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Harnessing the Power of Podcasting

19/08/2015 10:05 BST | Updated 18/08/2016 10:59 BST

Articles about the popularity of podcasts are not new. With the huge impact of shows like Serial and Marc Maron hosting President Obama on his podcast wtf613 the medium has come of age. It's now acceptable to ask at a dinner party, "What podcasts are you listening to?" after the obligatory conversation about your current book and that Netflix series you're binge watching.

The internet has finally come of age and down time is history; we have digital media on demand and in our pocket. If we are travelling to work, having a bath, cooking, walking the dog, or even falling asleep, there is a podcast for that. The Mp3 show on our phone or tablet is our aural comfort blanket, a constant companion; over 17% of Americans choose to snuggle up to a weekly podcast and 38% of UK internet users have downloaded a podcast. (source: www.statista.com). Podcasters are the best friends we have never met, an inescapable part of the rhythm of our week. Podcasting is an important and increasingly powerful format, but also one that has a undeniable intimacy with its consumers.

Finding a podcast is a world away from discovering more traditional content, such as a radio show. Discovering a podcast is like finding someone who speaks to you, the individual, personally; it is that immediacy and that intimacy that makes it such a potent experience. With production costs being relatively low and with so many podcasters coming to the medium with little or no concern for financial reward, the next iteration of the podcast will also see an explosion genre mashing. Mike Pesca's show The Gist, is part magazine, part interview show; an intelligent rant dressed up as a monologue. Andrew Ackerman's Sleep With Me creates audio both to be listened to, and to fall asleep with. The Flying Veal Chart Company's Veal Chart Presents is brilliantly strange, a mix of audio bleeps and off cuts, if you love ultimately pointless but nevertheless thought provoking audio, this is your jam.

And as diverse as the content itself are the audiences. They tend to be be younger, more comfortable with consuming in bulk than the traditional, patient, episodic radio listener. "People under the age of 30 don't own radios", says WNYC's CEO and President, Laura Walker. They might not own radios, but they still demand audio content. And levels of listener engagement are higher with podcasts than with traditional radio shows, meaning the format has every potential to become a major force in sales and marketing.

Brands will discover the very "intimacy" of the podcast means that listeners are highly susceptible to marketing messages, but there is much more that can be done than just a one minute pitch. The likes of Starbucks, Waitrose and Mozilla et al will harness the medium to create stories around products, to deepen customer knowledge, retention and loyalty. The unbranded podcast show will be an extra channel to market, offering a wider experience growing out of the core business proposition. It's an ideal way for businesses to engage customers, not only with brand messages but with the ethos of the organisation. Contract publishing has been a part of the magazine industry for years, providing businesses with the way to send their message to professionals and consumers alike. Contract podcasting is almost here.

Crucially, these shows will have the editorial integrity to stand alone as programmes, enabling the business to reach new audiences through engaging stories. Listeners will act as informed brand and product advocates. Sales messages will be subtly embedded in various features and stories. For example, imagine a new range of Jamaican coffee being sold by Tescos or Wegmans being promoted by a special story feature focusing on the family behind the brand, captivating the listener, investing them in the human story behind the company and as a result, informing their next visit to the store. The word "buy" need not be mentioned.

When brands do get on board, they will use their own social and traditional media channels to promote their paid-for programming, which will then finally crack podcasting's biggest problem: the lack of ability to discover new shows. Simply, iTunes doesn't help you find that new show that is similar to the one you love already. Someone, somewhere is going to create "Google" for podcasts, enabling you to search not only for the name of the podcast, or its originator, but also by its content. Currently, everyone is listening to the same podcasts, despite there being a whole wealth of shows out there waiting to be discovered. Serial is still week in, week out the podcast that dominates the top ten list in most English speaking countries, months after its last show was produced. According to the Washington Post, podcast downloads passed 1 billion last year and monthly podcast listeners number 75 million. Right now, anyone who listens to a podcast will have listened to at least one of the top 30 most downloaded shows. This means that there are another 100,000 podcasts out there, struggling to get noticed. It's time as Mao once said "to let a thousand flowers bloom". When that happens, the possibilities for the medium are endless.

The Author produces

10 American Presidents Audio documentary about 10 pivotal US presidents

How Jamaica Conquered the World Audio documentary about cultural overreach of Jamaica

Dumteedum Fans podcast about the BBC soap The Archers

Audio Lounge Magazine show about the world of sound

Mid Atlantic US and UK political chat show

And is producer and adviser on Wow Consulting's Rule Breakers podcast