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How (and why) to start a podcast for your retail business

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It might come as a surprise that the idea of the podcast goes back to the 1980s. From their start in “audioblogging,” and later in the internet-based radio format, podcasts became a cultural staple in 2004 thanks to the proliferation of high-speed internet.  

Podcasts are the hottest thing in entertainment thanks to the widespread appeal of the platform. Anyone can find the niche content they want, from fan chats about favorite television shows to information about a brand or product. This audio channel is becoming increasingly important for marketing and can help ecommerce and retail merchants reach more of their target audiences. Forbes confirms that podcast listeners are extremely engaged, with 80% of listeners staying for the entire episode of each podcast that they begin.

Merchants looking to invest in podcasting for their brand can start with this quick guide on why podcasts are a key channel, how to begin with success in mind and how to justify this venture to the people on your team who are still skeptical about new channels.

Key takeaways
  • With over 600,000 podcasts out there, and more starting every day, we’re in the golden age of podcasting.
  • The best retail-centric podcasts create excitement about a brand, product, service or idea, leaving fans eagerly awaiting the next episode — and hopefully clicking through to your website.
  • Podcasting success starts with choosing a niche and deciding on a format to support this new channel that will keep your brand top of mind for your customers. 

In search of retail storytelling 

The most successful podcasts feature strong personalities, authorities on their selected topics, a unique delivery style and enjoyable interactions with guests. This formula works for retail-focused podcasts as well. Merchants can learn a lot from their peers via podcasts, like NRF’s Retail Gets Real and The Jason & Scot Show E-Commerce Podcast.

If you’re ready to hit the ground running and are looking for an example of how to podcast with your brand in mind, listen to Sephora’s branded podcast #LIPSTORIES. Sephora’s entry into the podcasting world isn’t explicitly about selling cosmetics. Their focus is on self-image, through the lens of a rotating cast who chat about their experiences in beauty and how to harness confidence. 

It’s a quick way to build up brand recognition outside of the usual, already saturated channels the beauty industry dominates like Snapchat and Instagram. By offering a different class of content that still relates to topics fans of the Sephora brand care about, #LIPSTORIES offers added value for customers. It’s free for them to access and can be one of the most cost-effective marketing channels available today. 

Now that you know where the best retail storytelling comes from, you’re ready to start your first podcast episode. The next section will help you gather the necessary materials for podcast production.

Start with the basics

The podcast boom has launched a new market for easy-to-use and affordable audio production and hosting tools. To launch a bare minimum podcast, you’ll need a microphone, free audio editing software like Audacity and a platform to host your episodes, like SoundCloud and PodBean. Many podcast tools are free or low-cost and offer intuitive design for beginners to quickly get up to speed.

From there, the sky’s the limit. You can submit your podcast to major platforms like iTunes and Stitcher, which will help grow your reach. Introducing your brand to new customers and keeping current customers engaged should be the main objective of your podcast. The more people who can find and listen to your podcast, the better.

You might think the work is over once you have your recording devices set up, your editing software downloaded and a platform ready to host your new podcast. It’s only just beginning. Everything you do before you hit the record button will make or break the success of your podcast. Here’s a four-point guide on how to plan a podcast that will attract listeners and brand followers — who can then convert into customers.

Good pre-production ensures better outcomes

Like any other marketing or brand initiative, a podcast needs a project plan. It’s easy to start your podcast on the right foot with these four success tips:

  1. Choose a focus or niche

Start your podcast with a specific concentration or niche. Offering a clear, authoritative, and in-depth voice on a niche topic is more likely to win over a target audience than a scattered jumble of topics.

Johnson & Johnson’s Innovation podcast explores the latest trends in healthcare and the thinkers, organizations and ideas behind them. With over 40 episodes available, Johnson & Johnson uses their position as a global healthcare thought leader to bring new and exciting voices to the table to discuss everything from artificial intelligence to the human side of medicine.

  1. Offer value

A blog and podcast are more similar than they seem. Like a blog, a podcast’s primary driver should be to offer more value to current customers, potential customers and industry peers. Producing unforgettable content on topics within your industry or vertical is a sure way to become a thought leader in your space.

eBay’s “Open for Business” podcast focuses on entrepreneurs who grew their businesses from an idea to a full-fledged company. Through this channel, eBay provided useful information to aspiring entrepreneurs looking for an edge, and it helped reinforce some long-forgotten brand messaging about the company’s origins as a startup business in the mid-1990s.

  1. Brand the podcast

Branding a podcast is just as vital as branding a company. In a vast sea of podcasts on every possible topic, a new podcast has to stand out and be authoritative to stick around.  

Choose a name that speaks to your audience directly and is memorable. Start by going through well-known industry buzzwords and work them into a broader idea about maneuvering through the industry. Well-timed, appropriate humor works better in this space than most of your other marketing channels, so creative thinking is a must.

Finally, create a logo that is as memorable as the brand name. When listeners scroll through their favorite podcast player, they’ll recognize a familiar logo even if they don’t remember the name. An eye-catching logo can lead to more clicks from listeners looking for more information.

  1. Decide on a consistent format

Like choosing a niche, choosing a consistent format is essential for a successful podcast. Format can include anything from the type of content you produce — like interviews, call-in guests and other segments — to the length of each episode and how often you release episodes. Typically, shorter length episodes work for more frequent publishing, while longer episodes need proper pacing to avoid losing listeners along the way. Use music cues, relevant advertisements and other audio tricks to keep listeners engaged.

Podcast Motor has more actionable insights into how to determine the right length and publishing frequency for each episode.

With the right equipment in hand and your pre-production planning complete, you’re finally ready to start podcasting for your brand. Once your episodes start broadcasting, you can start watching your analytics to see how the podcast is performing. This will help you determine the key performance indicators (KPIs) to help visualize the real value of the podcast to your business.

How podcasts can boost sales — really

A great podcast can be a high-conversion channel if it’s done right. Interview Valet CEO Tom Schwab shares his insights on the Act-On website about how to maximize conversions with targeted audio content:

“If somebody has listened to you for 30 to 45 minutes, they know that you’re the person that they want to work with,” he said. “If they come ready to engage, don’t slow them down in a funnel. If they come with credit card in hand wanting to see the wizard, give them a chance to get there.”

Schawb’s philosophy of podcast-based storytelling is all about getting the “yes” from a customer, but in stages. A few small yeses like a video view, a Twitter interaction or a podcast download helps build the relationship between buyer and seller, and opens the door for bigger yeses down the line. Brand storytelling should be meaningful communication first, and selling second. A good podcast gives the customer value before they even walk into your store or click on your website.

We’re in an age where over 73 million American consumers are using some form of ad blocking technology. Return on investment for marketing is harder to capture than ever before. Podcasting is a good way to make your advertising spend work to reinforce the brand, bring in new customers and keep current customers engaged all at once. You can use the advice and perspectives in this guide to get started with podcasting or to convince decision makers that targeting audio content is a good move for your brand. 

If you’ve started a podcast, let us know on Twitter or Facebook! We’re eager to hear and promote fresh new voices in the ecommerce and retail field.

Chris Martinez

Chris is a content strategist at Signifyd.