Today’s interview is a little different as it’s with someone from outside B2B, but with an intriguing perspective on it nonetheless, and that’s Gina Holt from Acast, the world’s largest podcast company.
We’ll be asking Gina about the growing role of podcasting within the B2B sector, the reasons why companies should be adopting it as a channel and how to measure their success. Gina, thank you so much for joining us.
Gina: Thank you, Dan. Good to be here.
Dan: Perhaps you could begin just by telling us a little bit about your role at Acast?
Gina: Of course, I am the UK MD and my role involves continuing to accelerate our growth and ensuring everyone has an amazing experience when they work with us. If you don’t know Acast, we are the world’s biggest podcasting company. We are the engine that powers creators, advertisers and listeners around the world.
We have around 20,000 shows on the Acast network and global monthly listens of around 256 million. At Acast, we really believe in a sustainable and open podcasting ecosystem which ensures the whole industry continues to flourish. If you listen to an Acast podcast, you’ll be able to listen to it on any podcasting platform. So that’s Apple, Spotify, and most recently, Amazon music. We are completely dedicated to podcasting, as the medium is our sole focus.
Dan: So, I understand this might be a tricky question to answer as you’ve only relatively recently joined the company, but what’s your understanding of the degree to which B2B organisations are now adopting podcasting as a channel to their audience? What’s the trend?
Gina: It’s impossible to know for sure, but we’re certainly seeing more and more businesses using podcasting as a really effective tool for engaging their audiences. Whether that’s in the B2B sector, B2C, or more broadcast talent audiences that might have found them in other entertainment channels and are now moving to podcasts to engage with their favourite influencer or comedian.
We’re seeing that podcasting is becoming a very trusted format in which to share information and ideas. It’s also a format that’s super engaging, because it’s really personal, you’re really speaking to somebody on a one-to-one basis. We’re seeing more and more businesses – or more and more business leaders – using it as an opportunity to speak to consumers or clients within that space.
Dan: One of the things that strikes me about podcasting is the sheer duration of the typical podcast. Are there any kind of stats on that? And presumably this needs to be surrounded by other channel activity to initiate those relationships with a view to podcasting then nurturing the relationships further down the funnel?
Gina: To give you some stats around listening length and volume in the UK right now, around 11 million people listen to a podcast, which is significantly up year on year, and when they are listening to podcasts, they’re listening for longer than ever before. So, they’re listening to, on average, around six hours of podcasts every single week, and they’re listening to around 28 minutes during an average listening session. So there’s really, really high engagement. They’re listening for a long amount of time, and a lot of people are listening.
When you think about other media formats or content formats – video, social – and the kind of durability in which they are engaging audiences, for example in the way that they’re sort of skipping past or not dedicating huge amounts of time, I think the average video view is around three seconds, now maybe up to five seconds, and with social media, it’s just kind of that constant scrolling, so to have that length of engagement from a listener, or from a customer or a client, is just huge.
We feel that, in terms of that metric, podcasting outshines any of its competitors, but you’re right, it does take time for a podcaster to reach those kinds of metrics. It takes time to grow an audience, and we would always advise anyone who is starting on their podcasting journey to really utilise all of their tools and channels that they own and operate that already engage customers or audiences – like newsletters, social media, LinkedIn – to really make sure that they’re marketing the podcast to those existing customers and clients, to ensure that they’re driving awareness to pull people back into the podcast itself.
So, it does take time to build a podcast to those levels, but there’s lots of different marketing tricks that businesses can use to ensure that they are building awareness, driving engagement, and ensuring that they’re locking in those listeners for as long as possible.
Dan: I wonder what role B2B influencer engagement plays within B2B podcasting? We see it in other channels as a fantastic way of reinforcing brand positioning, extending reach, and of course, capturing amazing content. Presumably, the same principles apply within podcasting?
Gina: Absolutely. I think we often see our podcasters as the best kind of influencers that money can buy, in the fact that they are trusted taste makers with loyal fans who look to them as a source of inspiration, education and information. So, when we talk to advertisers and brands, or we talk to talent to bring them over to podcasting – to either start their own podcast or be a guest on one – we talk about it being the best word-of-mouth strategy that an advertiser can buy or an influencer can create for themselves in a product or a platform using the narrative they’re trying to push. So, really once you get an influencer into a podcasting space, because it’s such a one-to-one experience in terms of the end user – it’s a really intimate experience too – you very much feel like you are being spoken to directly by that person rather than sort of seeing that person just appear briefly on a social feed or in a video. You really feel that they’re speaking to you directly.
