The Existential Truth that Explains Podcast Engagement

The Existential Truth Behind Podcasts’ Effectiveness

By Colter Hettich

April 12, 2022
3 reasons why mobile audio should remain a long-term priority for marketers

Two young fish happen upon an older fish, who nods at them in passing and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit before one stops, looks at the other and says, “What the hell is water?”

The late writer David Foster Wallace opened with this fatuous fable when he addressed the graduates of Ohio’s Kenyon College in 2005.

After finishing the speech, my marketing brain lit up. He couldn’t have known it, but he was making the most brilliant case for podcasts anyone could make.

Marketers want nothing more than a captive audience. We know the strengths and reach of podcasts, but often struggle to come up with audio content that helps us truly connect and deepen relationships with our audiences. But when you marry the potential of podcasts with Wallace’s view, a deeper understanding takes shape.

In that speech, he describes working a long day, trudging through the grocery store, then sitting in traffic, all to get home just in time to sleep and do it again the next day. These monotonous, often frustrating routines are what most of life really is — it’s water. And increasingly, we’re using podcasts to make better use of our time in that water. This is where marketers should spot an opportunity: Help these listeners use that time to be entertained, to learn something — and in the process, connect more deeply with your brand.

Podcasts aren’t easy. They require consistent time, effort and planning. But whether you’ve never made the leap, you gave up or your existing series feels flat, I’m here to remind you: Podcasts are worth it. Here are three powerful reasons why.

1. Podcasts are Hands-free and Eyes-free

One facet of the case Wallace unknowingly makes for podcasting is its hands-free nature. Whether you’re stuck in traffic, packed into a grocery store, folding laundry on the couch or walking the dog, podcasts are accessible. Equally important is the fact that your eyes can be focused elsewhere.

We think of podcasts as another content format — which they certainly are. But podcasts have the power to grip your listener’s imaginations in a uniquely profound way. So incorporate music, use visual language, describe where the podcast is being recorded — help create a scene in listeners’ minds.

2. Podcasts Leverage the Persuasive Power of Headphones

Most podcasts are consumed either in the car or on headphones, with headphones accounting for 45% of all podcast listens. New research out of the University of California San Diego reveals just how significant this is. Headphones produce a phenomenon known as “in-head localization,” which makes the speaker sound as if they’re inside your head. “Consequently, listeners perceive the communicators as closer — both physically and socially,” said study co-author On Amir. “Listeners perceive the communicator as warmer; they feel and behave more empathically toward them and they are more easily persuaded by them.”

This kind of intimacy is the marketer’s holy grail. Acknowledge it by being vulnerable in your podcast content. There’s no faster way to suck the life out of an episode than to script it. Remember: You’re in their head, so honor that space and speak candidly. If legal is a concern, get a preapproved list of instructions, guidelines and no-go words and phrases so your hosts and guests can have a genuine conversation.

3. Podcasts (and Audio) are an Escape

When listeners are trapped in an unavoidable chore, audio offers them an escape — a chance to dive into a true-crime story or a favorite album. When we’re mired in the mindless tasks of daily routines, audio is often the only content format available. And unlike audiobooks and music, podcasts are constantly updating, many of them multiple times a week.

So be bold in your concepts. Your audience is ready to go somewhere — take them! Find stories from other locales and cultures that relate to your brand’s themes. Connect dots your listeners have never thought to connect. Look for fresh ways to explore familiar topics, and craft narrow, deep story angles. This not only helps you get more specific in your storytelling; it gives your podcast series the potential for much longer legs.

It’s Never Too Late to Invest in — or Reimagine — a Podcast

So if you gave up on podcasts, go back to the drawing board. Reevaluate your audience and craft something new. If your podcast is tired, get your team together and reimagine it. Keep what’s working, throw out what’s not and inject some fresh ideas. And for those who’ve never made the leap, come on in. The water’s fine.

Looking to revamp your podcast? Ready to launch one for the first time? Reach out to us we’d love to help!

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