Host and guest engaging in a branded podcast recording in a modern studio.

What is a Branded Podcast?

Discover what they are and explore why a podcast by brand can be a transformative tool for your business.

“Branded podcasts” are much more than the name suggests. For instance – did you know they often contain fewer ads than their non-branded counterparts? Find out why audiences love them and learn why a branded podcast, when handled properly, can generate impressive brand recognition and connection with potential customers.

For many people, sales pitches like this remind us of appalling advertorials. They picture the audio version of Bridget Jones’ mum, Pamela, shamelessly hawking cubic zirconia engagement rings, plastic egg peelers, and cheap cordless drills on late-night TV. 

For die-hard podcast listeners, this kind of advertising has no place in podcasting. To understand why, is to understand the history of podcasts.  

Quick History Lesson on Podcasts for Brands:

The art of podcasting arose as an alternative to the overly-branded AM/FM radio spaces where actual content is interrupted every 5 minutes with promotions or ads. Podcasting initially represented wide-open spaces and a return to long-form and uninterrupted storytelling. This is why many podcast listeners to this day initially regard the idea of “branded podcasts” with a healthy degree of suspicion. 

To be fair, people are often suspicious of branded content because it is frequently terrible.

As writer Chuck Wendig puts it: 

“…a brand is what you put on a cow to represent ownership. A brand is about keeping the herd in a fence. A brand is artifice: a thing levied by a corporate entity onto a product so that we all think a specific thing and get a particular feeling about that product even if that is a lie. A brand burns you.”

Hand selecting a branded podcast on a mobile app.

Let’s face it: Nobody wants to listen to a 30-minute ad. 

If a brand is involved in a podcast, audiences wonder whether the brand’s marketing goals will bias the content. It’s a fair question; if brands want to succeed in the podcasting space, they need to address it. The truth is, there are a lot of bad podcasts made by brands out there — podcasts that are poorly conceived, poorly written, poorly recorded, and loaded with ads or biased, overtly brand-driven content. It’s like websites in the early 90s. Every brand wanted one, but most weren’t sure why or how to go about creating an effective, user-friendly site. The same is often true today with branded podcasts.

Fortunately, mastering the art of the branded podcast offers a right way to leverage this powerful medium effectively.

North American brands and audiences began to see the real potential of podcasting for brands with creative shows like The Message, an award-winning sci-fi podcast, co-produced by General Electric and Panoply, where listeners got to follow a team of “top cryptologists” attempting to decode an alien message. The show was the furthest thing possible from an “advertorial.” Andy Goldberg, then chief creative officer at GE, famously told Laura Owen of NiemanLab, “I don’t consider it advertising. It’s a podcast show that just happens to be produced by a brand instead of a network. I’m not saying, ‘Hey, go out and buy a jet engine.’ It’s a science fiction story to connect listeners with what the GE brand is about, without selling the GE brand.” 

This wildly popular show won a Webby Award in 2016 for the best use of native advertising and helped prove that podcasts — in and of themselves — held interesting potential for brands. If GE could venture into the realm of science fiction and make everyone think about an old brand in a totally new way, what else was possible? 

Another great example is the Infernal Communications podcast by Staffbase, a leading internal communications digital platform. The show is not about their platform, nor the apps they make for employees to improve communication. Instead, it’s a show that celebrates Communication itself in the broadest sense. With playful episodes like “The Trial of Comic Sans” and “Get a Room” (about the value of in-person communication), the show helps internal comms professionals feel good about their jobs and remember why they got into this line of work in the first place. It also opens up the show to a wider audience of people who are simply interested in communication more generally.

These examples highlight the true potential of branded podcasting: to make an audience feel better, or smarter, or more “in the know” about stories that affect their lives. This, in turn, creates positive emotion towards the brand behind the podcast

What kind of branded podcast should your brand make? 

Essentially, what’s “good” depends on your goals. The type of podcast a brand makes should depend entirely on the values and goals of that brand, and on the needs and listening habits of its target audience. Savvy brands spend the time to identify all these elements before they dive into making a show. 

While it’s difficult to generalize, here are a few principles we keep in mind:  

  • A “good” branded podcast can be a lot of things; from scary sci-fi “theatre of the mind” to earnest social reflection, from casual chat amongst friends, to instructive thought leadership, to highly produced and sonically rich documentary armchair travel. 
  • They may or may not be designed to be watched on YouTube as well as listened to on the various audio podcasting channels (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music etc.).  
  • They may be the primary outreach method a brand engages in, or it may be part of a larger brand strategy
  • They should have a “light” brand touch — let the connection to your brand be implicit, not explicit. 
  • A branded podcast should not be full of ads
  • They should offer authentic value to the target audience, no matter how narrow or broad. 
  • A branded podcast should be about connection, not perfection. 
  • It’s top-of-funnel engagement — and can lead to other activity further down funnel.

