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Shopify aims to boost its brand through podcasts, not traditional ads

Shopify’s TGIM podcast was created by Vancouver-based Pacific Content, established in 2014 to help brands develop content that consumers would “be happy to see in their Facebook feed or Twitter feed,” says founder and co-owner Steve Pratt, the former director of digital at CBCmusic.ca.

Shopify Inc. has joined the growing list of companies turning to podcasts, an older form of digital media gaining increased popularity, to drive brand awareness.

This week, Shopify launched a new audio podcast for entrepreneurs called TGIM (Thank God It's Monday), which includes inspirational stories about entrepreneurs that turned their ideas into a successful startup – much like the founders of the Ottawa retail software company that went public last spring.

Mark Macdonald, Shopify's content marketing manager, says they like the audio format of a podcast because it's portable and available on-demand, similar to what Netflix offers for TV and movies. Shopify also wanted to avoid the traditional advertising route to lure new business, he says.

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"We would much rather be the content than the advertising … by creating something that people want to consume, rather than interrupting with something they want to ignore," Mr. Macdonald says.

Shopify is the latest brand to jump on the podcasting bandwagon, following the success of Serial, a true crime podcast released in October 2014 that was a spin off of the radio program This American Life.

Podcasts are a "natural progression" of how consumers digest online content, says Doug Stephens, a retail consultant and founder of Retail Prophet.

"Podcasts are an easier and more sensory means of enjoying web content," Mr. Stephens says.

He also says consumers are gravitating towards mediums that allow them to multitask while consuming content.

"Podcasts are preferred by many because you're able to do other things such as work, drive and cook while listening," Mr. Stephens says.

The move is also part of Shopify's desire to be seen as a media company, not just a software player. It's a similar philosophy behind brands like Red Bull, which has its own TV channel to help drive brand awareness. Brands are looking for ways around the hard sell of TV and online advertising, which consumers are increasingly able to skip through or block.

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Mr. Macdonald says Shopify's goal is to reach budding entrepreneurs early, who could then potentially use its ecommerce platform down the road.

"They may not be ready to start a business just yet, but maybe they're thinking about it," Mr. Macdonald says. "We want to give them a way to begin a relationship with our company that allows them to get value and when they're ready to be able to go down the journey of starting a business, they already know us."

David Soberman, a marketing professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, says Shopify's TGIM brand for the podcast is clever, given the target audience.

"They've captured something special about entrepreneurs," Mr. Soberman says. "While the vast majority of the people in the world work to live … entrepreneurs building a company live to work." They look forward to Monday, he says.

The podcast platform is also a good way for brands to deliver content to a target audience, while at the same time building website traffic, goodwill and providing information to new and existing customers that they find useful, Mr. Soberman says.

Shopify's TGIM podcast was created by Vancouver-based Pacific Content, established in 2014 to help brands develop content that consumers would "be happy to see in their Facebook feed or Twitter feed," says founder and co-owner Steve Pratt, the former director of digital at CBCmusic.ca.

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He said podcasts were huge a decade ago when he was making them at CBC, but were eventually overshadowed by other digital and social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and online music streaming companies.

"It's strange to be back in this time when podcasts are suddenly huge again," says Mr. Pratt. "More people are understanding that podcasting is like Netflix for radio and there is really good stuff out there than can make their commutes better or their workouts."

Pacific Content's first podcast client was Slack, the messaging app for teams. It's newer clients include online receptionist company Envoy and U.S.-based educational software company Hobsons, both of which are set to launch podcasts in the coming weeks.

Other owners behind Pacific Content include entrepreneur Rob Leadley and two other former CBC staffers, Jennifer Ouano and Chris Boyce. Mr. Boyce is the former executive director of radio and audio at the CBC who parted ways with the public broadcaster last year in the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal.

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About the Author
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Brenda Bouw is a freelance writer and editor based in Vancouver. She has more than 20 years of experience as a business reporter, including at The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Press, the Financial Post and was executive producer at BNN (formerly ROBTv). Brenda was also part of the Globe and Mail reporting team that won the 2010 National Newspaper Award for business journalism. More

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