Podcasts are the rising stars of the internet, with listeners tuning in for an average 48 minutes at a time. For businesses wanting to boost their profiles and generate leads, it could be the next big thing.
By Adam Baidawi
The beginnings were rudimentary: something for the computer diehards and development enthusiasts. It was 2004, and podcasts were known as audioblogs, with a small, fanatical community driving innovation and development.
These audioblogs were inconvenient, nearly impossible to find, and tricky to enjoy on the go. Then, in 2005, Apple entered the fray. Its press release declared that Apple was “taking podcasting mainstream” by building everything users needed to discover, subscribe and listen to podcasts into iTunes. It transformed millions of iPod owners into potential podcast listeners. In July 2013, Apple announced that one billion people had subscribed to podcasts globally.
Serial, a US investigative journalism podcast that began in October 2014, was another game changer. It became a global cultural phenomenon, with 75 million episode downloads after the first season debuted. It put podcasts squarely on the radar of mainstream audiences in the English-speaking world.
Currently the strongest audience for podcasts is in the US. Surveys by Pew Research Center, Edison Research and others estimate 20 per cent of Americans listen to podcasts in any given week.
In Australia, Edison Research’s The Podcast Consumer Australia 2017 report found 10 per cent of the people it surveyed had listened to a podcast in the past week (among Australians aged 14–34, it’s 20 per cent).
“You should only start a show if you’re willing to do it every week – even if nobody listens.” Jordan Harbinger, The Art of Charm
It’s a different story in Asia. In China in 2016, just 5 per cent of people listened to “mobile internet radio”, aka podcasts, according to Speedway Research Institute’s Q2 2016 Mobile Market Report. In 2017, Grace Chng on the Tech In Asia website wrote that “In Asia, podcasting is in its infancy …” Yet while listening numbers aren’t yet huge, they’re growing.
What’s more useful for businesses to remember is just how engaging the medium is. The average listening time, per podcast, is 48 minutes. What other marketing channel is that sticky?
Businesses are starting to take podcasts seriously, both as creators and as advertisers. Peer through the directories of shows and you’ll find ventures from Goldman Sachs, PwC, McKinsey & Company, Deloitte Asia Pacific and even the British Parliament.
Some US$220 million was spent on advertising within podcasts in the US in 2017 (the only market for which advertising figures are readily available). The Interactive Advertising Bureau found that 65 per cent of US listeners would be inclined to buy products and services advertised by podcasts, with effectiveness scaling up when those advertisements are read by podcast hosts.
Putting podcasts to work
Businesses – or individuals – need not be power players to benefit from the enormous growth in podcasting. In fact, podcasting is easily scaled, has a low barrier to entry, and can be a monumentally effective method of content marketing.
For The Art of Charm, a Los Angeles-based personal and corporate coaching business, a podcast became a key lead generator that continues to define the company.
“The business itself is known primarily because of the podcast, and its impact,” says Jordan Harbinger, the host of The Art of Charm podcast, which regularly ranks in iTunes’ global top 100, and attracts some four million downloads a month.
“You end up with crazy opportunities you never knew were going to happen,” says Harbinger.
“I’ve done a ton of charity events and speaking opportunities. I’ve been invited to cool places and companies, military bases, all of which have been really, really unique.”
Harbinger has gone on to coach business executives and military special forces personnel, as well as giving talks in Silicon Valley at leading companies such as Google and Apple.
“For businesses, one of the reasons that podcasts are effective is that the demographic is relatively narrow. It seems wide because ‘everyone’ listens but, really, it’s mostly young, affluent men and women in professions that have a commute to the job,” says Harbinger.
“Most of them are in cities. When you look at the demographics of my show, listeners have a higher level of education and higher salaries than those of NPR [National Public Radio].”
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Indeed, podcast listeners skew more affluent and more educated than the average. Edison Research’s The Podcast Consumer 2017 report showed 16 per cent of US podcast listeners had an annual household income of US$150,000 or more, compared to 10 per cent of the general population.
The figures were similar Down Under. In 2017, 16 per cent of Australia’s podcast listeners had over A$150,000 in annual household income, compared to 7 per cent of the general population.
“Think about it like this: if you want to sell Ferraris, you want someone that has enough money to buy one,” says Harbinger. “Podcasting does that for businesses in a lot of ways.”
