Changing Channels of Communication

The landscape in which brands communicate is constantly evolving, brands who want to reach their target audiences need to adapt the ways in which they reach consumers. Recently, the most notable industry-wide change has seen the rise of the influencer – originally considered as autonomous, authentic and trustworthy reviewers. The ‘influencer’ label has recently become somewhat tarnished and even derided by some. Brands were quick to get on board with the influencer movement, and who can blame them when there was access to a huge online market. Social media platforms also adapted quickly, with Instagram introducing shoppable links in stories.

Increasingly, the industry is experiencing an influx of influencers – with reports surfacing about angry Notting Hill residents expressing their bemusement at influencers posing against a (now infamous) cherry blossom tree, in order to create one of the most coveted street-style shots in London. This means brands are concerned about cutting through the levels of noise put out by influencers. This feeling is subsequently echoed in the content put out by influencers - another step that makes them feel as though they have to give more of themselves – many of them claim that their most popular content by far is that which divulges excruciatingly personal details, and influencers are being asked to give more of themselves.

 
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Consumer interaction is the way forward

Social media platforms themselves have taken interaction to a deeper level, most recently through tools such as Instagram’s Q&A feature, quizzes, polls and sliders options on stories. These new depths of interaction have been noted by some as blurring the lines of advertising, where does the genuine review end and paid brand promotion begin? Regarding authenticity as a commodity is a dangerous game and can be a tricky landscape for brands to navigate.

Previously, consumer interaction had been lauded as the way forward – we’ve all read the sassy retorts from Sainsbury’s social media team and who can forget poor unsuspecting American citizen John Lewis, who is bombarded with tweets about an advert every Christmas. Teamed with the negative furore associated with the catastrophe that was Fyre Festival, some brands have decided it is time for a change and are pursuing a fresh approach.

Sophie Elmhirst wrote for The Guardian earlier this year, “Last year, the cumulative effect of events like these led to a spate of industry-press articles proclaiming the death of influencer marketing. Some insiders felt there was a danger that trust in digital celebrities had been so eroded as to render them worthless. In a speech last summer, Unilever’s chief marketing officer Keith Weed called on the influencer ecosystem to “rebuild trust before it’s gone for ever.”

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Our obsession with authenticity in a hyper-curated age is something Pandora Sykes explored in her recent essay for independent publisher, The Pound Project, monikered The Authentic Lie. In this she speaks about how authenticity is in danger of becoming “something to be bought and sold. Dispatches of the authentic self are posted into the empty vessels of social media so that they fill up, like a jar stuffed with Post-it notes about who we think, or hope, we are.”

When looking to other channels to get the balance right when it comes to personality and brand, there is a movement currently handing the microphone back to the people behind the brand.

Finding a solution

But what is the solution? One way to be the face of a brand and give an intimate offering would be to do a podcast. Podcasting or audio-blogging, as it was once called, was established in the 1980s but didn’t become popular until 2004 and has been growing in popularity ever since. Ofcom reported that in the UK, 6 million people listen to a podcast each week. Podcasts are a tool which for all intents and purposes feels personal and interactive to the listener, whilst still maintaining direct communications, therefore making it a useful channel to frequent as a brand.

In the age of authenticity, the podcast strikes a great balance, allowing access to a person of note within a controlled environment, it is the perfect opportunity to express personality and individuality without compromising your brand.

When telling a story or conveying thoughts, context is key – this is why it is so easy for quotes from an interview to be taken out of context or misinterpreted by the reader. With a podcast, you have that context, you can hear the tone of voice in which the subject is speaking.

 
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Kent Lewis from the Online Marketing Institute added, “There are a variety of reasons for brands to podcast regularly, generating brand awareness, thought leadership and engagement are all strong factors. At a time where authenticity and transparency are held in high regard, this tool offers brands the right balance of both without compromising brand values.”

No wonder, then, that Podcasts are growing at such as fast rate, according to research company Ovum, the global number of podcast listeners is due to hit 1.85bn in 2023. Businesses have already caught on to the trend, with The Guardian reporting that Spotify has plans to spend $500million on leading producers for podcasts in 2019. Corporations have also cottoned on, with stalwarts such as the BBC even launching the new BBC Sounds app which allows listeners to hear shows later at their convenience.

Unlike traditional media, great podcast content is available to a mass audience through non-traditional players. Making relevant self-subscribed audiences much more accessible and relevant, as well meaning the content is evergreen.

Podcasts also offer the popular on-demand aspect that the time-poor ‘Netflix generation’ needs – you can listen at the gym, on your way to work or whilst walking the dog. This kind of content consumption is key not only for the listener but also for brands, as the content has a long shelf-life, making this a great option as an alternative channel of communication for brands.