You’ve heard about Serial, the insanely addictive podcast that reached 5 million downloads on iTunes faster than any other in history and fueled water cooler conversations everywhere. The series’ astounding success begged these questions: Could podcasting, a relatively old digital storytelling form, be having a bit of a Renaissance? Should content marketers care?
A small but growing number of brands say yes on both accounts. Brands like Nike and Clif Bar have jumped into podcasting either with their own digital content or by sponsoring podcasts that align with their mission and values, but they’re in the minority. Only a fraction of brands use podcasts as part of their marketing strategy, even though data suggests audio content marketing has significant marketing potential.
The number of listeners has grown slowly but steadily over the years. In January 2015, 17 percent of Americans reported they had listened to a podcast in the past month—almost double from 2008, Pew Research Center reported. And one-third of all Americans ages 12 and older have listened to one or more podasts, according to Edison Research.
Moreover, listeners tend to be more affluent and educated than the general population, Edison Research found, and men, women, and listeners of all ages are all tuning in. Fans are also dedicated to the medium, with weekly listeners consuming an average of six shows per week.
All of this growth likely wouldn’t be possible without the ubiquity of smartphones. Of the 2.6 billion downloads of podcasts in 2014, 64 percent came from mobile devices (up from 43 percent in 2012), Pew Research Center noted. Unsurprisingly, smartphone users are also more likely to listen to podcasts. About a quarter of smartphone users reported listening to podcasts in the last month, compared to only 5 percent of those without a smartphone, Edison Research found.
All those smartphones present new opportunities for podcasts. As Matt Lieber (cofounder of Gimlet Media, a media company) found after researching US census data, Americans spend more than three hours per day doing activities like commuting, working out, or doing chores accompanied by audio content.
These two factors—a growing listenership and the ability to listen to the content anywhere—present a potent content marketing opportunity. Yet only 10 percent of marketers are involved in podcasting, according to the 2015 Social Media Marketing Industry Report from Social Media Examiner. However, that could change: 26 percent of marketers plan on increasing their podcasting activities (60 percent have no plans regarding podcasting at all).
Brands already in the podcasting game recognize the great storytelling opportunity. Brands like Nike go in-depth about how products are developed, like the Kobe X shoe, featuring interviews with Kobe Bryant. Clif Bar delivers expert guidance and tips, like how to navigate aid stations during races, and Patagonia sponsors and shares content from the Dirtbag Diaries, a series dedicated to the stories of climbers, kayakers and adventurers—stories that in turn may inspire others to go outdoors (and presumably wear Patagonia gear).
Podcasts are relatively inexpensive to produce (or sponsor), and the experience of listening to a human voice may drive engagement in a way other forms of content do not. Brands that can tell great stories through this medium can tap into a captive audience—listeners commuting on the train or in cars. With more and more Wi-Fi-connected vehicles hitting the roads, it’s likely that the appetite for on-demand audio content will increase. Smart brands will be able to deliver the content consumers are looking for, even when they’re on the go.
For more ideas on how to hone your content marketing strategy, check out Skyword’s webinar on the eight habits of successful content marketers.