Audio has substantially evolved since its early analog radio days, and today, it is an incredibly effective way to emotionally resonate with audiences and leave a lasting impression.
In the past decade alone, there has been a continual upward climb of audio markets. As consumers look for ways to multitask or consume content on the go, podcasts, audiobooks, and streaming services are becoming increasingly popular. In this last year alone, a wave of social audio rapidly took over, with the emergence of trendy Clubhouse and Twitter’s very own voice-focused social, Spaces.
As businesses learn about the power of audio, incorporating it into their marketing strategies will give voice to their brands and help them connect to customers through authentic conversations, unlike any other medium.
From Radio Jingles to Spoken Word Audio
Audio marketing first began with Wheaties. A simple jingle that played across the U.S. airways in 1926 caused the company to witness a surge in sales. They had struck gold.
Audio Listening is Alive and Well
Merely through the medium of radio, audio-based content reaches many ears. According to PEW Research Center, an average of 90% of Americans, aged 12 and above, listen to terrestrial (AM/FM) radio every week. This number has changed little since 2009.
On the other hand, studies also show that AM/FM radio listening has decreased by 9% from 2014 to 2020. (1)
However, the listening of other audio-based content has increased via channels like streaming audio, podcasts, and SiriusXM, resulting in a 12% increase in audio listening.
Spoken Word is Surging; Music Decreasing
The exponential growth demonstrated by new social audio platforms such as Clubhouse suggests that audio is getting its second day in the spotlight in the form of spoken word.
In October 2020, NPR and Edison Research released a report examining spoken word audio and music listening in the U.S. They found a 30% increase in the amount of time spent listening to spoken word audio such as podcasts, news, sports, talk radio, and audiobooks. Alternatively, there was a decrease of 8% when it comes to music listening. (2)
What we are listening to is changing along with our preferences. However, radio continues to attract a TON of listeners.
While it’s hard to pin down a number, it’s clear that over 200 million Americans listen to radio weekly. (4, 5)
In fact, the number of Gen Z’s who still listen to AM/FM radio is surprising. Reportedly, 55% of these 13 to 24 year-olds listen to the traditional radio every day! (6) We have to wonder, though, if it is because they’re riding in their parent’s cars.
Will Radio Stay Relevant?
Radio proves that the airwaves are still active and that consumers like to listen to content.
While many marketing and social media trends in the last decade have latched onto more visual ways of attracting customers or building an audience, the truth is that the power of audio has prevailed.
Podcasts: Slow and Steady Evolution
The podcast has originated as a crossover between an audio broadcast and iPod friendly voice-blog (thus dubbed “Pod-cast” in 2004), and today, it is a norm.
As it is portable and facilitates multitasking, it has become an ideal home for voices around the world.
Podcast diversity helps keep the business steady. It also provides marketers and businesses with very specific, niche audiences or large audiences of highly engaged listeners.
This channel first took off when Apple standardized the podcasting feature in their software back in 2005. Since then, podcasting has remained the same in many ways. The significant changes we’ve seen are that an incredible range of genres, and production levels have shot through the roof. Old radio shows like “This American Life” are still the rage. However, today, they are presented in a new, updated podcast format. This classic NPR show maintains an average of 2.5 million downloads for each episode. (7)
The latest reports show that 55% of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast at least once. (8) AND, as Spotify and Apple Podcasts duke it out for the top spot, the podcast industry will continue to expand.
As of February 2021, the total % of monthly podcast downloads showed Apple hanging on to its #1 spot (9):
- 30.5% Apple
- 28.1% Spotify
However, Spotify has been cutting deals and investing millions of dollars to close the gap. So, 2021 will be the year that determines who is on top.
Podcast Predictions for Growth
In either case, forecasts pertaining to both audience growth and the Global Market Value of the podcast market indicate continual and lasting growth in the coming years:
- 20% annual growth for U.S. podcast audiences. (10)
- 27.5% yearly growth for podcasts’ Global Market Value (2019 Value was 9.28 billion) (11)
- In January 2021, there were a reported 43 million total podcast episodes. (12)
- In 2020, U.S. listeners aged 12+ spent an average of 6 hours 39 minutes each week listening to podcasts. (8)
Like radio, podcasts can be played in the background and can be a great solution for switching between passive and active listening. With radio’s slow decline and the increase in the podcast listenership, we anticipate some crossover from radio into podcast listenership.
Who Listens to Podcasts?
Podcasts essentially offer an unlimited range of topics, right from diving deeper into topics- a sort of throwback to oral-storytelling- to keeping up with the news. This is the reason why building the profile of a listener can be a challenge.
