Podcasts aren’t anything new; in fact, they got their start as “audioblogging” in the 1980s and took hold again in the 2000s with the inception of devices such as iPods. But year over year, the number of people listening to podcasts has exploded, growing to over a predicted 57 million in 2016. What’s more, podcast listening grew by 23 percent between 2015 and 2016. But what does this mean for brands?

Podcasts drive engagement, build brand loyalty, and fuel purchasing decisions. But some marketers are slow to adopt this marketing strategy, perhaps unsure whether the payoff is worth the investment, or perhaps thinking it too old-school. Major brands, however, are seeing great value from this marketing tool. Here’s a look at how successful brands are leveraging podcasts successfully.

General Electric: Driving Engagement through Fictional Content

GE decided to launch a podcast, “The Message,” which took an unusual approach, blurring the lines between sci-fi and real life through an eight-episode installment that follows fictional character Nicky Tomalin as she attempts to decode a 70-year-old message from space.

The business arrangement behind The Message is interesting, and perhaps a new model. GE forged a strategic alliance with Panoply, which is Slate’s curated podcast network. Panoply acquires and creates content; it also works with brands and has done projects like a series of companion podcasts for HBO Documentary Films. In this case, GE had the idea. Panoply ran (and paid for) the production, including hiring the writer, the actors, and the production designers and crew. GE created spinoff websites to create a fuller universe around the show.

The podcast not only tells an interesting story, but also helps listeners better understand GE’s dedication to innovation through the storyline.

This is a screenshot of The Message podcast home page. Podcasts are trending, but are they right for your business? Find out.

The podcast series has been wildly successfully, claiming the No. 1 spot on the iTunes top podcast chart. In fact, it overtook longtime leaders, such as Serial and This American Life.

Key takeaway. Play to your strengths, and find complementary partners. Forge strategic partnerships to expand the reach of your content. When forces align to tell a great story, it boosts the effectiveness in reaching and engaging your target audience.

Slack – Connecting through Solutions

Slack started out sponsoring podcasts, and then decided to develop its own. Thus was born the “Slack Variety Pack,” which is focused on life and work and work-life. Contently named it “The World’s Most Ambitious Branded Podcast.”

The podcast is modeled after NPR’s popular “This American Life,” which has captured over 2 million users. Episodes are released every two weeks and last about 30 minutes.

Slack using compelling stories which relate to their brand to increase the visibility and success of their podcasts.

Episode 28, for example, has six stories about emoji:

Key takeaway. Take a page from the playbooks of other successful podcasts to inspire your efforts and tell more compelling stories that relate to your brand.

IBM – Engaging Listeners through Innovation and Science

IBM discovered that podcast listenership was growing and decided to launch a monthly podcast titled “Wild Ducks.” The company focuses on stories about unconventional leaders working on big problems, tied to innovation that aligns with the products and services they offer.

For example, recent topics include “How African schools are using cognitive systems to help shape the future of education” and “IBM Watson to join the war on cancer.”

Another podcast strategy is to focus on stories about unconventional trending issues and showing how your product or service can help alleviate these issues, as IBM has done with their podcast Wild Ducks.

What’s different about IBM’s podcast when compared with other brands is that the episodes are very short (anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes).

Key takeaway. Align podcast content with your products and services without directly promoting your offerings.

General Mills – Entertaining the Audience

General Mills was looking for new ways to interact with customers. As a result, they developed the “Taste of General Mills” podcast. The content they choose provides interesting stories and behind-the-scenes peeks into the brand.

For example, the first podcast episode told the story behind Phil Zietlow, the engineer who was instrumental in the creation of gluten-free Cheerios cereal. He had a 50-year career with General Mills, and was inspired by his daughter-in-law’s sensitivity to wheat.

Most episodes are 20 to 30 minutes, and include a variety of content on the same topic.

Showing your interactions with customers in another great way to make your podcast entertaining and more successful.

Lessons learned. Make your brand more personal by unveiling the untold stories about your brand.

Intel Chip Chat – Interview Thought Leaders

Intel launched its podcast “Intel Chip Chat,” a series that provides informational, one-on-one interviews with thought leaders in the industry. The company publishes more frequently than others do, about once a week.

The home page for this series isn’t as designed as some others, but that may be on purpose; these are very deep tech conversations and this is serious stuff.

Interviewing thought leaders is a great tactic for podcast content.

Key takeaways. Thought leader interviews are an effective way to amplify your content and build authority. Best of all, these leaders will likely share your content with their audience, which is also your target audience.

Tips for Success

Are you considering launching a podcast but unsure where to start? If so, here are a few tips that successful brands use to launch and sustain successful podcasts.

1. Start with your audience.

Ask yourself about the types of content that are most important to them. Here are a few places to uncover these hot topics.

  • Twitter. Check out what’s trending. For example, companies like IBM might check what conversations are happening around analytics or cognitive computing on Twitter and look for trends.
  • Tap into LinkedIn groups. Find the LinkedIn groups where your target market is spending time and listen to what conversations are happening. If you find topics with large amounts of engagement, then you know it might be worth a podcast.
  • Use frequently asked questions. Oftentimes, these questions reveal topics that are confusing to your audience but they want to learn more about. Make your brand more approachable and helpful by addressing these topics.

2. Repurpose content.

Podcasts require a large amount of time and resources. Get the most from those resources by repurposing content into other formats, such as blog posts or SlideShares.

3. Research those companies doing well in the podcasting space.

What podcasts serve a similar audience? Are they developing a following and doing well? If so, take notes on their strategy. For example, what format do they use, what topics do they cover and how long are the podcasts? You can use these elements to inspire your efforts.

4. Set your podcast length.

Having a set podcast length ensures that your target audience knows what to expect. When they see a new episode, they know they need 30 minutes (or whatever your typical length) to listen to the content. There is no perfect podcast length, but generally content ranges from 15 to 90 minutes. (Remember that TED talks are all under 18 minutes; you don’t have to go long to be perceived as valuable.)

5. Select a format.

Select a format for your podcast and stick to it. For example, the format may include a discussion about current industry events and have a quick advice section. Or you may focus on interviews with industry thought leaders. Test different types of content to discover what resonates best with your target audience. Remember that two voices are usually more interesting to listen to than one.

6. Promote your podcast.

In addition to setting up a website and publishing platform, such as iTunes, you also need to actively promote each podcast. For example, you might push out new content through Twitter, post on LinkedIn or tap your network to promote the content. Ask listeners to subscribe and leave reviews, which will also expand the reach of your content.

Podcasting with Success

The decision to create a podcast is a large commitment of resources. But doing so can help you establish yourself as an expert and thought leader in your niche.

However, it’s important to understand the value and long-term payoff before launching this type of strategy. You don’t want podcasting to transform into something you simply check off your list each month. Each episode should have purpose and drive brand loyalty and long-term engagement.

Has your brand tried publishing a podcast? If so, please share your results.