How podcasts were born, circa 2004
Marketing bod: I’ve got an idea that will revolutionise the way we consume news, stories, business ideas, everything.
King of Business: Great! Let’s hear it.
Mb: We get people to chat about stuff, record it and put it on the internet.
KoB: Erm… okay, that’s called radio.
Mb: But we could put it on iTunes?
KoB: Let’s do this!
The present day
We love podcasts here at Woven. From Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History to Entrepreneurs on Fire, 99% Invisible to Serial, we listen to them on the way to the studio, whilst walking our dogs, when we should be listening to our better halves…
And we’re not the only ones.
Just like Gutenberg’s printing press or HTML, podcasting is a revolution of communication. It has democratised the spoken word medium – one long-monopolised by radio, and all the licenses and expensive equipment radio requires.
Podcasting, with almost no barriers to entry (a microphone, a headset and a hot topic), has generated thousands of shows and millions of regular listeners. About 10% of Brits routinely download podcasts, whilst 67 million of our American cousins listen to them every month.
But why do we love them? After all, they’re just radio shows in our pockets.
1. They’re radio shows in our pockets
Wow, a radio show in our pockets! Pretty damn fancy, eh? So when you fancy listening to a bit of comedy, the latest BBC drama or some pearls of wisdom from your favourite entrepreneur, you just whip out your phone, whack on the app and, hey presto, podcast heaven.
2. They engage your inner nerd
We’re inquisitive creatures, us humans, and the niched medium of podcasts lends itself perfectly to our insatiable need for knowledge, no matter how trivial. Want to know why Denzel Washington is the greatest actor of all time, period? Here you go. Got a penchant for ‘90s football? Fill your boots. Or how about 300-odd episodes on the trials of being addicted to pens. Yes, pens. Intrigued? Of course you are.
3. They’re a great way to learn
Podcasts aren’t just for entertainment – some of the most popular examples are about things we used to run from in school: science, history, economics. They help us understand the world around us, stay informed and work on our professional development.
4. The ‘Serial’ effect
Podcasts have had a strong following since 2005 but it took until 2014 for the medium to really hit the mainstream – thanks to a series called Serial. Telling the tragic story of Hae Min Lee, Serial did something simple but brilliant: it repackaged the documentary as an audio-only, episodic narrative, reminiscent of TV soap operas or Dickensian-era storytelling.
A real-life whodunnit, brilliantly produced and delivered in cliff-hanger weekly instalments, Serial became the fastest podcast to reach five million downloads and was the medium’s first true water-cooler moment.
The business of podcasting
With the continued popularity of podcasting it’s little surprise that brands have started to sit up and take note. Whilst it’s true that well-established traditional media still dwarfs podcasting in terms of advertising budget, none of them can match podcasts’ growth. According to AdWeek, podcasting attracted an 85% increase in advertising spend from 2016, which in turn grew 75% from 2015. By 2020, podcast advertising is set to reach $500 million in the States, up from $220 million this year.
Which means, for marketers who have one eye on the future (which should be all of them…), podcasting is now a serious option when it comes to their media planning and buying strategies.
An advertiser’s dream
Beyond the growing popularity of podcasts that we’ve already touched upon, the medium offers several advantages to advertisers:
1. A captive audience
Unlike other media that easily allow for viewers or listeners to turn over or tune out, the nature of podcasts means it’s more likely an audience will stay tuned when the adverts pop up. Of course, most podcast apps allow you to skip forward a few seconds at a time, but it’s tricky to tell when the advert is over and the show has restarted. And do you really want to fiddle around with an app whilst you’re listening at work, in the car, at bedtime?
2. Mobile marketing
85% of podcast consumption happens on mobile devices, which gives marketers an unrivalled opportunity to reach their audience at any point during the day. A radio advertiser may have to wait until their listeners are in the car. A YouTuber might need to wait until their viewer is relaxing at home. But the anywhere-goes nature of podcasting means its adverts can reach their audience at any point of the day and night.
3. Podcast hosts make great advertisers
If you like a podcast, chances are you like the podcast host. And if you like the podcast host, you probably don’t mind them taking a minute to tell you about the latest mattress technology, website-building software or home-cooking service. Many hosts also frame the advert in a way that reflects the kind of show to which you’re listening – so adverts, rather than being a sales pitch, become an integrated and entertaining part of the show.
4. Impressive conversion rates
Thanks to all the above, podcast adverts achieve fantastic conversion rates. According to a comScore study, over two-thirds of listeners take some form of action as a result of listening to podcast ads, whilst 29% visit the brand’s website, 23% make an online purchase and 17% make an in-store purchase.
Podcasts are on the rise. Fuelled by hit shows such as Serial, they’re becoming increasingly mainstream and are the conduit of choice for some of the most entertaining, educational and innovative creators out there. Which, in turn, has made them an extremely attractive prospect for marketers, who are investing more and more of their marketing spend into podcasting – a trend that we at Woven can only see continuing.