Is podcasting the new black in corporate marketing?

We live in a six-second-video, 140-character world, yet long-form audio is hitting levels of popularity not seen since the Golden Age of Radio. As businesses of all sizes build out marketing and content development plans, podcasting is showing itself to be a compelling medium for nurturing deep, rich relationships.

Podcasting is a medium of intimacy, connection and storytelling. It allows for the type of context and sensory-rich experience that you might expect from video - but offered in a form that allows for multitasking. Sure, podcasts have been around for some time - but simplified technologies make them easier and less geek-intensive to access. Apps like Stitcher eliminate the need to download and sync. Stronger wireless networks and more abundant wi-fi make streaming easier. More Bluetooth integration in cars turns a phone into a virtual car radio. All of these trends will only continue to grow.

Podcasting stats have never been stronger, and they are on the rise:

  • Podcasts have grown steadily in popularity, now reaching over 27 million Americans each week, according to Edison Research.
  • The percentage of Americans who have listened to a podcast in the past month has almost doubled since 2008, from 9% to 17% by January of 2015. The percentage listening in 2015 was up two points over 2014 levels (15%). (Pew Research)
  • Mobile devices are increasingly the preferred way to listen to podcasts. Libsyn, a podcasting network, has indicated that of their 2.6 billion podcast downloads in 2014, 63% were requested from mobile devices – up from 43% in 2012.
  • As of January 2015, more than a third of U.S. adult cellphone owners (35%) have listened to online radio in the car. That is substantially more than the 21% who did so in 2013, and nearly six times the number (6%) who had done so in 2010. By next year, GSMA (author of the connected car forecast) estimates that 50% of new cars sold will have Internet connectivity; by 2025, it will be in all of them.

And then there are the blockbuster anecdotes:

  • This past fall saw the first genuine break-out hit of the medium with Serial, a serialized rehashing of a 1999 murder trial, that enjoyed an average audience estimated at over 3.5 million per episode.
  • Also in the fall of 2014, Start-Up, a week-by-week account of the creation of a new podcasting company, invited listeners to invest in this new venture - and brought in $200,000 in crowdfunding within a couple of hours. (The company raised over a $1 million from other sources, too.)
  • And last month, Adobe tried to capture some of this magic with a series of audio white papers, narrated by celebrities and distributed across numerous podcasting channels. I haven't seen the numbers on this yet, but Abode has done quite the marketing push.

So what does this all mean for your business?
The appetite for longer-form content is out there. A robust content strategy cannot be built on tweets alone - and podcasting can bring a level of emotional connection that print or video or microsites may struggle to provide. The success of Serial and Start-Up was built on great story-telling delivered in a style that offers listeners a personal, emotional connection to the material. Granted that these are vehicles of journalism and entertainment - and, as such, they set a high bar for marketing-driven peers. Yet Start Up is a series that brings the story of a brand and a business to life in a way that is truly hard to match. The voice of the brand (quite literally) is revealed across the inner workings of the strategies and challenges of the business. Just think about the possibilities of bringing this level of emotional connection to your customer relationships.

Perhaps Adobe was seduced by the successes of Serial and Start Up, but they seem to have blown their creative juices (and, likely, their budget) by hiring Malcolm McDowell to narrate whitepapers about digital marketing. As wonderful and resonant as Mr. McDowell's voice may be when booming from your headsets, the personal connection that the medium offers is completely lost: after just a few minutes in, the podcast offers little more than a sonorous voice spouting marketing jargon. (Note to Adobe: Kudos for investing in long-form audio, but true success in this medium demands more than simply turning on a microphone.)

It all comes down to this: podcasting offers an opportunity to paint a picture of your brand in words and sound. And now, about a decade since the phrase came into vogue, podcasting finally seems poised for prime time. But podcasting is a channel. As with any channel, it’s only as effective as the content you push through it. Companies that have great stories to tell - and know how to tell them - would be well served to make podcasting a part of their communications arsenal.