A good brand podcast can turn a corporation into a friend. A bad brand podcast can spark negative word of mouth. The best brand podcasts are an exercise in what some people call soft power diplomacy. This is when, for example, a country exports its culture (such as China sending dance companies to perform in the West, or the UK having robust television comedies) to make people feel positively about their people (and, by extension, their nation). Brands can use soft power diplomacy to show themselves as familiar and friendly, by producing and/or promoting brand podcasts.
There’s a lot more to this than finding the youngest, hippest person in your organization, and saying to them, “you look like someone tech savvy, go make a podcast.” Listen to some of these, keeping your ears peeled for what makes a brand podcast contagious.
Trader Joe’s and Inside Trader Joe’s
Trader Joe’s steers their brand podcast toward being a “behind the scenes of a great grocery chain” experience. It shows how the company makes choices about what’s on the shelves by starting with a wide focus. For example, The Spice Trade episode talks about the history of the spice trade around the world. Evocative music punctuates and lifts up the discussion. The focus tightens to the flavors and ingredients Trader Joe’s customers look for, and when. Again, the sound design makes the interviews feel like going on an adventure. Listen to Inside Trader Joe’s, and take time to notice how the sound design and pacing affects how you feel while listening.
GE and Life After/The Message
General Electric’s company history is deeply interwoven with the history of home entertainment in the US. GE created RCA to manufacture and sell radios for the growing home electronics market. Then, they created NBC to provide programming for those radios. The three companies officially separated in the early 1930s, but GE and NBC/Comcast didn’t fully part ways financially until 2009. GE has a long track record of funding storytelling in American living rooms. In this case, they sponsored brand podcasts, produced by podcast network Panoply. The Message and Life After were GE’s ways of sponsoring stories that people could take anywhere.
The Message and Life After are audio dramas, cliffhangers that keep you wanting more, and make you think about human relationships. The subtext of each story addresses anxiety about technology, but shows that people and relationships are stronger. In GE’s brand podcasts, technology makes people powerful, but is only as bad as what people do with it. Other than in the introduction, credits and logo, GE is never mentioned. This is the deepest, and probably most pervasive, form of soft diplomacy. On a subconscious level, the sponsorship makes listeners think, “GE is a company that cares about people like me.”
McDonald’s and The Sauce
McDonald’s had a PR problem. They used to provide a Szechuan-inspired dipping sauce, to go with their chicken nuggets. The sauce was discontinued, without fanfare. Mysteriously, demand for this dipping sauce increased exponentially, almost overnight. What caused customers, many of whom weren’t McDonald’s regulars, to suddenly demand the return of this condiment? Many of them had never tasted it. McDonalds’ set out to solve the ancient mystery of balancing demand and supply with a 21st century solution: by making a brand podcast.
Studio@Gizmodo and Onion Labs made a trailer and three episodes, of what sounded like investigative journalism in the mode of Serial. The company claimed that this was their means of corporate transparency, and making amends with their customers. It was also an attempt to whip up fervor for the return of the condiment. It succeeded. “The Sauce” has disappeared from Apple Podcasts. There are a few audiograms on Facebook, but otherwise this brand podcast seems to be no longer available.
John Deere and On Life And Land
John Deere created a magazine for its target market, Furrow & Homestead. Not only did it cover topics of interest to farmers, but it includes some truly gorgeous photography. Again, this soft diplomacy makes people want to have the magazine out on their coffee table, and it makes them feel “John Deere is a brand for people like me.” This publication branched out into a podcast, On Life And Land.
If a love of the land is shown in their magazine’s photos, the same is true for their podcast’s use of audio. They talk about sustainability, food, and other issues of importance to farmers. They also use field recording to build intimacy and authenticity. For example, their episode about Redhead Creamery is memorable because the interview is conducted outdoors, on the Minnesota farm, including the sounds of birds, cows, trees and grass moving in the wind. The unspoken message is, “farming is beautiful.” John Deere adds value to listeners’ lives with their podcast.
Chanel and 3.55
If the John Deere podcast is about their listeners’ reality, Chanel’s 3.55 podcast is about their listeners’ aspirations. Topics include celebrity interviews, discussions of ballet, art and architecture, and behind-the-scenes looks at Chanel’s design and business philosophies. An audio tour of Coco Chanel’s apartment goes a long way to selling lots and lots of $38 lipsticks.
Each episode is available in multiple languages. It also uses BBC-style translation: a voice performer who sounds similar to the person who is being interviewed, reads the interview guest’s words in the same cadence and emotion. The digital media that Chanel curates and promotes is less “this brand is for people like me,” and more “this brand is for people like the person I want to be.”
What makes these brand podcasts great?
These brand podcasts use sound to position their brands as unique. Interview podcasts can run the risk of all sounding alike. In considering topics, brands can consider how to use the audio medium to best advantage.
Professionalism & consistency are key. You’re becoming someone’s companion, like turning on a radio while the listeners work or drive. Brand managers should set a release schedule and stick to it as best they can.
Microphone technique is important. Most of these podcasts include folks from their marketing department as hosts. Don’t just grab the nearest ham to rock the mic, though. Get someone who has good mic technique, or learn good mic technique. Mouth sounds, pops, and extraneous sounds in your listener’s ear are distracting and make them stop listening.
Your brand podcast will build community. It uses intimacy and imagination to create loyalty. As a result, you don’t have to name drop and self-promote. In fact, the less you do, the more you add value for the listener.
Discuss topics of interest to your target audience, and share in their view. Think of yourself as sitting beside them in the car while they drive, or helping in the kitchen while they cook. What are they looking at? What are they worried about? How can you make their process easier? What are your target listeners’ aspirations and realities? Which do you want to embrace more? How are you adding value to your listeners’ lives?
Brand podcasts succeed most when they are a great audio experience first, and advertising second. Again, soft diplomacy can build loyalty. However, there are a lot of aspects to consider in content creation of any kind. If you’re considering making a brand podcast for your company, and need help, why not join us at Podcraft Academy? We’ve got all kinds of resources, courses, downloadable guides, and community support to help you with any aspect of podcasting.