Branded podcasting can work for all sizes of brands from sole practitioners all the way to multinational corporations. To make a successful podcast that achieves their marketing goals without alienating their audience, brands both large and small must ask themselves the big questions, like, ‘Who are we and what do we stand for?’ ‘Who do we want to reach with this show?’ and, ‘What larger conversation going on in the world right now might we have something to add to?’ Furthermore, brands need to consider why a branded podcast and not a newsletter, exploring what specific potential the intimacy and portability of the audio medium holds for their brand.

Listeners engaged with a branded podcast in a cozy home setting.

Narrow Podcasting: How to help your target audience feel seen and heard 

Narrow podcasting refers to a specific way of thinking about positioning your branded podcast. Doctors, lawyers, coaches, and independent small business owners of all kinds can successfully use narrow podcasting to talk about issues that affect them and their patients, colleagues, and clients. They can even target specific clients or open up areas of new business by highlighting thought leadership relevant to that particular audience. By creating authentic, entertaining or learning-driven material that educates and/or inspires potential clients in a narrow target market, they triumph over the typical “positioning” conundrum that businesses of this size often face. 

For instance – The Sound Bath, from Lush Cosmetics – a podcast for a brand. It aimed to have deep and inclusive conversations about what well-being really means in today’s society. The Sound Bath isn’t just a self-care show, it also talks about social and environmental care as well for its target audience.     

Now, is a podcast like this podcast self-serving for the brand behind it? Absolutely, yes. But is it also of real value to the audience?  Does it offer meaning and value? Again, yes, without a doubt. And that is what makes it “work” as a branded podcast. The benefit to its creator is a byproduct of an authentic and generous audience-driven approach. 

Human Again: Large brands can use podcasts to break through on a personal level

Larger brands struggle less with brand recognition but still face the challenge of positioning themselves with a target audience. They may face even greater challenges than smaller brands when it comes to things like recruitment, connecting personally with their established customers, and breaking through to new audiences. 

Example 1 – Avison Young

Commercial real-estate giant Avison Young wanted to reinforce their position as thought leaders in the CRE space. They also wanted to attract emerging real estate professionals. They noted that COVID-19 had provoked many changes in the working world, from empty downtown office buildings to pop-up kitchens and delivery services, and a renewed interest in outdoor public spaces.  Avison Young wanted to inspire people in their field to think about big questions and innovative solutions to problems. So, they worked to identify trends in commercial real estate and then brought on JAR Audio, who looked for individual people whose lives were affected by those trends to tell the stories firsthand. The result was the Changing Places podcast, which, since it’s launch, has moved steadily up the charts in its category. 

Example 2 – Amazon 

Amazon wanted people to understand that a large proportion of Amazon sellers are actually small businesses, and they wanted to offer real value to their large community of small business owners. They did this by creating This is Small Business, a “how to” show hosted by Millennial, Latina journalist Andrea Marquez. The show looks at all aspects of conceiving, launching, and running a small business through the eyes of diverse small business owners themselves — complemented by helpful tips from experts in business growth, law, and marketing. By choosing a host who didn’t have all the answers but was on a learning curve herself, they created a show that truly spoke to emerging small business owners from diverse backgrounds, and even climbed to the top of its category in Apple Podcasts.

Remember: What a good branded podcast is NOT…

  • A thinly veiled ad
  • Corny content created by AI that simply provides a backdrop for more ads
  • A CEO vanity project 
  • A podcast that doesn’t serve the target audience
  • A corporate instructional video

To sum up: 

Branded podcasting is a way for brands to engage meaningfully with their audiences, to show that they care about certain issues, or have expertise in certain areas. It’s an opportunity for brands to support particular causes, artists, groups, or conversations that make the world a better place. It’s a chance for a brand to offer real value, deepen its relationship with an audience, and make a mark. To cheapen this mission by taking too many shortcuts and failing to think about audience needs and the creative side of audio storytelling is to miss out on the true potential of branded podcasting.

5 Key Takeaways:

  1. Versatility and Depth: A branded podcast offers much more than just marketing content; it can deepen the connection between a brand and its audience by providing value beyond traditional advertising.
  2. Audience Engagement: Branded podcasts often contain fewer ads and are designed to engage listeners through stories and discussions that resonate with them, enhancing brand recognition and customer loyalty.
  3. Misconceptions: Despite the potential, there’s a common skepticism around branded content being overly promotional. The blog emphasizes the importance of quality and authenticity in overcoming this perception.
  4. Successful Examples: Illustrations like GE’s “The Message” and Staffbase’s “Infernal Communications” demonstrate how creatively conceptualized branded podcasts can successfully engage audiences while subtly promoting the brand.
  5. Strategic Considerations: The effectiveness of a branded podcast depends on aligning its content with the brand’s values and the interests of its target audience, making strategic planning essential.

Looking to Solve Your Business Problems with a Podcast?

JAR Audio is a full-service agency that solves brand problems with Original Podcasts.