Smartphone Owners: 38% of podcast listeners are listening to podcasts via platforms on their phones. (13)
That being said, these listeners are on-the-go: Apple Podcasts and Spotify platforms make it easy to download and listen while taking a walk, doing the dishes, or driving to work.
Average Age: 34 years old is the median age of podcast listeners in 2020 and this means, the audience is much younger than for those who opt for other popular media like AM/FM (47) or broadcast television (54). (14)
Is Podcasting Right for Your Business?
There has been a consistent growth when it comes to podcasting ad spend. Businesses are beginning to understand and capitalize on the incredible loyalty of podcasts audiences.
And it actually works. Many surveys and studies show that podcast audiences are receptive to marketing.
Some of our favorite reasons for incorporating podcasts into a marketing strategy include:
- Topical Authority: Whether you are hosting a podcast or decided to dedicate a few seconds for an ad, make the most of your air time to showcase your subject matter expertise.
- Easy Monetization: Ads, sponsors, or offering services (Ex: personal coaching), there are endless ways to monetize via podcasting.
- Flexible formats: Not every subject needs a panel interview with experts for 2 hours. Podcasting allows room for all formats, including short educational snippets or long, involved deep dives. They can last from 2 minutes to 2 hours.
Different Types of Podcast Marketing
There are several ways to market your business through this channel, and trying to determine the best one for your business may feel overwhelming.
It can get complicated, but only if you let it. Essentially, it boils down to 4 primary routes.
Host your own show: All you need is a good microphone and content that resonates with your audience.
Company branded podcasts: As more businesses hit the pod-scene, the production gets sleeker and more refined. Many companies are looking for experts to ensure that their brand is associated with good content. Hence, they hire a podcast company to produce for them. Some of the best players in the game include Gimlet Media (acquired by Spotify), Wondery (acquired by Amazon), and HowStuffWorks.
Sponsor a show: Audiences trust their podcast hosts and hence, they reach out to shows that align with your brand. It will help you connect with customers in your niche. On the flip side, if a host reaches out to you, it is recommended to sponsor only if you see a common ground in terms of values or vision between your company and the podcast brand.
Pay for ads: Ads are becoming more and more common in podcasts, and podcast listeners typically don’t mind. With just short clips and snippets between content, audio ads are typically less invasive and land on a ear that’s actually listening. Plus, this option can be incredibly affordable.
3 Strategies for Best Results
Podcasts offer an opportunity to get up close and personal with your audience. You’re next to their ear and hence, you must take the time to make sure you are heard.
Here are some of our favorite tips to help you stand out:
- Get Creative: Find ways to stand out and expand your visibility at the same time. For example, you can ask for shoutouts with easy-to-remember #hashtags, incorporate social polls, or include inventive segments to engage listeners.
- Always Integrate: Whether for search-driven content or social media platforms, integrating your podcast topic with other formats is a great way to connect with a broader audience. Think: updating blog posts, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
- Be Authentic: Every podcast listener is different, and so are you. Whether representing your brand or yourself, be honest and open.
The Hot New Social Audio: Clubhouse
Audio is all the rage. Social is all the rage. So, it was inevitable that the two would enter into a partnership.
Enter, Clubhouse. This hyped-up, uber-popular, and exclusive social app was established in the spring of 2020. It initially had some of those “Keep Out” or “No XXX Allowed” vibes. Now, with a broader user base and more capabilities, the opposite holds true.
What is Clubhouse?
In short, it is a social audio application, which is invite-only and accessible only through iTunes (Android, coming soon).
Clubhouse operates a bit like an audio-only SXSW or virtual conference, as it focuses on real-time conversation and social learning. The big difference is that the audience is encouraged to participate.
How Clubhouse Works
Once you’ve accessed the app, you can follow people, topics or join any available “room.” (A chat room, but for audio-only.)
There are a host of topics that you can choose from. On Clubhouse, you can find different types of rooms, including high-level tech tell-alls, marketing brainstorm sessions, morning language learning, and musical or creative sharing.
Once you’ve chosen a room that sounds interesting to you, you essentially become a part of the audience. You can come and go as you like, create your own room, or even chat privately with others in the same room.
Each room has the same structure and capabilities for users, including:
- “Stage” – Where the hosts, moderators, and speakers take up the stage.
- Audience – Anyone listening. In February 2021, the room limit increased to 8K.
- “Hand” – Clicking on the hand sign indicates that you are “raising your hand” and would like to participate in the conversation with a comment or question. Then, hosts can invite you to the stage to speak.