Also, even though it feels incredibly one-to-one and intimate, you actually can feel quite quickly part of a community – something bigger than just you – and we’ve learnt more than ever over the last eight months, how important it is to feel part of a community. I know so many brands and companies that seek to create a sense of community around their company or the product that they’re trying to take to market because it can be incredibly important around an advocacy strategy to have a sense of community around that. So, really what a podcast does is allow you to feel part of a community, but in a one-to-one intimate setting. We kind of feel that influencers who are in that space, or companies who want to take influencers into the podcasting space, can have even more significant impact using influencers in an audio space – like a podcast – than they might have on social, because that one-to-one interaction is even more defined and that sense of community is built on a very personal level that perhaps isn’t experienced in other social channels.
Dan: I wonder how the current apocalypse in which we find ourselves is impacting the state of things within podcasting? Presumably pre-pandemic people perhaps didn’t have so much time to consume this kind of content, but on the other hand, I’m assuming that they also did a lot of their consumption during their commute. So has the net impact of that been a positive one or a negative one?
Gina: It’s an interesting question. I think when we all entered that lockdown, in that initial first lockdown period, we all had this seismic change in the way that we were living our lives – working from home or managing homeschooling – and that did have an impact on listener behaviour – but, that was only in the first week or two weeks of lockdown, and actually we just then had accelerated listening after the last two weeks of March. In fact, in April Google saw it’s highest search trend ever for the word podcast. So people were looking to podcasts for a source of inspiration, escape and information, and I think really, very much a break from screen. I think we were feeling sort of overwhelmed either by screen time through our need and necessity to work from home – so constantly being connected to a screen for Zoom calls, or Google Hangouts or whatever we were doing at the time – or constantly watching news updates which we felt were becoming too much. We were then seeking an escape from our screens in audio.
So, in terms of listening trends, pre-pandemic, the sort of peaks of listening would be in the morning and the evening as people were commuting to work or home again, or relaxing in the evening with a podcast, and what we actually saw post-lockdown, as people were kind of getting into the sort of groove of their new lifestyle, was sustained listening through the day. The curves were flattening and we were moving away from the peaks and seeing very much sustained listening throughout the day. So, even though people’s routines and lives have changed, love for podcasting has remained unconditional. In fact, we were bringing so many more listeners to podcasts. Since July onwards we’ve seen huge growth, in fact, our highest listening figures ever, so there is no doubt that despite the pandemic changing the way we live, people are still looking to podcasts, and are coming to podcasts much more often, and in higher numbers than ever before. So we have real confidence in this channel, not only being resilient during difficult times, but actually demonstrating growth; which is why we’re seeing more advertisers come into podcasts and more audiences come into podcasts, and I really, really don’t see that changing.
Dan: I wonder, and it may be that the answer is there are no differences at all, but I wonder if there are any differences between how a B2B podcast should be formatted in relation to a more conventional, consumer podcast. Is there any difference?
Gina: I don’t think so. I think the sort of principles of good podcasting apply in the way that you should create a format that is focused on telling your narrative in a way that will engage your audience. So really think about the client, the audience, the customer that you want to reach, why you want to reach them, why you’re using a podcast to do that, and what job you want the podcast to do. What phase of that consumer funnel do you want to sit on? Is it about awareness? Is it about consideration? Is it about a call to action? Is it simply a value-add that you want to deliver to loyal customers or loyal audiences who’ve been coming to a brand for a long period of time and you just want to add an additional value to what they’re already receiving from you in different places. So you have to be really clear about what you want the podcast to do, who you’re making it for and why.
I would suggest also researching who else is doing good work here, and make sure that your competitors aren’t doing a very similar thing to what you plan to do, and make sure you kind of understand the point of difference you might bring. I think one other thing is that podcast audiences are really forgiving, so you can play with format and content and see what lands. Some of the most successful podcasts we know today, that are consistently in the top 10, aren’t the podcasts they were a year or two years ago, they evolve and adapt until they find a format that really starts to stick with audiences. Then, if you come to a network like Acast, you’ll be able to get a suite of analytics to be able to see what’s happening on an episode by episode basis. So you’ll be able to understand how many listens you’re getting, and depending on the tier of subscription that you use, understanding what time of day they’re listening and the number of downloads, so you can use it to create additional sort of social media assets and websites around it. So, get on a good podcasting platform as well, it will really help you analyse what’s working, and then use the data to inform your kind of follow up and your editorial choices and how you’re approaching it.
