July 14, 2020 by John Herrington in Podcasts

Take the Mic. Everyone is Listening.

Podcasts are in, that old burned CD is out. I know, it’s hard to keep up these days. But those friends who use to push up their glasses and say ‘Oh yeah, I only read articles,’ and then a few years later, ‘Yeah, I just listen to Talk Radio,‘ well, they’re all listening to podcasts now. That’s right. Your carefully curated morning traffic playlist is no longer cool. It’s 2020 and a world’s worth of information is at your fingertips— and your earlobes. No time to waste. Every jog, every drive and every plane ride, moments of escape are now also opportunities to listen and learn. Without the drag of an audio book or the generic nature of the radio, a podcast episode can be both educational and entertaining. And best yet, they can cover just about every topic under the sun.

For those of you crying ‘I podcasted before it was cool,’ we hear you. Gold stars for you. But most people joined the podcast party just within the last five years. In 2014, the audience saw big growth with the release of Serial. Everyone and their dog tuned in every week as Sarah Koenig investigated the trial of Adnan Syed. By 2018, the series topped 340 million downloads, establishing an ongoing podcast download record. Did I tune in? Um, religiously. I have just three words. What 👏🏻 about 👏🏻 Jay?

The momentum continued with Serial’s second and third season, as well as 2017’s S-Town. And from 2018 to 2019, the previous decade’s modest rise of listeners was interrupted with a dramatic 6% leap. Dubbed the “breakout year” for podcasts, 2019 seemed to catapult the audio streaming platform into the everyday use territory. A service that once relied solely on tech nerds and fact junkies now attracted crowds of all shapes and sizes. More people brought the demand for more content. A wide variety of genres gained traction and by April of 2020, there were reportedly more than 30 million episodes available. So, if you’re trying to be an outlier and claim you’re simply not in to podcasts, nice try. Odds are 30 million to 1.

This year, the growing podcast world collided with a global pandemic to create a perfect storm. What kind of storm? The kind where everyone is tuning in to a podcast. And where the customers go, the industries will follow. More and more companies continue to pour money into all aspects of the podcast arena. Just last year, Spotify acquired three major podcast companies for a cool $304 million dollars. Sony and Apple entered the production scene and Omnicom recently committed to $20 million in podcast ads. And Serial? The show that made podcasts cool? Last week, its audio production company was acquired by a little group you might’ve heard of, The New York Times. 

Podcasts are contending for space in the customer experience. While every social platform offers its own unique advantage, the opportunities here are invaluable. The podcast genre allows businesses to speak- literally speak- life into their brand. In an uninterrupted, controlled segment, companies can present themselves before the clients with strategic intent. An Instagram ad has about a quarter of a second to catch someone’s eye mid scroll. Facebook posts must scream louder than the political rants, but look prettier than those wedding and baby photos. Your one liner on Twitter must be catchy enough to draw in that double tap. But a podcast episode? Authors have anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes to engage and inform their audience. Topical discussions, how to’s, product reviews or guest interviews- there are endless possibilities to curate content to shape your brand. Businesses have the opportunity to take the mic and take control. And while most of the nation works from home and summer vacations are limited to road trips, the listener base only continues to grow. The audience is ready and waiting. What does your brand have to say?

We rounded up a list of a few of our favorites. Check ’em out and let us know what you think! Unless you think they’re lame. In that case, keep your thoughts to yourself.

Strategy Session

HBR IdeaCast’s Staying Agile Beyond a Crisis addresses companies’ agile reactions to the coronavirus, and how to develop these changes into sustainable habits for the future. Just a general rule of thumb, when someone from Harvard is talking, you should listen.

We’re big StoryBrand fans over here, so of course, we’re all about Donald Miller’s channel. Tune into episode 200, entitled The Step-by-Step Plan for Fixing Your Business. Whether today’s climate calls for a compete overhaul of your company, or just some fine tuning, this episode is a fantastic resource aimed at seeing every part of your business thrive.

Last November, Start Up’s host Alex Blumberg sat down with his mentor, the beloved Ira Glass, who changed the podcast game forever when he started This American Life. They talk the evolution of podcasts and what it means to be a good boss. Alex claims he learned it all from Ira and I believe him because their voices sound the. exact. same. Seriously. Give it a listen. Can you tell them apart? Me neither.

Design Nerds

UX Like Us is a podcast for the “UX community”- yes, there is apparently a whole community of them. An older episode we love hashes out the role of a Design Strategist. It’s extremely helpful in defining the position and its importance in your business’ success. Permission to nerd out.

The Fun Stuff

Ezra Klein’s award winning podcast never disappoints. He takes on current debates, age old questions and trivial curiosities. His latest episode features Bryan Stevenson, author of the book we recently recommended (and can’t recommend enough), Just Mercy. Stevenson talks about America’s need to heal from past injustices and the real liberation our country could experience.

What’s your first move when you answer a scammer’s phone call? Hang-up. But what if you got to know them? And then called them everyday? And then traveled overseas to vacation with them? No? Well, Reply All’s Alex Goldman did. And his story is fascinating, funny, and slightly terrifying.

From NPR, Guy Raz tells the stories behind some of the world’s best known companies in his podcast, How I Built This. Line up the episode with Jamie Siminoff, the brains behind Ring doorbells, for your next car ride. We now know who to thank for those dancing Amazon delivery driver videos.

And Hot off the Press…

The Michelle Obama Podcast debuted yesterday and (obviously) features our former First Lady. The topic? Conversations with family & friends on relationships and our lives that make us who we are. Our PM Laura tuned in and gave it all the thumbs up. “Such a good listen. I felt like I was sitting at the table with the Obamas.” Is it rude to ask the former FLOTUS for seconds? Because we want more.


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