Blazing New Brand Trails: Dell’s Path to Podcasting

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A Note from National Public Media and NPR:  With audio content now just a tap or breath away, it should be no surprise that listening is up across radio, streaming, audiobooks and especially podcasting -- at the center of this audio renaissance, reaching 67 million monthly listeners across the U.S.  Brands are taking note.  In the last year, 76% of NPR sponsors turned to podcasts as part of their cross-platform campaigns, a double-digit increase over the previous year.  As this medium continues to expand, many brands are exploring custom formats for leveraging podcasts and audio, including developing original short-form audio creative and, in some cases, developing entire original podcasts.  Dell, a longtime NPR sponsor, has long leveraged traditional audio marketing to reach business leaders across platforms.  Recently, the company expanded its success with their audio initiatives with the launch of an original podcast, Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson.  As part of their promotional strategy,Dell launched a cross-platform sponsorship campaign to introduce the NPR podcast audience -- the largest in the industry -- to the program.  Developing an original podcast is a big investment and building an audience is just one part of the strategy.  Dell Technologies’ J.C. Gama, Global Brand Director, Dell Inc., and content producer, Steve Pratt, Co-founder, Pacific Content, agreed to share their experience creating Trailblazers and working with NPR and other partners to make it successful.

Four Podcasting Secrets to a Successful Launch

Dell Technologies is a new brand representing the family of companies brought together by the merger of Dell and EMC more than a year ago with a goal of helping transform businesses in this era of digital disruption.  Our challenge is to let C-Suite executives know who we are, what we stand for and how we can support their organizations.  One of our solutions was an original podcast series, Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson.

Why was audio the perfect medium for us?  Business leaders are constantly on the road and are interested in learning from other businesses and industries.  The popularity of podcasts is growing steadily (24% of Americans listen to podcasts, per The Podcast Consumer 2017 -- Edison & Triton), and podcasts are effective in reaching highly educated audiences.  Our internal research also shows that business leaders don’t want listicles.  They want compelling stories from other leaders who share similar challenges.

Podcasts are a powerful medium for telling intimate and engaging stories.  However, we had never produced a podcast at this scale before.  We didn’t know what to expect or how it would be received, so we partnered with Pacific Content, a firm that specializes in producing original podcast series with brands, and NPR for our paid promotion plan.  We are very encouraged with the results after only a few months.

Here are the key lessons we've learned along the way:

1. Audience First

Audiences have all the power.  From DVRs to ad blockers, we now have the choice for how, when and where we spend our attention.  When we’ve got choice, we choose things we love.  The choice for brands is clear:  We need to make more things people love. 

To do that, we had to think the way successful media companies like NPR and Netflix do.  We had to focus on making a great show that business leaders would want to listen to.  The content had to be authentic and entertaining.  That meant that the show could not be about the company, our products or our services.  After all, no one wants to download an infomercial.

As such, Trailblazers isn't a podcast about Dell Technologies at all.  Instead, we looked to create a series that aligns to our message of transformation and tells the world's best stories of disruption and innovation.  It's not hosted by one of our executives:  It’s hosted by Walter Isaacson (pictured at top), an expert in the field of innovation.

2. Light Brand Touch

When it comes to brand presence in a podcast, less is more.

In a Trailblazers episode, there are two brief mentions that the podcast is an original podcast from Dell Technologies.  That’s it.  There’s not even a tagline about digital transformation.  Why?  The entire show is built with our brand voice.  We focus on telling stories about disruption and innovation and how other business leaders can learn from them.  These stories help us further define our brand.

The great thing is that even without a heavy branding presence, we still get the credit.  We surveyed executives who listened to an episode and the aided and unaided brand recall was exceptional.  Brand favorability for Dell Technologies increased by 82 percent after listening to one of the episodes.

3. Tell Stories

Podcasting is a perfect medium for storytelling.  There is no visual element, so listeners create and imagine the stories in their minds with high levels of engagement.  Audiences remember stories more than facts and figures.  And so we designed our podcast with storytelling at its core. Isaacson guides listeners through amazing stories of disruption and innovation inside various industries.  As a listener, you go into the heads of leaders at pivotal points where the future of their entire company or industry is at stake.

The stories your brand chooses to tell will define you and set you apart from your competition.

4. Be Committed

Building a successful show and growing the audience requires patience and commitment.  We have been very successful in a very short period of time, but we know that this is a long journey.  We’ve had to do some fine-tuning to our approach along the way.  Making a compelling show isn’t enough.  There needs to be a comprehensive communications strategy to make sure the right audience discovers the show.

We did a targeted paid campaign with NPR to promote Trailblazers in other top business podcasts like How I Built This,TED Radio Hour andPlanet Money.  By matching subject matter, target audience and podcast listeners, it was a really effective spend.

We were fortunate that Isaacson was invited to appear on CBS This Morning, where they highlighted the podcast for an entire segment, catapulting it to the top spot on the Apple Podcasts Business charts within an hour.

Finally, activation through social media has also been a key driver, and we try to align the production of the episodes to key seasonal times or opportunities.  For example, we’ve just released a special episode about innovation lessons to be learned from Leonardo Da Vinci to coincide with the launch of Isaacson’s new book, Da Vinci.

After six months we’ve had over 1 million downloads, and more than 50,000 people have subscribed to hear future episodes.  Trailblazers has exceeded all our expectations.  Best of all, it has clearly defined our brand among our C-suite target audience.


Original podcasts can be very powerful, but they have to be done right.  Here are a few key questions to make sure you're on the right track:

  • Are you marketing this as a show or are you using the approaches that you use to market your products?  If so, you might need to adjust.
  • Is this truly an original show?  (Ask yourself:  "Would I listen to this podcast if I didn’t work here?")
  • Are there too many brand mentions in this show?
  • Is this a download of information or is it powerful storytelling?

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