Podcasting Isn’t Turning Out Blockbusters. That’s What Makes It So Powerful.

The power of targeting niche audiences


. 4 min read


This past summer, I was the lucky winner of a contest by Signal Hill Insights to indulge my curiosities and learn more about podcast listenership. Personally, I was interested in a subject that stirred up some controversy at the beginning of this year — Why does it seem like podcasting doesn’t produce “hits?” As the podcast ecosystem gets increasingly crowded, I’ve noticed a trend in the types of podcasts we’re increasingly being hired to produce. More and more, podcasts are being used by brands to reach specialized target audiences and form deep relationships with those audiences. Rather than reaching as many people as possible, our clients are increasingly seeking targeted audiences with niche interests (codersphysicianshuman resource professionals, etc.), seeking engagement with that specific audience instead of blanket brand awareness.

So, I wanted to dig into the listener experience around hit podcasts versus niche podcasts. My hypothesis? Podcasts are powerful for reaching targeted audiences with niche interests, which is why we don’t see many podcast “blockbusters.”

Podcasts are inherently intimate. As opposed to film, traditional radio, or TV, podcasts are typically listened to alone, with headphones. It’s a solo experience, meaning listeners can select content more specific to their niche interests without having to entertain anyone else. So, intuitively, it would make sense that listeners would seek out podcasts about their interests, rather than choosing the next most popular show to listen to.

The Study

Here are some key questions we wanted to answer with this study:

  • Do listeners prefer niche podcasts over “hit” podcasts?
  • How does this preference compare to consumption preferences for other media?
  • Does listening to a niche podcast drive more engagement with that show?
  • Do listeners feel a greater affinity towards brands that support content that feels specific to their interests?

To answer these questions, Signal Hill Insights came up with a list of clever questions to ask 400+ podcast listeners in an online survey. This included asking participants to rate their preference for podcasts and movies that are popular with many other people or speak directly to their interests. From there, we also asked participants if they had a favourite podcast if they feel a sense of community with other listeners of their favourite podcast, and their sentiments towards brands that support their favourite podcast.

The Results

So, what did we learn from this short study?

Unlike movies, listeners prefer podcasts that speak directly to their interests.

This distinction is even more pronounced among those who listened to podcasts in the last week. Over half of these ‘past week’ listeners gave a high rating to podcasts that speak directly to their interests.

Respondents who listened to podcasts that speak directly to their personal interests were also more likely to have a favourite podcast.

And this engagement with a favourite podcast extends beyond the podcast itself. Among listeners with a favourite, nearly two-thirds (65%) say they feel a sense of community with others who listen to that podcast and more than half (56%) agree that brands that support their favourite podcast share their values because they bring them a show they love.

The Learnings

So, what can brands take away from this study?

Podcasts are uniquely powerful for reaching targeted, niche audiences. If you’re aiming to make a group of specific people love your brand, podcasts are a powerful tool. On a practical level, this means a few things:

  1. When making production decisions, always keep your listener in mind. Be specific. Don’t hesitate to use the jargon they use. Cover the issues that matter to them. Don’t worry about appealing to a broad audience– create something that will feel like a gift for your audience.
  2. When considering how to measure the success of your brand’s podcast, focus on metrics around engagement — not only metrics of reach. If you want to break through and gain a small, niche audience, why would your goal revolve around reaching a massive number of downloads? Of course, reach is important. But a better metric to focus on would be the average consumption rate.

And this study has resonance with all podcasters, not just those of us working with brands. Perhaps podcasting is not a “hit-making” medium. If you’re trying to make a podcast that will appeal to everyone, you run the real risk of appealing to no one. When producing your show, keep the target audience member who will be clicking “play” on your show in mind. Make something that appeals to them. Your show might end up being their new favourite.

Read the study by Signal Hill Insights here.

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