How to create a successful B2B podcast

Brands aplenty are diving headfirst into the world of podcasts – but a good B2B version must follow its own set of rules

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From the history of gnomes to the financial underpinnings of ISIS: if it exists, someone has probably made a podcast out of it.

The seemingly-sodden podcast market continues to soak up new entrants. See the example of The Economist, which launched the first instalment of The Intelligence on 29 January. This is despite a plethora of current affairs podcasts already being produced by the likes of The Guardian, the Financial Times and the BBC.

Stats around podcasts paint a picture of steady growth. Close to 50% of the US population reportedly listened to a podcast in 2018, up from just over 10% in 2013.

Most impressive are the figures around engagement. In the same period, 80% of podcast fans said they listened to all or most of an instalment before switching off. Similar scroll depth would be enough to make copywriters swoon.

Podcasters, then, are a close-knit band on the content battleground. It’s hard to envisage readers coalescing around the written word in the same way podcast listeners form communities.

The problem is this doesn’t work quite the same way in the B2B world, where potential communities are much more niche. According to Premier TGI – a survey of the UK’s most affluent consumers – podcast affinity falls to just over 13% for your standard wealthy person, and just under 13% among members of company boards.

A more nuanced approach is required to capture and keep the attention of high value listeners. Using The Economist’s latest attempt as a starting point, B2B creators can gather some insights on techniques worth purloining – and others best left alone.

A caveat

Before we start, a quibble: defining success in B2B is inherently more difficult than for a publication such as The Economist. Whereas the latter is primarily concerned with eyes on pages (or ears on headphones), there are lots of possible motivations for the former; raising awareness, creating leads, prompting a purchase and so on.

This can make it difficult to know where to start. But there are some catch-all tips that B2Bers should embrace to prevent their podcast turning into a poocast.

To pod or not to pod?

Fashionable though they are, caution is needed before taking the plunge with podcasts. Can you guarantee an engaged and relevant audience? Are you driving towards a particular objective? Do you have a charming host?

Rather than recording a load of audio and tossing it into the digital abyss, consider podcasts the zenith reached when leaping from your existing content trampoline. Look at how The Economist has built up its podcast offering, starting with just the one in 2006, launching an audio version of text articles in 2007 and only now moving to a daily offering following the success of five separate weekly podcasts.

With their smaller audience sizes, B2B publishers need to be even more sensitive about starting from a strong base. Avoid going off on a random tangent with podcasts and hoping for the best – find out your audience’s appetite for audio first.

Strong engagement is much more likely if you use podcasts as an enhanced version of content with a track record of success (however you define it).

Personnel

One of the great things about podcasts is how they have democratised the world of content, allowing charismatic yet unknown internet dwellers to build up a following.

But for established publishers, the trend is more typically to bring in some big-name journalists to get new podcasts off the ground.

For B2B publishers working in the technical nooks and crannies of a particular industry, the audience’s desire for specific expertise is acute. When you’re communicating with top-ranking decision makers in a given field, you need quality content to match. If you’re producing content for a member body or professional services network, consider getting someone at the top of the organisation to contribute. You won’t pull in the punters with a common-or-garden content creator.

Longevity

Memento mori: you are going to die, and so is your podcast.

Optimistic publishers seldom dive into the podcast ocean thinking about how it’s all going to end. But as initial enthusiasm peters out and listening figures dwindle, there may come a time when producing podcasts on a regular basis becomes unviable.

For a publisher with a track record of podcast success and a diverse audience, this is not such a problem. But for smaller publishers, interest may well dip off after the initial momentum dies down.

This is particularly true if they only serve to replicate written or video content already being produced.

B2B publishers would be better advised to produce one-off series that can stand the test of time. This links to the previous point about experts. If you’re operating across three separate regions, why not do an in-depth three-episode series with industry leaders from those areas giving the inside scoop? The format could as easily be applied to business areas or individual brands.

The point here is about scarcity. The realm of podcasting is a competitive one, and B2B publishers risk outstaying their welcome. Rather than pumping out podcasts ad nauseam, consider a short, sharp series.

Doing so will help you maximise quality and long-term relevance and minimise unnecessary waffle – while giving you some useful analytics to apply to your next audio project.

Commercial

As mentioned above, defining success in the context of B2B podcasting is no straightforward matter. But podcasts are increasingly proving their worth in one area at which few publishers would turn up their noses – the prospect of cold hard cash.

Digiday notes publishers are increasingly shifting towards podcasts as a revenue driver rather than a mere afterthought following their written and video offerings.

The Economist itself reports podcast adverts are now capable of pulling in better revenues per impression than their video equivalents. It’s also claimed that clients favour the engagement offered in a podcast to the eminently skippable pre-roll ad format offered by the likes of YouTube.

B2B publishers should tread carefully here; audiences are likely to be so much smaller than their B2C equivalents – making it harder for podcast advertising to turn into a gushing revenue stream.

But the prospect of reaching out to a highly engaged bunch of business decision makers is an enhancement to traditional advertising techniques that has a lot to recommend itself to commercial teams.

When it comes to audio, the message for all: define what success looks like, bring in some expertise, and use it wisely.

Tom Lawrence, Insight Manager, Progressive Content