Podcasts have never been more popular and as consumption of them grows, their popularity with digital marketers is also growing.

According to Adobe Analytics, which surveyed more than 1,000 US consumers and looked at ComScore data covering 193m unique visitors to American mobile apps, podcast mobile app usage has surged by 60% since January 2018 and will continue to grow as 45% of those it polled indicated they plan to listen to more podcasts.

Millennials are the most voracious consumers of podcasts, with nearly a third reporting that they listen to five or more podcasts each week, but consumption among even younger consumers, the so-called Gen Z, also appears to be promising with 67% saying they plan to tune into more podcasts in the coming year.

Sixty percent of podcast listeners report looking up a product or service after hearing it marketed through a podcast, with nearly 25% claiming to make a purchase. That might be a result of the fact that of the podcast listeners who recalled hearing an ad, 40% feel podcast ads are less intrusive and 33% believe they are “more engaging than ads on other formats.”

Marketers are listening up

With podcast listening growing, especially among younger consumers, and podcast listeners being more receptive to ads, it’s no surprise that marketers are increasingly looking to taking advantage of the channel, which some had predicted would become an advertiser’s dream.

Podcasts have a number of unique characteristics and the medium is proving to be especially flexible.

The apparent potency of podcast ads could be explained in part by the fact that while many digital marketing channels are effectively competing against each other for the same finite attention, podcasts have carved out a niche and give marketers the opportunity to reach consumers when they’re not staring at mobile and desktop screens. Adobe Analytics found that over half (52%) of podcast listeners take in podcasts while on the way to work or while working, and 42% consume them while in the car.

When it comes to connecting with consumers through podcasts, marketers have no shortage of options.

Those that want to treat the channel as an advertising medium can not only purchase host-read ads a la radio, but can now run programmatic campaigns in which their ads are dynamically inserted into podcast downloads based on a variety of factors, such as the location of the listener.

As of 2017, the IAB and PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimated that programmatic podcast ads were a $220m business and while this figure has almost certainly grown since then, there are concerns about the quality and effectiveness of these ads, which might explain why many companies instead seem to be focusing their podcast efforts on more clever uses of the channel.

As detailed by The New York Times, a growing number of brands are creating their own podcasts to engage their target audiences in more subtle and authentic ways. Examples abound:

  • Fast food giant McDonald’s created a three-episode podcast called The Sauce with Gizmodo and Onion Labs in a lighthearted attempt to tell “the story of how the best intentions went awry when McDonald’s brought back their coveted Szechuan Sauce.”
  • Grocery chain Trader Joe’s takes customers behind the scenes in its popular Inside Trader Joe’s podcast.
  • Facebook this year launched Three and a Half Degrees, a business and entrepreneurship-focused podcast hosted by its VP of Business and Marketing Partnerships that is dedicated to exploring the more closely-connected world.
  • Investment bank Goldman Sachs has an in-house content studio that produces a podcast called Exchanges at Goldman Sachs “in which people from across the firm share their insights on developments shaping industries, markets and the global economy.”
  • GE teamed up with podcast network Panoply to create The Message, an eight-part science fiction podcast series that climbed to the top of the iTunes podcast charts.

The diversity of the subject matter highlights the fact that as the total audience of podcast listeners grows, many companies have an opportunity to launch viable branded podcasts if they are willing to exercise creativity and focus on ensuring that what they’re publishing is legitimately interesting to the audiences they target.

Of course, no matter how they use podcasts, marketers will eventually need to prove that their efforts are generating a return. As with every digital channel, setting goals and identifying KPIs against which their achievement can be evaluated is critical.

Fortunately, doing this is getting easier as the podcast industry matures. In December, the IAB Tech Lab launched a compliance program, which certifies that companies adhere to the IAB Podcast Measurement Technical Guidelines it established in 2017. Also in December, National Public Radio (NPR), in collaboration with over two dozen companies, announced Remote Audio Data or RAD, a protocol that enables listening metrics from podcast applications to be shared directly with publishers while protecting listener privacy.

As standards and common tools become more widely adopted, it will be easier for digital marketers to manage and track their podcast marketing efforts, which should only fuel more interest and greater investment in this still-nascent channel.

The new age of audio: What does it mean for advertising?