon release.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that agencies like Social Chain are getting serious about podcasts. According to Ofcom, the number of weekly podcast listeners has almost doubled in the past five years – rising from 3.2m in 2013 to 5.9m in 2018. What’s more, podcasts now represent almost 10% of audio listening among US millennials, with many young people choosing the medium over other forms of entertainment such as online video or music.

According to Amy Miller, Senior Account Manager at Social Chain, the decision to launch Cast Chain was spurred on by a number of clients asking about the opportunity to explore the medium. “It’s something that we’ve talked to a lot of clients about, and a topic they’ve really expressed interest in”, she explained, “We’ve got some brilliant specialists here, so we just decided, well, why should clients go elsewhere to do it when we could do it ourselves?”

Cast Chain produces everything in its studio in-house. “With Pretty Little Thing”, Miller explains, “We came up with the idea but then suggested that we work on it together with the brand. Usually, we will record, produce, and create the script in-house, but ultimately, everything is run by the brand, meaning they can have a lot of input if they work alongside us. Both the agency and the client are very much involved.”

Much like social media or influencer content, there is of course the danger of branded podcasts seeming purely sales-driven, or worse – as one big advert. As a result of this, it’s also a priority for Cast Chain to determine the correct tone and style of each podcast, which is typically driven by the client’s KPI.

Miller explains, “If you’re coming to me saying, ‘I want to sell X amount of products’ or ‘generate X amount of revenue’ then we really have to think about it strategically. Monetising a podcast is an option. This typically involves obtaining a sponsor and reading adverts, or you can have strategically placed ads within a podcast. This allows you to see revenue off the back of it.”

However, it seems like the most successful brand podcasts – i.e. the ones that generate the most positive feedback from listeners – are the ones that aim to generate awareness rather than sales. As Miller explains, “PLT is a great example of this. The ‘Behind Closed Doors’ podcast was created as a way for the audience to get to know the brand on a deeper level, so it’s not salesy, it is more an extension of the PLT lifestyle.”

Weaving in brand-related content in a natural way is key, as well as finding subtler and more authentic ways of driving sales, such as using promotional channels to link to products. Miller gives an example: “If you’re doing a fashion podcast, you could link to the outfits you’re wearing on other platforms such as IGTV or YouTube. That way you can prove ROI in other methods that aren’t traditional.”

It’s also important to give consumers more credit when it comes to how they feel about branded content. Miller told me how she’d recently overheard someone talk about Joe Rogan’s podcast, specifically how there are around ten minutes’ worth of ads included. However, the listener went on to say that they understood why, with the creator requiring this in order to support the podcast financially.

But, with many more brands now jumping on the podcast bandwagon, will the market become saturated?

Miller suggests that the nature of the medium (and the experience of how people consume the content) will prevent saturation from happening. Interestingly, she also compares it to other popular forms of content, suggesting that increased competition will lead to better quality rather than saturation.

“One reason is that it’s one of the easiest ways to consume content, because you can listen on the move or anywhere you like. I don’t think it will become too saturated. Let’s compare it to YouTube – there are millions of creators on there – the key for any social or audio content is that it really needs to stand out.”

“The podcasts that do the best are a bit niche, and they’ve got something that nobody else is doing. If you’re coming to the market – even in a year – then I think you are still going to do well if you’ve got a unique concept. The right content, promoted in the right way, means you have a fair chance of success.”

For Pretty Little Thing, Cast Chain’s input has extended to more than just the creation of the podcast itself, with a distribution strategy helping to sustain its initial success. Much like any other form of content marketing, Miller suggests that a consistent test-and-learn strategy is key, with the podcast changing and adapting based on how it is performing.

“Of course, you can’t just put a podcast out and expect it to do well”, Miller explains, “It’s about the time that you post it – which has to stay the same – and the promotion behind it too. You need a full PR strategy and you need to be thinking of each platform and unique creative concepts to grab people’s attention.”

Retention rate is a key data point for Cast Chain, with the agency using this to monitor when people are dropping off, determining why this could be the case, and then potentially rectifying it.

When audiences truly engage with a podcast, the connection that is created between brand and consumer can be hugely impactful – particularly for online retailers.

“Of course, Instagram and Facebook and paid social plays a huge part in how brands connect with consumers,” says Miller. “But Gen Z and millennials – who happen to be the demographic for most of our clients – they’re always looking for that bit extra.”

With consumers becoming increasingly politically and socially aware, podcasts also allow brands the space to showcase their own ethos or set of morals, ideally aligning with those of their target audience. Indeed, PLT’s podcast has featured young women recovering from cancer, people that have been trolled online – these are all topics that a brand cannot just lightheartedly talk about on social. As trite as it sounds, they deserve more air-time than that, which is what podcasts can give.

“We’ve managed to give the audience some really meaningful and engaging content”, Miller says, “The name ‘Behind Closed Doors’ gives it away – it allows the brand to be far more candid than any other form of content has previously allowed.

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