Every year there’s a ‘next big thing’ in content marketing. It’s generally a medium that promises greater cut-through or engagement that the others. This year, for example, it’s video. Last year it was podcasting. Before that, it was social media. But there is one very good reason right now to go back and think about podcasting as part of your content strategy.
It’s nothing to do with fashion. It’s because of one of many patents filed by Google. That’s nothing to get excited by in and of itself—the search giant files many patents, and not all of them amount to anything. But if this one does amount to something, it will push podcasting to a level where it can legitimately surpass radio as a medium.
Why broadcast radio is currently better than podcasts
Radio was meant to have died back in the 1930s, but it didn’t. It still has an enormous reach—Commercial Radio Australia estimates radio reaches about half the population every week, and is more trusted than any other medium. But that’s not its real power.
Radio is intimate, local, and convenient. The best podcasts are rarely all three. The world’s best podcasts—and we’re talking about things like S-Town or Serial or Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History—will not give you a local traffic report. If you want to know what the weather’s going to be like for the rest of the day, you have to manually switch out of your podcatcher.
Finding active listeners
Radio also benefits from the fact that often you’re not an active listener. Yes, I said ‘benefits’.
Having active listeners seems like a good thing, and a strong selling point for podcasters. You are an active listener when you’re consuming a podcast, because you’ve opted in to get it, right? But that’s an assumption based on the way podcasts are distributed.
We know people can opt-in to receive an email newsletter, then never open it when you send it. It’s called ‘graymail’, and can result in ongoing problems for marketers. I don’t know how you would measure the podcast-equivalent of graymail—but it would exist.
If you’re passively engaged with a podcast, or disengaged, you’re unlikely to listen at all. Because you have to choose to listen. For a podcaster, once an audience member has disengaged slightly, you may as well have lost them completely.
But for radio, having a passively engaged audience is not such a bad thing. People will stay tuned into a radio station knowing that the news is coming around in an hour. Or that the traffic report will be on soon.
The Google patent that may change everything
This can change in a small but fundamental way if Google ever does anything with its patent for ‘RadioMyWay’. I don’t believe that’s the name of the product, by the way. It’s just the name they use on their illustrations.
Google’s patent is called Customising perishable content of a media channel. It involves a system for creating a web-based radio station drawn from various sources. Importantly, it allows a user to get local news (such as traffic or weather reports) mixed in with their own music and other programs they choose.
I doubt that Google is planning on producing any content for this. Not that I have any knowledge at all about their plans, but because to do so would be pretty much the opposite of the company’s approach to content, which has always been about distribution and discovery.
But what this may be able to do is give listeners a chance to passively consume a podcast. It can launch your podcast into a format that is finally local, convenient, and intimate.
The promise of podcasting as part of your content strategy
Radio listening is not a group activity. It’s a highly personal one. If you had a seamless radio experience that was made up of your favourite podcasts, your own music, and local information, you would have no need at all for broadcast radio.
For a podcaster, this is more appealing than just being on-demand. Because if a listener disengages slightly, you are still in a good position to woo them back. It will train listeners to become more passive. To wait out one or two poor episodes, because there is less uncertainty as to what’s coming next.
At the moment, podcasting is an appealing, but niche, activity. As an awareness or conversion channel for your content marketing, it can be quite powerful. But you still need to do a lot of work to either reduce churn, or to move audiences through your sales funnel quickly enough to justify the effort.
But if Google follows up on the possibilities in patent US20120266076A, it may be able to offer a solution to that challenge. And the one thing that will make the Google patent work is content. Content from people like you.
Start your podcast now. Build your audience slowly. And wait. There seems to be a solution around the corner that can make your podcast the most powerful piece of content marketing you do.