Marketers are charged with breaking through the noise and connecting with their audience. We’re not just sharing our message; we’re building a relationship with real people.

But why create podcasts? According to Fast Company, there are over 555,000 podcasts and 18.5 million episodes out there.

One reason is the power of sound. Says Alex Stein in a behind-the-scenes video for Searing for Salaì, “There’s a lot of power in audio. There’s a lot of power in connecting with people one-on-one in interviews or even like this … scripted podcast. It’s such a personal journey for the listener.”

And you can’t multitask reading the way you can listening.

Not Another Interview Podcast

Certainly, you can go the more traditional, journalistic route. You can interview marquee names in your space and—better—the subject matter experts at your company, like Synchrony does with its Business Schooled podcast.You’ll give your audience the value of learning something from some smart people. And when those smart people are your smart people, you go beyond giving value to demonstrating the expertise at your company.

But if you really want to stand apart and keep your audience coming back for more, you’ve got to push past the current limits of business podcasting, the way SAP did with Searching for Salaì.

Emotionally Connect with a Story

Searching for Salaì is a fictional investigational podcast, similar to Serial, Slow Burn, and S-Town, to name some of my personal favorites. The eight-part story is told by fictional podcaster Charlotte Warburton about her encounters with Jack Finney, who claims to be Leonardo da Vinci’s little-known apprentice Andrea Salaì who has traveled through time.

Who wouldn’t want to listen to a story that has the host questioning her sanity while investigating a man she’s drawn to and who tells her impossible things?

“We wanted something that would engage our audience and make them just kind of sit back and smile for a bit,” said Ginger Shimp, marketing strategist and brand storyteller at SAP and one of the executive producers of the podcast. “You don’t have to always be selling and marketing. You could just be building a relationship, and that’s what we wanted to do.”

As a producer of SAP’s podcast, Stein notes that there’s a broader purpose the team always came back to: “What are SAP’s and Leonardo’s brand values and what do they stand for? What kind of change are they looking to make in the world, and how can we make that come out in the podcast?”

“We live and breathe all day long our customer success stories. We’re always looking at what they learned,” says Shimp in the behind-the-scenes video. “The story that we ultimately landed on morphed a little bit over time, but it stayed pretty true to its core concept. And the pieces that morphed were not because we all of a sudden said, ‘Time travel isn’t possible with blockchain. What, are you crazy?’ We all said, ‘Well, yeah, someday, you know, who knows? Maybe you can do it!’ … It’s actually pretty exciting to think that way.”

More Than a Podcast

One of the challenges of podcasting is getting your podcast found. When the podcast then has to lead listeners to a next step, you’ve got an even bigger challenge.

Searching for Salaì has two related blogs. The first is fictional and authored by a character in the story; the audience can more deeply engage with the story—or the blog could lead readers to the podcast. The second one connects Salaì to the real world. It explores what SAP calls the “Digital Renaissance”—innovative technologies SAP works in, like big data, machine learning, and blockchain.

SAP also published research reports in 15 industries—and then turned them into audiobooks so people could choose the format they liked best.

Getting the word out about all this content involved a lot of the promotional tactics we’re familiar with: social, email, newsletters, and word of mouth. The company hired a PR firm to help, and both Shimp and Jeff Janiszewski, SAP marketing director and an executive producer of the podcast, have done podcast interviews. In addition, the content marketing agency they worked with, Column Five, created a video trailer and will do further promotion. There were also teaser videos for each episode and a behind-the-scenes video.

Scaling for Your Brand

The digital world is constantly hungry for fresh content, says Shimp, and prospects jump in and out of the buyer’s journey at “nearly unpredictable points.”

Giving your audience the content they crave on their preferred platform is vital.

You may not be able to match the breadth and depth of SAP’s campaign, but there are ideas you can use:

  • What’s a different story from the usual case studies and interviews that you can tell, even a fictional one that relates to your brand?
  • How can you deliver your story differently? Does someone in your company have a “radio voice,” perfect for reading your case studies and whitepapers?
  • Cover all the basics of promotion, and then start thinking creatively.

Most importantly, keep your audience wanting more. The last episode of Salaì hints that there might be a second season. When I asked Shimp about it, she said they were planning 2019 and didn’t “want to tip our hand yet about the details.”

I know I’ll be eager to see what they do next.

Love podcasts? Check out AMA Boston’s Talking Marketing Podcast. You’ll get tips from experts in the industry!


  • Erin Brenner

    Erin Brenner has been writing and editing marketing copy since 1998. Her firm, Right Touch Editing, has won two NEDMA awards for writing. Erin speaks frequently at editing conferences and gives webinars on marketing and editing. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.