Craft Compelling Content for Your Brand Podcast: Lock Up Your Plutonium


How to Craft Engaging Content for Your Brand Podcast

The authentic art of storytelling is more potent and pivotal than ever, so creating compelling content for your brand podcast is vital. 

So if you’re a brand – listen up!

Today’s branded podcasts have a problem. 

If audience suspicion-level was a chocolate layer cake, branded podcasts would have the biggest piece. That’s because despite the incredible variety and quality of podcasts made by (and with) brands, audiences still have the sneaking suspicion that a brand is probably trying to sell them something through this content channel. People listen to podcasts for all kinds of reasons: to learn, to escape into a different world, to feel something….  Notably NOT on this list of reasons?  “To be sold to.”

Nobody wants to consume a 30 minute add. 

But let’s be honest: a brand IS trying to sell you something. That’s usually the whole reason they exist. This central mission can often put them at odds with the needs of audiences, unless great care is taken by the brand to craft content that is truly compelling and offers genuine value. Smart brands know to handle their need to “sell” within their content for your brand podcast like it’s a box of unstable plutonium. They keep it stored safely away from anywhere it could do harm. In effect, they lock it up – temporarily – but they don’t throw away the key. 

With the plutonium safely locked in the basement, a brand can now survey its audience, or target audience, and honestly seek to understand what kind of content is going to motivate them. This means taking a generous approach. Stepping away from brand goals just long enough to consider your customers’ (and target audience’s) actual needs. It’s important to note whether you want to talk to a core group of converts who already know about your products and services, or whether you are hoping to reach a new audience – with a new tactic. If it’s the latter, brands need to buckle up and get ready to display some creative courage. It might be time to do things a bit differently. 

Get Curious:

At the heart of all strong creative endeavours lies curiosity. You need to get exceptionally curious about your audience. Maybe start by asking: Who are you wanting to reach, and what “problem” do they have that your show might help address? Are they C-suite executives looking to bone-up on a certain topic while on the treadmill? Are they overwhelmed young parents just needing to feel “seen” while folding laundry? Millennials in the back of a messy Uber, looking to buy their first decent car? Maybe they’re tween-agers, bored at recess? Or men middle-aged men who need help repairing old Airstream trailers on the weekends? Whoever they are – be as specific as you can about their needs, and this will lead you towards the right general topic area to begin developing your branded podcast content. Paying attention to these kinds of details can also help you understand the stylistic preferences of your target audience, which, in turn, can inform your creative content and structure decisions for your podcast. People think creativity is some kind of magic. It’s not. It’s curiosity, observation, and problem-solving. If you can solve a problem for you audience – and do it in a way that feels entertaining, enlightening, or memorable, you’re winning at the creative content game. 

Explore New Territory: 

The next task for brands wanting to create compelling content for your brand podcast is to recognize that they are not in Kansas anymore. By this I mean, they are not in the boardroom. They are not creating the typical highly controlled, highly streamlined, “branded” content they normally produce. A podcast is not a slick corporate video, nor is it a souped-up company brochure. It’s a medium of communication – and like all media – podcasts have certain strengths that a smart brand can lean into. For instance, if you are making an audio podcast, consider the power of sonic storytelling to create a sense of immersion, of place, and of emotional connection. Use all the tricks of the trade such as music to underscore mood, voice actors to bring extra emphasis or excitement to your podcast, sound effects to create a sense of “being there,” scripted segments to illustrate complex ideas, or improvised conversations that embrace authenticity and candid sharing. Remember that most people listen to podcasts alone – so don’t be afraid to get intimate with your audience. You are whispering into their ears. That’s an incredible privilege. Create content that understands this power, and uses it responsibly. 

Alternatively, if you are exploring video podcasting, a medium which has fantastic discoverability potential on YouTube, consider the appeal of  getting to know your guests and host via their facial expressions and body language. Embrace the visual and create a vibe through set decoration and lighting. Continue to prioritize good sound design. Video podcasts are often more relaxed than old-school talk shows, perhaps even vaguely voyeuristic. They’ll frequently present “behind the scenes” conversations that reveal another side of a host or guest’s personality. Loads of people want to see Jennifer Anniston just chilling on a podcast in her stained undershirt. What’s your audience’s version of that phenomenon? Who do they want to get to know better? 

Understanding the Essence of Your Podcast Brand

Before diving into the narratives, it’s crucial to understand what your podcast stands for. What are the core values and messages you want to convey? Here’s where your brand’s messaging  may be more “felt” than stated within the podcast. Are you a running-shoe brand? Perhaps you value pushing the limits, or determination. That’s something your podcast should value and reflect, too. Maybe you’re a startup tech company and you’re all about embracing experimentation. Your podcast needs to do the same. The award-winning Genome BC podcast is a great example of this “values connection” in action. Genome BC is an organization dedicated to proving the relevance of genomic science to the economy, and to the world. They value experimentation, innovation, and rigorous science. They have a podcast called “Nice Genes” that uses humor, storytelling, and great sound design to engage a whole new generation of younger scientists with stories about how genomics can help solve the world’s biggest problems.  A solid podcast branding strategy ensures that every episode reinforces your brand’s identity and speaks directly to the interests and needs of your target audience, without getting out the suitcase of plutonium. Think of your brand podcast as an ongoing conversation where your brand personality simply “shines through” (hopefully not in the radioactive sense), engaging listeners episode after episode.

