Podcasts have exploded in popularity in the past couple of years. Once a forgotten medium, it’s now a burgeoning market, with the number of monthly listeners steadily growing year on year. 

So, what’s behind the boom and what are the opportunities for brands? I recently caught up with Oli Walters, head of Sales at Audioboom, to get his thoughts on the matter.

Econsultancy: Can you explain what AudioBoom does?

Oli Walters: Audioboom is a podcast network that hosts, distributes, and monetises podcasts through a number of different platforms including iTunes, Deezer and Spotify. We’ve got roughly 60m listeners across our whole network, with offices here in the UK, in the US, India, and Australia.

We also help podcasts find advertising and vice versa. There are a number of different ways you can advertise on a podcast. The first could be through injected spots (which are not baked into the podcasts), then you’ve got live reads, which are not injected but are more native to the content of the podcast. I'd say those are the two main ways that you can take advantage of the medium from a brand perspective.

E: What do you think are the main reasons behind the growth of the podcast industry?

OW: There’s a number of reasons why there’s been a boost in popularity, but they all feed into one overriding reason which I think is accessibility. People might only just be discovering podcasts – or audio recordings as they’ve been known as before – but they have been around since the 1800’s. However, accessibility and distribution have always been the biggest obstacles.

In 2018, we've got more IP-connected devices than ever before. Personally, I have completely kitted my house out with technology like Google Home, and it just means that I can arrive home from a busy commute and say ‘OK Google, play the latest episode of ‘No Such thing as a Fish’. Simple as that.

Faster mobile networks is also a contributing factor – the introduction of 4G has massively helped.

There’s also better distribution as well, through iTunes and Deezer and all the different platforms where people can access the content. But again, it all boils down to accessibility, and having more ways to listen when you want to listen – that’s what’s ultimately growing the industry.

E: As a result of this growth, do you think there is a danger the podcast industry might become saturated over time, lessening the appeal for both brands and advertisers?

OW: I definitely think that’s something we’ve got to manage here. One of the positives of podcasts – and what a lot of advertisers really take advantage of – is such a high share of voice.

It could be as much as 50% or even up to 100% share of voice on a podcast, so it’s really just about how we manage that, and to ensure that share of voice remains an important and integral part of podcasts. 

E: What are some other main benefits for brands getting involved in podcasts – and why might it be a better channel than others?

OW: Engagement levels is one benefit. We did a study back in March and concluded that 65% of all people that listened to a podcast went on to trial a product or service that they heard in the message. That is really strong engagement – and of course one of the reasons for that is because people are really listening. They’ve actively chosen to listen to the podcast, so they’re not just accidentally hearing a message - they’re totally tuned into what the podcaster has to say.

Also the scale of podcasts, it’s grown to record numbers. I know it’s an obvious example, but I bet there are marketing professionals out there who would be shocked to hear that Serial was getting 7m downloads every single episode. One of our biggest podcasts is ‘No Such thing As a Fish’, and here in the UK it gets around 700,000 listeners per episode. That’s more than Virgin Radio gets.

E: We've already seen a few examples of branded podcasts, e.g. Ebay’s ‘Gimlet’ and GE’s the Message – do you think we’ll see more of this in future, or are listeners potentially put off from overt branding?

OW: There’s been many examples of brands creating their own podcasts, and they haven’t just been 30 minutes of talking about how amazing they are. The content has actually been the opposite - made up of topics that people really want to hear about.

If you look back ten years ago when brands rushed to create blogs to engage with users on a new emerging platform, one of the things they found was how difficult it is to build loyal audiences. Now we’ve got podcasts that have already got established and loyal audiences, and it’s up to brands to take advantage of this. 

Listeners want to hear content that’s relevant to them. The eBay podcast is a great example, as it doesn’t even give you an indication that it’s been created by the brand. They’ve built an audience that they can make use of, for sure, but ultimately it’s still providing valuable content that listeners want to hear – and that’s the most important thing.

E: Will podcasts become more mainstream in future?

OW: I think if you look at the sort of advertisers we’ve got now, it tends to be direct-response advertisers or independent agencies, but we’re not getting much traction with bigger national agencies.

There’s many reasons why. I think education is one of them, so we need to ensure they’re fully aware of podcasts and how they work. Measurement is another. Each podcast network has their own algorithms to calculate scale, and there isn’t a standardised way of working it. This means there’s likely to be trust issue with the bigger agencies – so again, it boils down to the education issue. If you look at some of the biggest in the US, they’re all moving towards a standardised way of working, and they’re doing so closely with the IAB to ensure that happens. 

Having a standardised measurement is a real driving force for all podcast networks, and when that comes - along with greater investment - there’s no reason why won’t be hearing adverts on radio highlighting successful podcasts. As bigger brands come on board, I think we’ll see it naturally move into that area of mainstream.

E: What can brands do to make sure they are harnessing podcasting’s full potential?

OW: I think it’s important to understand that the brand shouldn’t ever control or dictate the content of a podcast, and to let the podcast deliver any kind of brand mention in their own style and tone. That’s one of the reasons why Audioboom has got such great engagement levels, because any advertising we do is always natural and organic to the show.

I also think the audience know and appreciate the fact that this is free content for them, and any advertising that you hear within the podcast is ultimately how it is funded and ultimately created in the first place.

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Nikki Gilliland

Published 2 January, 2018 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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