- “Peace Sign” – Peace out quietly, i.e. leave the room.
Clubhouse Reaches Unicorn Status
Launched in April of 2020, Clubhouse’s growth witnessed an exponential incline in the span of less than a year. The platform began with a very small set of users and now, there are over 2 million users. In December of 2020, Clubhouse reached Unicorn startup status with a valuation of $1 billion.
Founded by Paul Davison (Silicon Valley entrepreneur) and Rohan Seth (Stanford grad, Google ex-engineer), the app has attracted lots of buzz. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Kanye West, and Oprah Winfrey are among the many big names who helped draw attention to the platform.
Why Users are Flocking to Clubhouse
As Clubhouse use skyrocketed in the last year, it evolved into an easy-going, participatory social media mecca.
The platform comes at a perfect time. Think about it- across the world, people are stuck at home with no social life or spontaneous interactions. We barely have time and the result is that we are no longer engaging in interactions with others. We might also experience some screen fatigue, and audio-only relieves us from the duty of being video-ready.
Clubhouse users have uncovered a way to create friendships- they attend live events (like comedy shows, music rooms, or conference-style tech panels). Sometimes, they accidentally “step into” rooms and find themselves engaged in a conversation. Alternatively, others can just listen-in with their “ear-to-the-door.”
AND it’s novel, and emerged during times we were all looking for something out of the norm. With a focus on dialog and connection (less production, more substance), the stripped-down audio feels both fresh and familiar.
Is audio taking over?
The space for audio is there. Radio has long dominated the airwaves and still reaches millions of listeners. The gentle downward decline of radio cannot be attributed to a lack of interest. Instead, it is ascribed to the increasing audio mediums and platforms that are diversifying the market.
Audio listeners demonstrate trust in the audio medium. For example, podcast listeners report that they trust the ads that they hear on this platform, more so than any other platform. (15)
As it is home to loyal customers, it is marketing gold. Loyalty ensures that customers keep coming back, and needless to say, emotionally driven loyalty is even better. When customers or audiences feel connected to brands and products, they don’t just invest in them; they spread the word.
Another amazing characteristic is that audio ensures the democratization of learning. It allows experts and non-experts to engage in insightful discourse. Those who can’t afford expensive tech conferences can attend equally insightful and free Clubhouse rooms. Marginalized groups or those located in the developing world can connect with experts, news, and more without any barriers to access. Individuals with reading disabilities no longer have to struggle through text-based content; they can listen to audiobooks. There is a long list of people who are impacted by learning disparities around the world. Audio can provide a clear solution for many of them.
In a post-pandemic world, we had to adapt to new norms at a quick pace. Audio – particularly social audio like Clubhouse – has helped us move past the struggle and uncover new ways of connecting organically. With the increased usage of smart speakers and voice search, audio will continue to play a big part in the future.
There will always be a need for written content – especially in fields like medicine and law enforcement – with strong regulation. The rise of audio social media and audio marketing only complements other channels, and the dynamics will only continue to evolve even more rapidly in the future.
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- Edison Research: https://www.edisonresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Super-Listeners-2020.pdf
- NPR.org: https://www.nationalpublicmedia.com/insights/reports/the-spoken-word-audio-report/
- Nielsen: https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/report/2019/audio-today-2019/
- Statista: https://www.statista.com/chart/3589/weekly-reach-of-media-platforms/
- News Generation: https://newsgeneration.com/broadcast-resources/radio-facts-and-figures/
- Edison Research: https://www.edisonresearch.com/radios-roadmap-to-gen-z-listenership/
- Edison Research – The Infinite Dial: https://www.edisonresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/The-Infinite-Dial-2020-from-Edison-Research-and-Triton-Digital.pdf
- Buzzsprout: https://www.buzzsprout.com/global_stats
- Nielsen: https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/article/2020/podcast-content-is-growing-audio-engagement/
- Grand View Research: https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/podcast-market
- Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bradadgate/2021/02/11/podcasting-has-become-a-big-business/?sh=70749b272cfb
- Mozilla: https://blog.mozilla.org/ux/2019/12/people-who-listen-to-a-lot-of-podcasts-really-are-different/
- Radioworld, Westwood One 2021 Audioscape Report: https://www.radioworld.com/news-and-business/programming-and-sales/reports-offer-insights-on-the-podcast-listener
- Hearst: https://marketing.sfgate.com/resources/rise-of-digital-audio-advertising#trends
- Neuroscience Marketing: https://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/audio-vs-video.htm