Group discussing with podcast equipment, illustrating podcast storytelling techniques.

What Exactly is “Brand Storytelling”?  

Brand storytelling is one of the world’s most overused phrases. It gets thrown around in various contexts and half the time people aren’t sure what it means. The literal-minded amongst us would probably say, “it’s the story of your brand. Who you are, how you came to be, what you do, what you believe, and why you believe it.” But branded podcasts are potentially much more than that. They often embody another side of brand storytelling – which is storytelling WITH and BY brands. Branded podcasts represent an exciting opportunity for your brand to take a role in facilitating other, larger and vitally important social conversations. In podcasting, brands can generate high-value, creative content that supports the arts, or sciences, or the business world simply by creating a place for stories to be shared in an authentic way. A podcast isn’t just about telling tales that relate to your own story. It’s about creating an experience by sharing a story – or stories –  that resonate with your audience on a personal level. 

The art of getting good at storytelling is a lifelong pursuit. I have spent 20+ years as a writer, and I work with incredible writers at the UBC School of Creative Writing. I am routinely gobsmacked by the diversity of approaches and styles of storytelling I encounter there. So I’m very aware that it’s difficult to generalize – and to describe in a nutshell what goes into telling a “great” story. But here are some strategies I’ve observed and used over the years, to hopefully get you and your brand pointed in the right direction: 

Start with Why:

Every story is like an investigation into a topic. Creative content development often begins with a clear question, or purpose. Why is this story important to your audience? How does it relate to their aspirations, challenges, or interests? What values does the story reinforce – and how do those values “gel” with your brand? Why does your brand want to tell stories in the first place? 

Podcast host recording with sound waves, symbolizing podcast content creation.

Embrace Authenticity:

In an era where audiences are bombarded with click-bait, and AI-generated, or algorithmically-dictated content, genuine stories that reflect real-world experiences and emotions stand out. Share behind-the-scenes glimpses, imperfect makeup, improvised moments, candid customer stories, or even challenges your brand has faced. This openness fosters trust and loyalty. You can always edit and frame this content to keep it in the “brand safety” window. But embrace it when you can. 

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  – Maya Angelou 

Engage Emotionally:

Can you create some space for emotions on your show? Life is not always rosy – everyone knows this – yet brands tend to shy away from negative emotions when creating content. This makes them less credible as sources of information, and amplifies the audience’s suspicion that there might be plutonium lurking somewhere in that branded smile. Similarly, humor can sometimes feel risky to brands. But as long as you are not “punching down” humor is a great tool for getting an audience on-side. Craft your episodes to lead your audience through a spectrum of emotions, aligned with your brand’s tone and purpose. Be mindful of the state you leave them in at the end of the narrative. Take care of them. 

Incorporate Diverse Voices:

Stories can be told from various viewpoints. Understand the job of each “character” in your podcast. Are they someone at the center of the story with lived experience? A bystander or witness? An expert who can provide context? What role are you “casting” them in? Many brands go so far as to bring in voices that represent different facets of their brand. Interviews with thought leaders, customer testimonials, and stories from your team can all add depth and perspective to your brand podcast, enriching the listener’s experience. At the same time – if you really want to demonstrate relevance, be secure enough to reach beyond your in-house talent, and cultivate conversations with influencers, leaders from your wider industry, or people from the margins of your world, who can add context and depth to your coverage of a story. Also consider diversifying the cultural and racial makeup of your podcast in order to widen the types of stories you can tell – and therefore widen the audience who will pay attention. 

Consistency is Key:

Regular posting schedules help in building a dedicated listenership. In addition, you should work to develop an identifiable style of storytelling that listeners can come to expect and value. Get good at  “signposting.” This means saying or doing things within the structure of your show that signal to the audience that a particular segment, or type of content will soon follow. Doing this will help audiences to trust you. It makes them feel like they are insiders – part of an exclusive club where they understand the rules. You can always break a pattern – but you must establish it first – so that audiences recognize the change. 

Let all of the above factors inform the creative development of your branded show. Be deliberate in your approach. Creative decision-making is always justifiable, rooted in logic and consistency. As any creative world-builder worth their salt will tell you: “Anything can happen anywhere, at any time – as long as it happens for a reason.” 

Style Matters: Leveraging Podcast Branding

Finally, remember that the packaging matters. I consider podcast branding to be a key part of the creative content of your show. Effective podcast branding – the look and feel of your show – goes way beyond your company logo and your intro music.  It encompasses the overall feel of the podcast—its tone, pace, and style—and how these elements align with your broader marketing strategy. So don’t underestimate these aspects of creative content development, or leave them to chance. Consistency in messaging and style ensures that your podcast becomes an integral part of your audience’s routine, building a strong emotional and psychological connection.

And it’s that psychological connection that’s ultimately important. That’s a big part of the “why” for most brands that get into podcasting. They understand it to be an opportunity to quite literally get inside the head of their target audience. Remember, compelling content in podcasting doesn’t just share your brand’s message. It makes your audience feel part of something greater. It actively demonstrates the altruism, creativity, knowledge, or social relevance of your brand by serving a genuine audience need. It helps brands walk their talk. It facilitates important exchanges of information that hold audience attention over the length of each episode, and across seasons. In other words, good branded content doesn’t shill your plutonium for you – but it will make people notice your sheer explosive potential.

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