There’s a story I’ve been sharing a lot lately that I thought might be interesting for our blog readers. Around 5 years ago, my youngest sister was in grade 12 and was listening to a podcast about the CERN. If you’re not familiar, the CERN is an intergovernmental organization that operates the largest particle collider in the world. The podcast dug into the research happening at the CERN, but also made particle physics relatable to our everyday lives. This story inspired her, and she applied to study Engineering Physics for her undergraduate degree, maintaining this interest in particle physics throughout the duration. This fall, after completing her first degree, she was just granted advanced acceptance to the University of Toronto’s PhD in Experimental Condensed Matter Physics. She chose this institution specifically because of the work they do at the CERN.
Obviously, I’m shamelessly using this blog post to baldly brag about how freaking smart my sister is. But I also think this story bears an important lesson about the untapped potential of podcasts. So, taking inspiration from my sister’s journey from podcast-listener-to-student, I’ve parsed through the listener data and identified three categories of brands that could do more to take advantage of podcasting’s potential.
Are you a brand targeting one of these demographics? Let me convince you why you need a podcast.
So, let’s begin with this lesson learned from my sister’s experience. Podcasts offer a massive opportunity for academic institutions. While some have gotten into the podcasting game, and many many researchers are frequently asked to share their research on podcasts, this still remains largely underutilized in any kind of formal way by most academic institutions.
Let’s start with some basic demographic data. Gen Z (roughly those aged 13–24 — the demographic making decisions around post-secondary school attendance) is listening to podcasts. Almost half (47%) listen to podcasts monthly, a 57% increase since 2018. Gen Zs are also coming to podcasts with a desire to learn. Listening in the Education category has surged (by 70% in the last year), and 74% of Gen Zs in Canada say podcasts teach them things they wish they’d learned in school. The majority of Gen Zs (58%) also consider podcasts a more reliable source compared to other forms of media, largely because podcasts often feature diverse voices sharing their own personal, first-hand experiences. This brings theories and data to life, illustrating the real-world implications of research that might otherwise be communicated in a less-human medium, through numbers and stats.
Podcasts offer an accessible vehicle to disseminate research happening within the walls of academia. (It’s outside the scope of this post to dig into the controversial paywalls in academic publishing, though certainly that also plays a role.) They offer a solution to one of the biggest challenges facing most researchers: how do I let people know about the things I’ve discovered? Thankfully, many journalists are doing incredible work parsing through academic journals, humanizing this research and sharing it on podcasts (shoutout to Radiolab, Science VS, Science Friday, The Hidden Brain, 99% Invisible, and more). But imagine the potential for academic institutions to own this research in a profound way, making it clear to attentive listeners where this research is happening and how they can be part of it. Gen Z is more likely to remember brands mentioned on podcasts, and are likely to take action after hearing a brand mentioned in a podcast, presenting an opportunity to develop a relationship with this young demographic making decisions about which post-secondary institution they will attend. Not only is this a smart business move for academic institutions, but during a time with an unprecedented amount of misinformation being disseminated, accessibly sharing peer-reviewed research first-hand from the researchers will also benefit society overall.
There has been a huge amount of buzz in the last few months around podcasts for kids. And with that buzz, comes a huge opportunity for brands looking to reach parents. While yes, there are regulations around how brands interact with children (as there should be). And certainly, brands need to be careful to make it clear that a podcast they’re producing for children is branded content. However, with nearly half of American children listening to podcasts weekly, there are big opportunities for brands looking to speak directly to the parents of young podcast listeners. (Not to mention, parents of kid podcast listeners represent some of the most affluent podcast listeners out there!)
When done right, kids’ podcasts are a real gift to parents. Podcasts are screen-free entertainment, which is especially appealing to parents looking to pull their kids away from screens and encourage their imagination. Parents report that listening to audio has a positive impact on their children’s self-esteem, academic performance and mood– presenting a huge opportunity for brands looking to demonstrate to parents their commitment to helping raise smart, imaginative, healthy children. Nearly 70% of kid podcast listeners aged 6–12 listen to podcasts with other people, mainly their parents, and those parents trust podcasts (75% of parents gave their favorite kids’ podcasts the highest rating of trustworthiness over other media, including parenting blogs or magazines for kids). Today’s parents are overwhelmed with advertisements and fighting a losing battle to keep their kids entertained, while also not sacrificing their imagination. Parents are fighting to keep track of their children’s online behaviors, so providing them with a gift of an educational, screen-free podcast demonstrates real empathy from brands for the struggles parents today are facing.
Earlier this year, I wrote that brands were missing out on an opportunity to reach Millennial women through podcasting. This is still true, I still stand by it, and I think there are lots of good reasons for brands to be attempting to demonstrate their brand values to Millennial women. However, brands are missing out on speaking to women over 55+ in general– not just through podcasting. And honestly, what a miss. Traditionally, marketers want to speak to women 25–34 because they’re historically the ones making purchasing decisions for their families– for the children they might have at home, for their partner, and often for their aging parents as well. But with our current economic situation, longer lifespans, and just general better understanding of consumer behavior, it makes no sense to neglect older women. Women over 60 control 25% of consumer spending, but rarely feel represented in the media. Only 4% of people in ads are over the age of 60 (regardless of gender), and only 7% of women aged 49–64 feel that brands and retailers do a good job of catering to them. And this sentiment seems to have permeated through to podcasting as well.
Earlier this year, Sounds Profitable released The Podcast Landscape, a robust study looking at podcast listenership. One key finding of the study is a demographic referred to as “The Persuadables,” a group representing 34% of people who indicated they had never listened to a podcast. This group is mainly made up of women over 55, who indicate that they are interested in podcasts, but feel podcasts are “not for people like me”. They also indicate that podcasts are informative, educational, and entertaining– but they also indicate that they “can’t find an interesting one”. This group also happens to be very receptive to brands: 20% indicated they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to listen to a podcast about a favorite brand or product! This is a group of people who are stating very clearly that they know about podcasts, they’re interested in podcasts, they have money to spend and they’re interested in hearing from brands, but they feel like they’re being largely ignored! Imagine the power of a brand producing a podcast that provides the companionship of the super active WhatsApp groups, or is hosted by comediennes over the age of 55, or, God forbid, offers hard-to-find, science-backed information about menopause! What a huge opportunity for a brand to show up for their target audience.
My main goal with this post is to spark some creativity and inspire us to all think more broadly about when it makes sense for a brand to have a podcast. Let’s all think outside the box– podcasts aren’t just for tech bros and bitcoin investors. There’s so many more diverse people listening to podcasts. Brands just need to catch up.
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