Most podcast formats that are highly successful have a couple of similar hooks and narrative arcs so you know what you’re going to get, you understand the format and what that format might bring. There’s a level of predictability within it, but also you know that you’re going to be getting something fresh and interesting each week. So, I think the sort of fundamental principles apply. Really, if you’re starting your journey, just think about that end consumer, that end audience, why you’re doing it and what you want the podcast to do.
Dan: One of the things about video is the degree to which it can fuel every channel. You can chop it up and use it for social media, you can post it on the blog, you can transcribe it and use it on email or for SEO purposes. I just wonder to what extent podcasts can likewise be used to drive activity across all these different channels?
Gina: More and more we’re seeing lots of podcasters, podcasts and brands use audiograms, which is a short edit of the podcast, or a clip from the podcast, that you can then put into social formats and leverage that across all of your social channels. So, as people are scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, they can see your post and then hear a snippet from the podcast. You can obviously pay to boost that and amplify that across any social platform or even post it on LinkedIn and do the same.
We’re also seeing people upload podcasts directly to YouTube, as well. So people are recording audio and then posting it straight to YouTube, so it’s sitting within a traditional video platform. I think YouTube is also adding some really smart formats and products so they’ll be able to know whether you’re watching something – so whether your browser is open or your browser is closed – so they’ll know what type of ad to serve you as well. So, we’re getting really smart technology start to come to life in podcasting. But, certainly you can clip the audio, you can edit the audio and you can very seamlessly post it onto social media with all the decorative stuff that you might put around it to make it feel that it’s part of your brand identity. But yeah, audio can live anywhere and it can be super effective there too.
Dan: I could be wrong, but there’s something about podcasting that to me comes across as perhaps a little more authentic in comparison to certain other channels, perhaps such as video. I just wonder if events over the last six months, that have led to a shift to a more authentic, transparent positioning of many brands, including many B2B brands, have perhaps helped with this adoption of podcasting?
Gina: Yeah, I think there is a desire to feel part of a community, part of something that is bigger than just yourself. I think that there has been a huge amount of distrust in other possible media channels that is fuelling the desire for audio and that direct one-to-one relationship with the host or the podcaster.
What we’re seeing in a lot of the research we’re doing is just how trusted podcasters are in terms of, not just the audience engagement with the length of listening that I’ve already spoken about, or the amount of people listening to podcasts, but actually the receptivity to ad messaging as well. We did some research last year that showed that 76% of people who’ve listened to a podcast have taken direct action after hearing an ad. Likewise, a Nielsen report showed that 83% of listeners believe that podcast hosts are authentic and natural in delivering ad messages. So in terms of a format through which to deliver your ad message, not just your company message, podcasting is a brilliant way to do it.
There was also a brilliant piece of research about two weeks ago by Kantar, who were looking at ad equity; so consumer receptivity of messaging on all platforms available to advertisers right now. In the digital landscape, podcasting came second only to branded influencer content in terms of the most receptive audiences to advertising. So second only to influencer branded content, podcast audiences are the most receptive to advertising and we’re seeing so much more branded content than ever before in podcasting, too. So we can sort of see, if you put those things together – influencer branded content within a podcast format – you’ve got such high levels of consumer receptivity. They’re trusting what they’re hearing because they trust the host and they agree that they’re authentic and natural and they’re taking action. So in terms of a format in which to put your ad message, not just your company message, in terms of creating something original for yourself, podcasting is a brilliant place to do it.
Dan: One of the criticisms of social media is its ephemeral nature, and the fact that you are essentially building on somebody else’s land, whereas other channels – such as email or your website – are assets that you as a business own. I just wonder where podcasting sits on that spectrum?
Gina: That’s a great question. I think it’s very much part of your company identity, part of your owned and operated channels, because you can curate it, you can host it on a platform that’s going to give you all of the analytics that you might get through a similar platform on email. You can tweak it to fit your own plans, product launches or strategic shifts and use your podcast to inform customers and clients and advertisers of your plans, because it has that high level of trust and engagement, because it’s so personal, it kind of sits in the same space for me as an email that I’m receiving from a company I trust; it’s in my inbox, which is personal to me, and no one else can open that, and it’s directed to me so therefore, I’m going to give it more attention than perhaps I would just scrolling through a social feed where your messages are amongst lots of other competitors or amongst celebrities or talent.
So I think podcasting, because it’s unique one-to-one nature, and because it is really your editorial channel to take your company message and apply it in an audio format, I think that it’s very much your land. You’re just using the technology in order to power the data that gives you better understanding to create more content that is going to be relevant for your audiences and keep them coming back.
