Marketers get your voices ready; Millennials would rather listen than read.
Before 2014, podcasting was largely an under-utilized format filled with amateurish content. The whole medium had a Wayne’s World-esque connotation to it, in other words, premium content was not worth wasting on the format. That all changed when the mega hit podcast series, Serial, rose the bar for quality content in podcasting, winning a Peabody Award for excellence after it was reportedly downloaded an approximate 68 million times and counting. This was the catalyst that broke the format out of the amateur’s corner and into an arena where mainstream outlets like NPR and new upstarts like Gimlet would utilize it routinely to provide quality content.
Since then, according to Triton research, 21% of Americans age 12 or older say they’ve listened to a podcast in the past month. When we consider that 21% of Americans also use Twitter daily, it becomes clear that podcasts are showing massive potential in permeating our digital culture.
So should marketers get ready to swap out their blogging for podcasting? Are podcasts really going to kill the blog?
Podcasts Are Immersive In A Way That Blogs Aren’t
While readers have a tendency to skim articles, collecting the highlights along the way, podcast listeners are somehow able to sit through a 30-minute or even an hour-long podcast. Why?
Firstly, podcasts can be enjoyed easily while listeners are on the go, cleaning the house, exercising, cooking, or commuting to work. Podcasts don’t interfere with our fast-paced lives or face the burden of fighting our shrinking attention spans. Instead, podcasts benefit from these parameters because it’s a medium that can be enjoyed while the listener is multitasking.
Secondly, podcasts facilitate the possibility of creating a connection with listeners. Hearing someone speak their ideas is generally a more personal form of receiving information, compared to reading them. A voice offers more personal information about a person simply through hearing their inflections, emotional responses, tone of voice, etc., all of which create an image of the person.
Note how much more information is received when you call someone, rather than text them. A person’s mood can be evident; personality traits may come to light, and not to mention background noise can paint a picture of an approximate location (i.e. indoors or outdoors).
In short, a listener has enough detail to immerse them into the scene just by listening. This immersion makes it easy for listeners to connect with the material on a personal level and heightens the chances that they’ll keep coming back for new content.
Major Media Outlets Are Joining In
Many organizations are jumping on board thanks to Serial acting as solid proof that audiences want podcasts. Here are some of the biggest names in media that are joining the world of podcasting.
The New York Times — NYT’s podcasts launched in March 2016
The Wall Street Journal — WSJ Podcasts launched in December 2015
Slate — Launched Panoply in February 2015
Buffer – Launched Culture Lab in May 2016
While podcasting is indubitably popular by just looking at this list of names, this popularity doesn’t mean the medium has filtered into the average internet user’s home just yet. On the contrary, podcasting has yet to break through as a world-known digital format.
Podcasting circa 2016 = Blogging circa 2004
In a lot of ways, the current state of podcasting mirrors the state of blogging during pre-Facebook days. If you were blogging pre-2000s, you most likely wrote code, and your blog posts were speaking to a niche audience.
Fast-forward to over a decade later, and blogging has taken over as our go-to format for digitally written content. This success can be attributed to a few major developments. Mainly, the professionalization of the medium when major outlets like TechCrunch and Engadget started producing top-quality pieces. This led to print outlets like The New York Times scrambling to keep up. However, they weren’t tech-savvy enough to compete with these platforms, nor could they reach such an enormous reader base through print.
Then there was the success of social media and blogging platforms like Myspace, Facebook, Tumblr, Blogger, etc., which suddenly eliminated the technological savvy previously required to be a blogger. These were just a few of the developments that helped blogging become such a ubiquitous medium in our digital age.
Podcasting is very much like blogging was, pre-Facebook era, and has yet to hit hard with the masses. However, even though it caters to a niche market, the number of podcast listeners continues to expand every year.
What Needs To Happen For Podcasts To Break Through?
If podcasting is going to make an impact on our digital culture, more mainstream outlets will need to successfully adopt it, just like notable outlets NPR and Gimlet already have. And if big name outlets are going to adopt podcasting, they’ll want to measure how the medium performs with their audiences and why it performs that way.
This is a current issue in the world of podcasting. The majority of podcast episodes are downloaded and placed on a mobile device or desktop, rather than streamed online. Once the audio files are downloaded, there is no way for the creators to track the performance of those files (i.e., how many times it was played, which parts were skipped, which episodes were played all the way through, etc.) It might be striking to realize that podcasters and advertisers are left with so little data, but studies show that a large majority of podcast listeners download rather than stream, which leaves content creators with very simple analytical data such as downloads, unique downloads, iTunes ranking, etc. In other words, nothing terribly specific.
Without this data, it makes it tough for the outlets to learn about its audience, and as a result, it makes it difficult to improve and better curate the content to suit listeners.
As a result, podcasters are left to guess about what’s working and why — leaving these mainstream outlets to gamble with their investment in the medium every time. As marketers, we like analytical data. It helps give us security in the value of our digital product. As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
For this reason, it’s predicted that either a new audio format or better analytical technology will need to be created for podcasts to be able to hit the mainstream digital culture. But judging from the overwhelming popularity the medium has built in recent years, those adjustments don’t seem too far off.
So how should marketers approach the world of podcasting for now?
Big media companies like Buzzfeed and the New York Times have provided great examples of ways marketers can approach podcasting by authoring completely sponsored podcast content.
The Gimlet series, Open For Business, featuring insights, tips and questions for new business owners, is the best known example of successfully sponsored content. The series is completely sponsored by Ebay and it’s aimed at Ebay’s current, as well as, potential partners, to help build and maintain their businesses. The e-commerce giant has consistently been a useful tool for online business owners for over 20 years and hearing insights from more experienced business owners through a podcast series like this one is an enormous asset for entrepreneurs.
The series ties in seamlessly with Ebay’s brand and caters to strengthening the relationships with their loyal partners. This is a great example of marketers approaching the world of podcasting successfully and lucratively, though it can cost marketers a pretty penny to get a series like this going.
Next, marketers should consider some of the possibilities for how they should reformat their platforms to include podcast content. A great example of interweaving two different content formats comes from the reigning podcast king, Serial.
While the site doesn’t contain a formal blog, it does offer a great example of how multiple formats can compliment each other. Clicking on a specific episode brings the listener to a page with an array of documents from which to choose. Clicking on the documents enlarges them to make them readable. As you move through the documents, the podcast doesn’t stop playing.
The audio player menu remains at the top of the site. In fact, it doesn’t pause unless you manually click the pause button or go off of Serial’s site completely. The same is possible if the listener wants to download the audio files.
This multimedia way of presenting content allows audiences to digest information in a more interactive way, which increases the likelihood of engagement, and immersion into the content, tenfold.
What Marketers Should Take Away From All Of This
All in all, podcasts are not going to impede on the blogosphere right now. However, as the number of podcast publishers, creators, and listeners continues to grow — and the average tech consumer becomes increasingly savvier thanks to our rapid advancements, technological — we will certainly see the world of podcasting expand into our mainstream digital culture. Podcasts’ technological roadblocks won’t keep this medium underground for much longer and as a marketer, if you expect to stay ahead of the game, now is the time to become accustomed to the medium.