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Small Businesses Use Audio to Build Their Brands

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Want to win over customers? Play them some songs.

When it comes to making a splash on social media, video is clearly king—but audio is gaining fast. The audience is booming for content like podcasts and music playlists that can be shared online. One popular spot for hosting audio, SoundCloud, has an audience of 175 million unique listeners every month.

For the most part, small companies haven’t tapped these services as a marketing tool. But experts say audio represents a great opportunity for entrepreneurs as more people turn to these services to find content to pass the time while traveling or working out, or as a background soundtrack during the day. And in some cases audio involves a much smaller investment of time and effort than putting together a video: A playlist, for instance, can be set up and shared in minutes.

Here are some strategies from experts and entrepreneurs for making the most of online audio.

Let’s start with playlists—groups of tracks or even albums that can be created at a third-party streaming service such as Spotify or hosted as a music podcast on SoundCloud. Businesses can share lists through social media, e-newsletters, blog posts and their own website to build awareness with potential customers searching for music, or solidify relationships with existing customers, giving them reasons to come back to the site.

Pros say this approach has many advantages. Along with the easy setup, they say, playlists don’t come across as marketing the way a status update about a new product might, so they are more likely to get customers to engage with a brand. Music is also a way to build a community of followers who share similar tastes in music. Small businesses can even set up playlists to be collaborative, so the community can suggest and add new songs, experts say.

Some businesses have gone further and put together custom playlists of original music, like Frank & Oak, a Canadian menswear brand. Two years ago, the company’s co-founder, Ethan Song, wanted to create a soundtrack that embodied the character of the brand and would appeal to the musical tastes of his customers. He commissioned local DJs to create original mixtapes that he hosted on SoundCloud and played in his retail stores.

The only advertising Mr. Song did was to mention the new releases in the customer newsletter and on social media, which drew hundreds of thousands of plays and comments. New mixtapes noticeably drove traffic to the company’s website every month. “Music helps us to connect with our customers,” says Mr. Song. (The company is working on a new plan for its music, so its mixes aren’t available on SoundCloud.)

Don’t be generic.

When choosing music, it’s important to aim for a feel that matches the business. “An organic grocery store might choose subtle acoustic music over electronic. It would psychologically make people feel at home when in the store,” says Rich Jankovich, co-author of a book on brand building. “You want to choose music that fits the brand, tells the company story and is at the same time appropriate to the audience.”

He also advises owners to add variety in genre and era. “There’s nothing preventing you from leading with ‘Ventura Highway’ by America and going into Treetop Flyers’ ‘Things Will Change.’ The two songs would live very well together because musically they sound similar. But they have different meanings to different generations,” says Mr. Jankovich. The America song offers a sense of warmth and nostalgia for older generations, while millennial audiences might associate the Treetop Flyers song with being mysterious and introspective.

Owners should also consider offering listeners different selections that complement different activities, such as working, commuting or running. Mr. Jankovich advises getting playful, such as a playlist to have with your morning coffee that includes music about coffee. But avoid creating overly generic playlists, such as top 10 hits of the 1960s, he says, because they will get lost among the thousands of similar playlists.

Another simple way to tailor a playlist is to ride the social-media coattails of events like local concerts or holidays, presenting offerings that feature Christmas music or music from the bands at the shows.

Mark Partin, co-owner of B/Spoke, a spinning gym in Boston, recently had his instructorsfill their playlists with bands that played at the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival in Indio, Calif. “Many more people share the playlists across our social media when it can be linked to events like Coachella,” he says.

Stay on topic.

Creating podcasts takes more work for small-business owners, but experts say they can be a powerful way to build customer loyalty. “The human voice is very expressive and you’re putting stories about the company directly into the ears of a captive audience that’s trying to escape from a long commute or a rote task at work,” says author and social-media expert Ann Handley. “That can be a powerful way to turn casual listeners into followers of the brand.”

Obviously, the pros say, owners should focus on areas where they have expertise. During the show, speakers should maintain an easy banter but not digress too much. And it’s worth investing in equipment and expertise to keep production value high.

It’s also important to maintain a regular production schedule so that listeners will get into the habit of visiting the business’s site regularly, recommends John Lee Dumas, who posts a new interview daily for his “Entrepreneur on Fire” business podcast. Mr. Dumas has built an audience of nearly 250,000 followers on SoundCloud, millions of plays and corporate sponsors that have made his podcast self-supporting.

Mr. Dumas also notes that business owners should consider what platform to use for their podcasts. Although “Entrepreneur on Fire” is available on iTunes and Stitcher radio, he likes SoundCloud because of the commenting feature that allows listeners to post feedback for any specific point of the podcast. Mr. Dumas says he has used listener comments to help him fine-tune his show over the years.

Put old content to work.

Business owners don’t have to start entirely from scratch when they begin making podcasts. If they’ve created blog posts or videos, they can repurpose that content—running the audio of an interview, for example, or transcribing and reading blog posts.

Deejay Scharton, who runs a video-production company in Vancouver, Wash., has been producing a weekly video chat about the indie filmmaking scene that he live streams to his YouTube channel. He simultaneously records the show as a podcast on his SoundCloud account. “I got hundreds of requests from viewers that wanted something that they could listen to while commuting,” says Mr. Scharton, who also sends Snapchat videos to subscribers while doing the show and summarizes the discussion on his blog after each show is completed. “It doesn’t take much effort to do both.”

He also suggests that small-business owners do podcasts where they chat with guests from blogs who have larger online followings than their own, to expose their work to a wider audience.

You can read the full article here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/small-businesses-use-audio-to-build-their-brands-1448248062