NEW YORK, United States — The new beauty floor at Saks has everything you might expect from a high-end emporium working to prove itself in the digital age: a custom foundation bar, a facial workout gym and, as of last week, a podcast in residence.
Earlier this month, Jodi Katz recorded an episode of “Where Brains Meet Beauty” — an interview with mind-body workout guru Taryn Toomey — from a small stage at the centre of the department store’s maze of warmly lit makeup counters. Katz, the founder of Base Beauty Creative Agency, will each month host a live episode of her show, which ranks number 18 in Apple Podcast’s Fashion & Beauty rankings.
Saks joins a wave of fashion and beauty companies turning to podcasts. Longform audio serves as another platform, like video before it, for these brands to speak directly to their most loyal fans, offering what’s positioned as an authentic glimpse behind the scenes. And the audience, though still small for many branded podcasts, has potential to grow along with the medium; in 2018, 48 million people in the United States alone tuned in to podcasts each week, a number that’s up six million from 2017, according to Edison Research.
“This format allows us to reach a much broader audience, both in-store and on a national level,” said Kate Oldham, the senior vice president and general manager of beauty, jewellery and home at Saks. “Podcasts tell a longer and more intimate story and Jodi has the ability to connect with her guests on a very personal level.”
Last May, Barneys New York debuted season one of "The Barneys Podcast," a series of conversations between top Barneys employees, including chief executive Daniella Vitale, and beloved fashion faces like the designer Heron Preston. Season two, which kicked off in September, follows a similar format but is hosted by former Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive.
Sephora held live recordings of the comedy-driven beauty podcast “Glowing Up” at stores in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, and sponsored a six-part podcast series from Girlboss Media called #LIPSTORIES, named after a recent Sephora Collection lipstick launch.
Luxury brands — rarely early adopters of digital marketing practices — are experimenting with the format as well.
No one is willing to tell in-depth brand stories anymore, so podcasts give brands a platform on which to do that.
In 2017, Chanel debuted its "3.55" podcast in-store at the famed Paris retailer Colette as a celebration of the store’s final days before it closed that December. Hosted by the journalist Daphné Hézard, the show’s first iteration featured conversations with friends of the house like Pharrell Williams. Since then, “3.55” has cycled through themed series like “Handbag Stories” (anecdotes from assorted Chanel bag lovers like model Soo Joo Park) and, most recently, “Chanel at the Opera” (conversations on creativity with choreographers, dancers and actors).
Gucci followed this past May with "The Gucci Podcast," interviews with house creative director Alessandro Michele’s collaborators, including singer Florence Welch and the Harlem designer Dapper Dan. Each episode is recorded in a different location and meant to paint a more vivid picture of the brand’s larger story according to one person familiar with the show’s production.
In June, Maison Margiela launched "The Memory Of… with John Galliano," a program that, like Gucci’s, gives listeners a deeper look into the inspirations behind Margiela’s latest collections and product launches.
“No one is willing to tell in-depth brand stories anymore, so podcasts give brands a platform on which to do that,” said Dana Schwartz, the founder of PR firm The Hours Agency. “To not only control but really expand on the brand narrative.”
Jason Goldberg, the chief commerce strategy officer at Publicis, sees it as a modern expansion of luxury brands’ legacy.
“They’ve always been rich storytellers and content creators,” he said, pointing to their history of publishing house magazines and editorial-rich catalogues. “The podcast is a rising format within that same tradition.”
Since the overall investment involved in podcasting is very low, especially for luxury brands that aren’t strapped for cash, it’s an easy experiment for brands to test out. Costs usually involve a few hundred dollars for equipment and online hosting fees ranging between $30 and $50 per month, according to those with experience in their production. Since most brands recruit a host from inside their ranks, paying more for a host is often avoided.
While podcast listeners tend to skew male, female listeners are driving much of the industry’s growth — their total monthly listenership jumped 14 percent in 2018. Just under one-quarter of American women now listen to podcasts each month, compared to 27 percent of American men. Taken together, Americans are now listening to an average of 7 different podcasts per week and the medium is most popular with people aged 24–54.
The market demographics certainly make sense for fashion and beauty brands, which target female customers with disposable income. However, the audience for a deep dive into a designer’s inspiration or Chanel’s take on opera is often narrow.
Podcasts are a great tactic — they just won’t be your broadest reach tactic.
None of the podcasts mentioned in this story are listed in Apple Podcasts' Top 200 rankings, whose placements are determined by a show’s number of subscribers, downloads, ratings, and reviews. The same is true on Stitcher, another popular platform for streaming podcasts, where list placement is determined by unique listeners.
Although each show has near-perfect ratings on Apple, those numbers carry less weight when considered alongside the number of overall reviews. The Barneys Podcast leads the group, with 190 reviews, followed by Margiela, which has 53 reviews, Gucci 38 and Chanel 14. The top podcast in Apple’s Fashion & Beauty category, “Pretty Basic with Alisha Marie and Remi Cruz,” boasts 19,372 reviews.
“Where Brains Meet Beauty,” the podcast now being held live at Saks Fifth Avenue each month, has 150,000 downloads, according to founder Katz. Barneys New York would only offer that their following was growing steadily, while the other brands declined to comment.
None of these shows are inspiring much social traction with fans, either, said Leah Adams, head of marketing and communication at Tribe Dynamics, which measures the earned media value of fashion and beauty brands each month. The few that do mention these shows tend to be those involved in the creation of the podcast or a featured guest.
Though the audiences may be small, they could prove an effective way to find and engage with super-fans, much like how brands work with micro-influencers who forge deep connections with their followers.
“Podcasts are a great tactic — they just won’t be your broadest reach tactic,” said Goldberg. “You tend to get only your most zealous audience but you get a really quality engagement with them.”
It’s certainly more lucrative than advertising on another brand’s podcast, a system for which metrics and analytics “are really flawed,” he said, noting that they’re notoriously hard to parse and quantify.
But to get the most out of the medium, live podcasting in the vein of Saks Fifth Avenue and Sephora is probably the best route, even if the costs are slightly higher, according to Colleen Leddy, the chief media officer at Droga5.
“It drives more engagement and creates a longer lifespan for the podcast,” she said.