Why podcasts are good for brains and for business

Marketers should look to podcasting for examples of how content can inspire as well as engage

As a teenager I was known as the daydreamer. The girl with her head in the books who even read whilst she walked home from school. In fact, my older sister often told me off for not concentrating enough on our walks home – traffic flying by – but that's how much I loved to get lost in a story. This was all before instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok and all those other apps existed, of course; Spending time on one thing was far easier then. 

Nowadays, I often feel a little bit sad that despite my best efforts and intentions to read a book, I start with a few chapters and can quickly get distracted. Even watching a film feels too much of a time commitment in comparison to watching a 30-minute episode of something on Netflix, and yet we dedicate hours, until Netflix asks you the embarrassing question, ‘are you still watching’ - an indication you’ve been on the sofa way too long (and probably could have watched the film after all). 

It’s clear that ‘sticking with it’ and staying attentive is getting tougher and tougher in 2023 than it was in the 90s. The advertising industry speaks about ‘time spent’ a lot – whether that’s watching a 30-second ad or 30-minute podcast episode – and we’re all familiar with this subject. Still, we don’t often gear marketing campaigns towards formats and platforms that encourage time spent well, in a positive way that’s immersive, helpful and good for our brains. I’ve found this to be a rare commodity in the industry. 

So, where can we find it, and how can we help people get information without selling them stuff they don’t want? I still remember when I heard Paul Feldwick say at an event he was speaking at that it’s important to “be a delightful guest in peoples’ homes” when it comes to advertising - cautioning us marketers to act with care and respect to the target audience when developing ads that are amusing and charming, versus distracting and intrusive. Though he was speaking of ads in the early 2000s, today, marketers create content that draws in people. I still have Feldwick’s advice stuck in my head as I progress in my marketing career. 

It also led me to think about how to approach my own podcast. When I started the journey of developing ‘Behind the Face of Success’, it was created to actually help young people who are searching for answers about their future and who they could be to learn from inspiring role models, but also learn in the most helpful and truthful way, that can prepare them for what the real world looks like, rather than the social media version that we all see in our feeds. 

Most importantly, it was designed to inspire and be a story you can get lost in, just like the stories that kept my head in books as a little girl. Each episode speaks about wins, fails and learns — sharing helpful information that sets clear paths of what life is truly like in a particular career. But what I found most surprising was the number of adults that have resonated with the content; people who just needed to feel like they weren’t alone in their journeys or wanted to hear how to navigate their days by getting advice from people they may associate as a mentor. Those are the positive associations that are often less spoken about. Ones that give you a sense of belonging. Ones that say it’s ok to not be ok. Ones that assure you that you are doing the right thing. 

As an experienced marketer and the host of my own podcast, I recently started to think about the many benefits of audio and podcasts in general; what they can do for the brain and our mental stimulation in a positive and helpful way, especially as society is still dealing with the impact of the behavioural changes caused by the pandemic. One major example is a lack of belonging, which is usually created through strong social connections, and today we find ourselves more isolated. 

According to MyWellbeing, listening to podcasts can be beneficial to your mental and physical health, boosting your mood, encouraging imagination, reducing stress and anxiety, improves focus and attention span and much more. As a well established medium and (in my opinion) a more exciting sibling to classic radio, podcasts are often underrated for the positive benefits they can have on our mental health – acting as a source of inspiration, a place to get the news, gain more knowledge from experts and open up our perspectives. 

Drawing on my experience of interviewing guests on my show, I noticed a common theme among speakers: to gain knowledge and become better at their jobs, they would spend time listening to podcasts and audiobooks. An open-minded and curious individual is what ultimately makes a good podcast listener, and a 2022 study found that people who listened to podcasts were more open to experiences and craved knowledge-related curiosity and cognition — indicating a higher need for information searching. A perfect audience: one that is engaged, and the type of audience that marketers tend to chase after, given how quickly people are distracted. 

When looking to create content or even a podcast ad, I feel that asking questions like: "Will that be the best way to consume this information? Does this feel authentic? Will this help someone? Will this have a positive impact on someone's life?" are most valuable – instead of asking questions around "how many views will this get?", "can this format be reused on various media channels?", "can we get the message across in 15 seconds?". If we only focus on the latter, I suspect we'll continue to make stuff that people don't really want – and potentially create noise and distraction over more meaningful, relevant stories.

I really hope that the industry continues to create work that is positive, inspiring, helpful and teaches us stuff. Otherwise, why do we get into the business of making? Podcasts have personally taught me about an entirely new medium which can offer that. 

Look at how your customers are consuming your content: what’s the best way for your brand to show up? Try experimenting with different formats and storytelling that connects with consumers on different levels. My advice to content creators and marketers is to not only be a “delightful guest in peoples’ homes” but also play a helpful role in their lives in a positive way – and help them get lost in your stories too.