Dan: That’s really interesting. I guess one of the benefits of podcasting is the kind of limited barriers to entry. Anyone can start their own podcast using freely available platforms. Having said that, presumably there are benefits to working with a company like Acast? Perhaps you can talk us through some of the benefits of taking that next step?
Gina: So with Acast, we have something called Acast open, which is a subscription model that really allows you to take your first step into podcasting and allows you to host and distribute your podcast for it to be freely available on any podcast platform, including Apple, Spotify, Amazon music, or any other platform in which podcasts are available.
It also allows you to access those analytics, which will prove really helpful as you begin to grow your podcast and reach the audiences you want to engage. We’re also starting something which is coming pretty soon, which is a subscription model, which allows you to host content that will only be available to subscribers. It is available in other podcasting companies, but Acast has got something coming which will be a huge step beyond that, which means if you want to not only reach customers or clients, but if a business actually wants to use a podcast to communicate internal company information rather than using a webinar, zoom call or an email, you can use a podcast which someone can subscribe to. So it can be a private feed, which is really interesting I think for the businesses who need to communicate large amounts of information to their employees, or they just want to use a more informal and natural space for a CEO or a leader within a team to share information.
So, we’re really excited about that. Subscriptions within podcasting have started, but we’re going to absolutely see it accelerate over the coming months and years as people find other ways, not only to monetise existing shows that have huge audiences and they want to create subscription-only content that is for their most loyal fans, but also for companies to think about using subscription models to communicate company information internally.
So I think the way that the formats and products are evolving is just opening up more and more ways in which companies can get involved.
Dan: We’ve talked loads about creating podcasts, but I’m guessing you’re no stranger to listening to them as well, so I just wonder if there’s a particular podcast or a particular show you’re listening to at the moment that you might recommend?
Gina: I mean, I listen to so many, but I kind of have a couple of firm favourites. We work with a lot of the publishers, so I like to listen to the ‘Intelligence’ by the Economist. It’s a really brilliant podcast that takes sort of news stories and dives into them in more detail, and I get a huge amount of unbiased information that helps me stay informed. The FT ‘News Briefing’ is also a great podcast. I love ‘Stories of Our Times’ by the Times, and ‘Today in Focus’ by The Guardian. So, I do a lot of my news listening in podcasts now, I tend to find they are a much more gentle way to absorb the information and also get a much broader spectrum of ideas and opinions, so I can kind of help form my own opinion too.
I listen to ‘The Media Show’ a lot on Radio 4, and then sort of some personal favourites that I listen to on a regular basis are ‘The High Low’, which is a culture podcast by Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes. I like Katherine Ryan’s podcast. I do love a true crime podcast as well, and have become really sort of heavily into audio drama.
So, podcasts are becoming much more of a format for audio drama, and we’re seeing a lot of Hollywood studios and Hollywood a-list stars taking on podcasting as a new sort of channel for their creativity. So, we’re seeing a-list actors begin to do audio drama and podcasting. So I’m really excited to see where that trend goes, and we’ll see more and more investment.
So I listen to a lot, but they’re sort of a broad brushstroke of the podcasts I listen to on a regular basis.
Dan: Great stuff. Just finally, you’ve made lots of fantastic recommendations today. I just wonder, could you finish by sharing with us the single best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Gina: Play to your strengths. Really simple. I think we often, for some reason or another – and we still do it in interviews now – people ask you what your weaknesses are. I think it’s a very contrary question to ask, because I’m not employing someone for their weaknesses, I’m employing them for their strengths. What a very wise person said to me very early on in my career is “get close to your strengths and then turn up the volume on them”. I think that has stayed with me for a really, really long time. You can’t be good at everything, but you will be very, very good at something, and I think if you can get really close to that early on, and really turn up the volume on that strength, you can build a brilliant career and you can build a brilliant path to success by playing to your strengths rather than focusing on overcoming your weaknesses. So, I refuse to ask that question in interviews. I hate it when it is asked, if I ever see it being asked, and also, it doesn’t really matter what they are. You can personally overcome them, but I’m employing you for you and what you’re good at, and what I want you to do is play to those strengths and keep on growing them. For anyone who works for me, I’ll always make sure that I’m supporting them growing their strengths, rather than just helping them overcome their weaknesses.
Dan: That’s awesome. Well, we’ll leave it there, Gina. Thank you so much for your time. I feel like I’ve learned an absolute tonne and intend to put it all to good use. Good luck with things at Acast and let’s hope the B2B world takes full advantage of all the amazing opportunities that podcasting clearly presents.
Gina: Thank you, Dan.