It began in 2004. A software dev, Dave Winer, and former MTV VJ, Adam Curry, collaborated on a program that would be the first spark in what’s now a raging inferno of creativity and craft. Their program was called iPodder, and it led to the creation of the phenomenon we now know as podcasts.1
Much as YouTube achieved for video content, podcasts have brought the barrier of entry to nearly nil. It’s not an exaggeration to say that anyone with a modern smartphone has the technology to record a podcast. Though radio carryovers like NPR are popular content producers, unlikely names like blogger and entrepreneur Rachel Hollis and comedian and UFC personality, Joe Rogan, can also be found among top-downloaded shows.
The Growing Popularity of Podcasting
As the popularity of podcasting skyrocketed over the years (true crime podcast Serial reached an estimated 40 million downloads by December of 2014)2, it has quickly become a phenomenon well worth the attention of brands. If you’re not currently exploring how the medium could benefit your company, you should be – chances are, your competitors are.
According to Podcast Insights, there are currently more than 550,000 podcasts, collectively leading to more than 18.5 million episodes available for consumption, and recorded in more than 100 languages.3 But is there anyone listening? All signs definitively point to a resounding “Yes.” Looking to Podcast Insights again, 44% of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast, a number that has grown by four percent in just one year. Some 16 million Americans would go as far as to consider themselves “avid podcast fans.”3 If today’s data is any indicator, that number will only continue growing with time.
But what is the reason for this popularity and steady growth? The high quality of content and the vast variety of shows for every niche under the sun certainly have something to do with it, but I look to blogs when I think of the most substantial causes for this podcasting boom.
Podcasting, as a creative and informative outlet, is far harder to replicate than blogs. Where a blog can be copied, reworded and passed off as an original thought, a podcast simply cannot. Even if some nefarious podcasting copycat was to literally lift the format and topics from another show, the effect could never be the same as that original work. That’s because a podcast is a performance. One you can edit after the fact, sure, but one that must be performed at the time of recording. In that sense, it’s performance art that is far harder to carbon copy than a blog post.
IGN, one of the most popular sites for video game and entertainment news, recently discovered that editor, Filip Miucin, plagiarized a large portion of his work form bloggers, YouTubers and even a co-worker in one instance. This incident acts to underline both the ease of plagiarism in online written media and how it has caused many blogs and articles to run together, draining into a sea of regurgitated knowledge. If it can happen under the nose of professional journalists, you better believe your online written content is up for grabs.
Beyond the issue of copy-and-paste culture proliferating blogs across the web, there is another major factor that has helped podcasts succeed where written digital content never could – ease of use. You cannot safely or efficiently read a blog while driving to work, walking the dog or folding laundry. (We’d dare you to try but can’t handle that kind of liability.) What may seem like a limitation on face value is actually quite the opposite. Audio may not have the production or eye-catching appeal of video, its ease of consumption more than makes up for that deficit. In many cases, podcasts can act as an alternative to music – one that can inform, entertain and market to an audience that is all ears for more.
Putting Podcasts to Work
Though I have waxed poetic on the many benefits of podcasting and how this medium has seen success in recent years, what does this all add up to for brands and marketers? Quite a lot, actually.
Marketers would do well to consider podcasts in two highly beneficial ways:
Do it Yourself
The low barrier to entry and relatively low budget required to start and maintain a podcast means that you could be producing content in no time. Be warned, though – podcasting is firmly in the category of things harder to do than they seem. They take a mix of time, talent and practice, meaning a phoned-in show may do more harm than good.
I recommend you study the craft, listening to shows of brands you respect. See what works for others, but then also revisit your brand’s unique persona and identify the audience you are trying to reach.
Is a podcast the right way to reach those people? Perhaps, but you must go into it with a strategy in mind (time is money, after all). Consistency is key, so if you decide to post every Monday at 11 am, it is crucial that you keep to your schedule or risk losing listeners. Additionally, keep in mind that a podcast should not be a 30-minute ad. You need to provide listeners with valuable opinions, expert advise or entertainment – it is only through engaging content that your audience will keep coming back for more.
As a budding medium, companies have chomped at the bit to advertise to the millions subscribed to podcasts all over the world. According to an article on The Mission Podcasts 4 referencing a 2016 survey by IAB / Edison Research, podcast ads and sponsorships led to:
45% visiting sponsor’s website
42% considering a new product or service
37% gathering more information about a company or product
29% reading a book
28% using a promotional code referenced in podcast
According to venture investors at CRV, Justine and Olivia Moore, IAB reports that, “…60% of podcast ad revenue comes from host-read ads.”5 Though podcasts are not regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, “shout-outs,” ad breaks, or endorsements weaved into conversation are still bound by the rules of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). To put it simply, you cannot expect a podcast to endorse your product or service without disclosing that this endorsement is ad-based. Even if you only provide the podcast with goods or samples instead of a cash payment, this exchange must be openly disclosed to the audience as to avoid any deceptive practices.
With shows that often target highly specific slices of the population, podcasts offer marketers a fantastic opportunity to reach their demographics and quite literally get into the heads of their target audiences.
Though there are many effective ways to get your company involved in podcasting, starting your own podcast or advertising on an already successful show are two of the most practical avenues to explore first. With a captive fanbase that is only showing signs of continued growth for years to come, podcasting could become quite a lucrative arm of your marketing strategy.
“People are really listening and want to consume all of the content that is there and available. There’s a level of dedication that comes from podcast listeners that you otherwise don’t find. And now the numbers prove it. Podcasts aren’t a bubble, they’re a boom–and that boom is getting louder.”
-Miranda Katz for Wired.com
From its humble beginnings on iPodder to a true giant of online media that reaches millions around the world every day, podcasting is a powerful tool for marketers and brands to become better storytellers, reach more targeted audiences and, hopefully, gain new customers more efficiently than ever before. Now that’s something I think we can all “subscribe” to.