Have you ever been so genuinely enthralled with a podcast that you momentarily forget that a brand actually produces it? For me, that show is Weird Work by HubSpot. The show celebrates passionate people who have broken out of the traditional “9 to 5” to pursue their passion, no matter how weird it might look on paper. Episodes span the full interview spectrum with titles like International Pizza Consultant, Space Psychologist, and even the Saturday Night Live Bandleader — to name just a few.
When executed correctly, podcasts can help engage your audience and drive brand affinity unlike any other form of content. In 2020, 48% of Americans ages 12–34 listened to at least one podcast a month, leaving plenty of opportunities for brands to connect with audiences.
But sometimes, it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds. Many companies don’t recognize how to bolster their brand without overtly promoting it. A brand show isn’t limited to the confines of your product, service, or industry. A great show breaks down barriers and taps into storytelling techniques to create a concept that keeps their audiences coming back for more.
But, as the adage goes, the proof is in the pudding. Here are six brands that have ventured outside traditional industry podcast territory and successfully blurred the lines between entertainment and marketing with their shows.
The Buffer name is synonymous with social media. Because of that, it probably wouldn’t surprise many people to know they have a successful podcast on the topic. The Science of Social Media covers best practices and insights from social media experts.
But how about a podcast about building a direct-to-consumer (DTC) company from the ground up?
Well, that’s exactly what Buffer did with Breaking Brand. The podcast is centered around the team behind Gin Lane, a successful digital marketing agency. The unique spin is that Gin Lane made a conscious decision to shut down their agency at the peak of their success to launch a new company called Pattern Brands. Breaking Brand follows the story of Gin Lane’s transition into Pattern Brands and all the struggles that came along the way.
The podcast is certainly a departure from Buffer’s traditional content efforts, but it’s carefully guided by outstanding research and an entertaining narrative style. The topic of brand building on the podcast also ties into Buffer’s usefulness as a social media tool that helps drive brand awareness.
“It’s like what Masterclass is doing with Steph Curry teaching shooting or Gordon Ramsey teaching cooking — we had Gin Lane showing our audience how to build a brand,” said Buffer’s Editorial Director Ash Read.
“It’s like what Masterclass is doing with Steph Curry teaching shooting or Gordon Ramsey teaching cooking — we had Gin Lane showing our audience how to build a brand.”
Notable episode: “Enjoy Daily Life” This episode focuses on the aftermath of Gin Lane’s decision to pivot from a successful digital marketing agency to an unproven DTC brand.
To call GE’s sudden foray into podcasts surprising would be quite the understatement. The energy conglomerate isn’t exactly known for sci-fi narratives that keep listeners at the edges of their seats.
And yet, in 2015, GE launched The Message. The podcast was a sci-fi adventure story about decoding alien messages from the past. It was influenced by 1940s and 1950s media when broadcasters would share science fiction stories on the radio, like War of the Worlds with Orson Welles.
Andy Goldberg, former Chief Creative Officer at GE, told Fast Company that the podcast drove brand awareness with a new audience — and boy did it ever work. The Message became the most listened-to branded podcast in history at the time, with 440 million minutes downloaded. It also reached no. 1 on the iTunes podcast charts. The audio series became such a hit that GE even created a sequel podcast called LifeAfter.
Another thing GE did successfully with The Message was not overly promoting their brand. They mentioned it lightly as it applied to the story, but they didn’t turn it into a promotional billboard for all things GE.
Notable episode: “The Message, Episode 6” This episode really elevates the sense of urgency within the overall story arc, similar to the part in a movie where a major plot point is finally revealed. But don’t worry; we won’t spoil it for you.
Believe it or not, the Szechuan sauce at McDonald’s has quite the story to tell. And McDonald’s decided to tell that story through a limited three-part podcast series.
The Sauce tells the wild tale of McDonald’s infamous shortage of Szechuan sauce in 2017. With sauce scalpers and angry rioters in the mix, the podcast was very much influenced by other audio series in the vein of Serial. Combining reporting with comedic elements, the podcast also doesn’t shy away from McDonald’s poking fun of itself as a brand.
A lot of people believed the sauce shortage was a publicity stunt. McDonald’s reps responded by saying that they’re not that smart on the podcast. It shows a hilariously human side of the largest fast-food chain on the planet that’s rarely been seen by the public. Most brands on the McDonald’s level are quite guarded when it comes to the brand narrative, making The Sauce so special as a branded podcast.
Notable episode: “The Szechuan Sauce Riots” This episode is centered around the chaos that ensued when McDonald’s Szechuan sauce faced a supply issue in 2017, and people couldn’t get their hands on the much-hyped condiment.
What makes The Garnish particularly interesting as a branded podcast is its focus. Instead of zeroing in on brilliant chefs or what makes a great restaurant, The Garnish approaches the restaurant industry more holistically. It covers topics that aren’t commonly covered in other restaurant-centered media, such as architecture, technology, and work-life balance.
The podcast shows that Toast, much like the technology they offer, cares about different aspects of the restaurant industry outside of cooking. The topics might be less glamorous than Gordon Ramsay’s rise to the top, but they’re also more relatable to the majority of people in the industry.
Notable episode: “Parenthood in Restaurants” This episode serves as a unique look into the challenges of being a parent while working in the restaurant industry.
Weird Work became that podcast for HubSpot. It focuses on the stories of people with non-traditional careers who are outside the standard norm of work. The podcast has interviewed the head knight at Medieval Times and a professional wingman, just to name a couple.
According to Brown, the podcast is an attempt to normalize and celebrate people with unconventional jobs. In that sense, it’s really a marriage of business and culture rolled into one podcast with an entertaining edge.
One of the biggest strokes of genius came in the promotion of Weird Work. The team decided to use the show’s ad placements to promote internal HubSpot marketing initiatives. Because of the overwhelming interest in the podcast from a new audience, Weird Work saw conversion rates for those initiatives, such as course signups, equal or surpass their efforts on social media.
“The team decided to use the show’s ad placements to promote internal HubSpot marketing initiatives. The podcast promos saw conversion rates equal or surpass their efforts on social media.”
Notable episode: “I perform with cats and rats for Cirque Du Sewer” This episode interviews Melissa Arleth, the founder of Cirque Du Sewer, a cats and rats circus. It’s both hilarious and insightful about that very specific niche Arleth runs.
There you have it — a few of our favorite brand podcasts. You, too, can create memorable brand content that engages your audience and builds affinity over time. Use these shows as inspiration for your next project, and start planning your podcast!