Podcasts: Who’s Tuning In and Why Should I Care?

Podcasts have become an increasingly pervasive part of American culture. More and more people are tuning in to their podcast of choice over their PC, tablet, smartphone or home assistant.

It looks like this trend is here to stay, so the question for many companies is: How can podcasts be effectively incorporated into marketing strategy? The following information will discuss some outstanding podcast-related statistics, and how businesses can leverage these insights to their advantage.

How Popular are Podcasts?

The simple answer is: very popular. Over the past several years, the number of monthly podcast listeners has grown at an explosive rate. As of this writing, 55% of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast, and 24% (in other words, almost 70 million people) listen on a weekly basis. Moreover, experts predict that the number of active podcast listeners in the United States is expected to reach approximately 132 million by the year 2022.

Who Listens to Podcasts?

The reality is that just about every age demographic (with the exception of children aged 11 and younger) contains a significant share of podcast listeners. Research indicates that individuals in the age range between 20 and 40 make up the majority of avid fans; however, a sizable percentage of senior citizens (aged 55 or older) also regularly tune in.

Furthermore, the popularity of podcasts is growing across all age groups. For instance, from 2017 to 2019 the number of monthly listeners aged 12-24 jumped from 27% to 40% — a major increase!

Which Podcast Genres are Most Popular?

With over 1 million distinct podcasts on the market, there’s no end to the niche topics that are being covered within the industry. Nevertheless, the 4 most popular podcast genres, among both casual and avid fans, are:

  • Music
  • TV and movies
  • Comedy
  • Technology

The “Kids and Family” genre takes the 5th spot among casual fans, while “Games and Hobby” podcasts are the 5th most popular genre among “avid fans” (i.e., listeners that consider themselves extremely interested in a certain subject).

Examples of popular podcasts in the above-mentioned categories, as well as other genres, include Mogul, Dissect, The Televerse, The Hawkins Report, This American Life, and TED Radio Hour.

When Do Consumers Listen?

A large share of light users (casual listeners) follow podcasts at home, or during their work commute. On the other hand, heavy users tend to listen to podcasts anytime they are away from home. In both cases, a high percentage of listeners tune in during their transit to work, whether that’s in their car, on a bus, or on the subway.

How Can Businesses Leverage Podcast-Related Insights?

There are several ways that companies can turn the above-mentioned data points into actionable insights to grow their business. For example:

  • Companies can target genres with the widest appeal. Unless a company offers a product specifically designed for a niche audience, organization leaders should explore ad placement on podcasts that are popular among their consumer base, such as those in a particular genre of music.
  • Marketers can tailor ads according to light vs. heavy usage. If most of the company’s target demographic falls within the “light user” category, then the marketing team may want to publish short, attention-grabbing advertisements. On the other hand, if they are targeting heavy users then they may be better served by generating longer commercials.
  • Business can target specific consumer segments with relatable messaging. For example, since so many podcast listeners consume this form on media on their morning commute, many companies may be able to spin their marketing message to play on commute-related pain points (e.g., heavy traffic, long wait times, sleepiness, and so on).

Many advertisers are using podcasts to increase brand awareness and build their consumer base. For example, Blue Apron has partnered with Adam Carolla to promote their product on his podcast. Sling Media has seen engagement rates from podcast ads 2 to 3 times greater than radio spots. The Great Courses, a series distributed by The Teaching Company, has leveraged “baked-in” ads on podcasts like Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History.

An estimated 75% of listeners not only pay attention to podcast ads, but also follow specific calls to action after hearing them. That being the case, many advertisers have found that targeted ad campaigns on popular podcasts is a clear path to marketing success.

Podcasts in the Time of Coronavirus

How have podcasts fared since mid-March, when COVID-19 first broke out on a global scale? In some sectors, podcast listenership actually went down when the first “stay at home” orders were enacted. For example, analytics firm Chartable showed a 10% month over month decrease in downloads from February to March for their participating podcasts.

However, other sectors have seen massive gains. In Italy as a whole, there’s been a 10% increase in podcast listening. In the United States podcasts about television and entertainment, like 2 Black Girls, 1 Rose, have seen a major influx in subscribers.

Advertisers are changing their marketing tactics to account for listeners’ changing habits, and the “new normal.” In fact,  92% of the Association of National Advertisers’ members say that they’ve adjusted their creative messaging strategy since mid-March.

Many advertising firms are using direct CTAs when the screen is in view, and more subtle, story-oriented ads for when listeners may be multi-tasking (e.g., working out, cooking, and so forth). They are also using carefully selected phrasing in their ads; for instance, they may avoid such terms as “sick beats” or “going viral.” Some elect to not even mention COVID-19 by name.

Whether things go back to normal sooner or later, the bottom line is that podcasts are here to stay, and they will no doubt continue to grow in reach and popularity in the years to come. With some planning and effort, you can take advantage of this trend and promote the growth of your business.