What true crime podcasts can teach brands about creating a better customer experience

They’re a hugely popular newcomer in the media mix, but what can we earn from podcasts, and in particular, true crime podcasts? Edge's Abbie Dubin-Rhodin investigates.

While podcasts were ‘invented’ in 2004, they enjoyed 10 years as a niche market for dedicated radio show listeners until the launch of Serial in 2014. The first of its kind, the show ushered in something of a golden age of podcasts. The genre that’s experienced not only the most rapid, but sustained growth is the one that started it all – true crime.

The true crime podcast genre is noisy. Whereas brands in most categories can differentiate through price discounts or product innovations, podcasts have to figure out a way to stand out despite all having similar formats, platforms, and pricing models (aka free). For podcasts, creating a unique and valuable customer experience is cost of entry for success and, surprisingly, the hosts talking about the goriest stuff have built up some of the most loyal customer bases.

Based on a rigorous, data-driven methodology – aka a couple of weeks of slightly heavier than usual podcast binging – I identified three key ways brands can learn from the CX of true crime podcasts.

Know your exact audience and create for them

Who is using your brand? What are their motivations for using it? What will make them use it exclusively or at least preferentially? These are basic questions brands should ask themselves, and yet many never make it past answering the first.

A prime example of creating with your unique audience in mind is the podcast My Favourite Murder (MFM). Despite 56% of the general podcast listening audience being male, true crime podcasts tend to have majority female audiences. This is particularly true for the MFM podcast, which boasts an 80% female listener base.

Demographically that’s interesting, but it only answers that first core question: who is the customer? If we look further into the literature on why so many women are seeking out true crime content, we discover actionable insights.

From a general psychological perspective, women (on average) are able to empathise better than men, leading them to feel a sense of empathy for the plight of true crime victims, and driving them in turn to learn more about them. Researchers have also found that women fear being a victim of violent crime more than men, and true crime media allows them to learn more from a safe distance, while accumulating potential life-saving tips and tools.

Just in those two data points are a proper jumping off point for developing a killer (pun intended) true crime podcast for women. And yet, it’s not really the focus of the majority of podcasts. That’s one of the reasons MFM is able to retain more women than any other podcast of its scale and popularity – it actually creates with this audience in mind.

The two hosts are women, but that’s not necessarily unique to the true crime landscape. It’s the way in which they approached the topic that set them apart. Like many true crime podcasts, MFM reviews a different crime every week. Rather than simply partake in a general review of the case, the hosts pepper in tangential stories about their personal lives, struggles with mental health and commentary on the ways in which society has trained women to remain passive in situations that prove to threaten their safety.

MFM has tapped directly into the fears and discomfort that drive women to binge on true crime shows across different media. Rather than dancing around it, the hosts confront these fears head on, encouraging their listeners to prioritise their safety and wellbeing should they find themselves in questionable situations, creating catchy taglines like “Fuck politeness” and “Stay sexy, don’t get murdered,” that act as rallying cries for their hundreds of thousands of weekly listeners.

Prioritise dialogue and community building, regardless of constraints

Most podcasts build fan communities around their digital and social channels, as well as through rigorous touring schedules that allow at least some, if not all of their shows to be recorded in front of a live audience.

Case Files, an Australian true crime podcast, has created a similar community despite the host of the podcast remaining anonymous, which eliminates the opportunity for fans to meet him or participate in live recordings. In creating this constraint for the brand, they’ve had to become more creative with how they build relationships with their audience. Case Files has a robust social following, with 37.3k followers on Facebook and 26.4k followers on Twitter. The team has also built a dedicated website, as well as additional avenues for content creation, including a regular newsletter and a soon-to-launch Case Files magazine.

Pretty good community building for a brand determined to mask the identity of its primary creator.

Reward loyalty relevantly

Loyalty programs have come under a lot of scrutiny lately, with a lot of think pieces positing that they may have actually just been the greatest marketing hoax of the 21st century. So can they work at all? They seem to be for true crime podcasts.

Our friends over at Case Files are backed by Patreon, a platform that allows fans to pay a fee to support the creators they like in return for greater access to content, promotions, and deals. Through Patreon, Case Files hosts AMAs, live chats with the anonymous host, and updates on cases not found on its larger website.

It’s an interesting model, one that shouldn’t naturally work; after all, podcasts are free… why would you pay for something you’re already getting for free? Customers, even ones who really like your brand, are going to be hesitant to dedicate regular dollars for nothing in return.

Building a community works to generate loyalty, it makes your brand part of the consumer’s sense of identity and includes it in their habitual behaviours. It also rewards people who are simply listening, and not dedicating any money toward the brand. It demonstrates that the brand isn’t ‘in it for the money,’ but rather wants to provide a valuable experience to every listener.

The loyalty schemes are similar to most in that they provide greater rewards to greater donors. At the same time, the ground level for donations (and thus loyal customer status) is low; like $1 a month low. For that $1, the gate is lifted to unique, bespoke content, access to hosts via live chats and AMAs, and in some cases, additional podcasts.

Sword and Scale created an additional show for supporters that donate $5 or more monthly called Sword and Scale Plus. This provides a low-cost option for customer loyalty, rewarding that loyalty with something those listeners genuinely want – more podcasts. Rather than forcing people to accumulate random point totals with a promise for a potential benefit in a vague future, true crime podcasts allow listeners to self-select as loyalists, and provide them with a direct set of benefits that specifically align to their interests.

This all sounds pretty easy right?

Just create for your audience, prioritise dialogue and community building, and generate opportunities for and reward the loyalty of customers.

Of course it’s all easier said than done, but as with many things, brands can stand to benefit greatly by looking to entities that weren’t designed to be capital B brands in the first place.

Abbie Dubin-Rhodin is a senior strategist at Edge. 


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