For his part, Harbinger attributes some of the effectiveness of podcasting to the innately intimate nature of the medium.
“When someone’s listened to you talk every week for a year – for me, that’s 100 hours’ talking to them directly – imagine the kind of relationship that creates. It’s essentially me, alone with a listener in their car, on their commute, at the gym.”
While Harbinger and his more notable podcast peers – including Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, whose podcasts have been downloaded more than 150 million times – may be dominant in a burgeoning industry, it’s crucial to remember that it’s not too late to enter.
“The barrier to entry is low: any business can try it,” says Harbinger. “For less than US$1000, you can buy everything you need.”
Podcasting brings opportunities for personal branding
Even those with more modest download numbers are finding impact and success from a venture into podcasting. Singapore-based entrepreneur Bernard Leong has an Asia-focused business podcast, Analyse Asia, which has more than 20,000 subscribers and more than a million downloads.
Leong spent three years growing the podcast by interviewing thought leaders across Asia and the US. A former corporate executive and angel investor who completed a PhD in theoretical physics at Cambridge University, he says his podcasting was primarily driven by a desire to build a personal network throughout Asia.
“The most important thing is that I manage to meet and connect with other business professionals from all walks of life,” he says. “The rise of the podcast has brought me more speaking opportunities and business leads surprisingly linked to my corporate day job.”
In breathing life into his podcast, Leong inadvertently breathed life into his own niche in the market, and the consulting opportunities that have followed make perfect sense. He says about 40 per cent of his audience skews American, with hedge fund investors, private funds and entrepreneurs alike reaching out to him for insights.
“Those listeners who want to expand their businesses to Asia often seek me out for advice on Asian companies in general,” he says. “It’s a side hustle of mine.”
“[Podcasts are] really good for personal branding,” agrees Harbinger. “If you’re trying to do direct sales, they’re also really good, but the downside is you have to find someone who’ll do the show and be consistent.”
Plus there’s the kicker: podcasts, diverging from other modern marketing mediums including video and blogs, take a concerted effort to build up. Sure, digital advertising and guest appearances help. Yet, to date, for many creators, nothing has proven nearly as effective as consistency.
Harbinger says, “You should only start a show if you’re willing to do it every week – even if nobody listens.”
Podcasts are cheap to set up and, with enviable audience numbers and the prospect of new business opportunities, it seems like a weekly investment of time every business could make.
How to download a podcast
Most listeners opt to listen to podcasts on their smartphones – typically while engaged with another, more mundane activity: think commutes and chores.
If you have an Android phone, look for the Google Play Music app. Within its menu, find the Podcasts tab to start your search, and find podcasts to listen to.
Similarly, on an iPhone or iPad, search for the Podcasts app. You’ll be able to subscribe to any podcast you wish by searching or exploring Apple’s recommendations.
Podcasts for your commute
Produced by the global non-profit organisation Asia Society, this podcast provides incisive, illuminating commentary on all things Asia from a broad range of experts.
In-demand commentary from thought leaders covering business, leadership and accounting.
Deep-dives into the economics of (almost) anything, from the minds behind the best-selling book Freakonomics.
Regular profiles of the business world’s most successful women. Past guests have included GE vice-chair Beth Comstock as well as Ann-Marie Slaughter, CEO of the think-tank New America.
How I Built This
US radio network NPR asks world-conquering entrepreneurs to retell their paths to success.
My Business Podcast
Australia’s leading podcast for business owners focuses on the inspiring stories and practical advice for every business leader, providing innovative business strategies, practical tips and expert advice.
The Tim Ferriss Show
Smart takes and influential guests from the worlds of tech, business and self-development and more.
Think Business by NUS Business School
Insights from some of Asia’s leading business minds.
How to launch your own podcast
The CPA Australia podcast can regularly be found atop the Australian Business News category of iTunes. Here, the CPA Australia team explains how you, or your business, can launch a podcast of your own.
Start with the right gear
“Listening to a podcast is an intimate experience for the listener – the quality is critical for a pleasant experience,” says Jillian Bowen, CPA Australia’s general manager content and social media.
“The right equipment and environment are critical – you will need a good-quality microphone (the Rode Podcaster is a good starter microphone), a room with minimum echo, and software for recording and editing. Audacity is one of the most popular free software options.”
Put your (desired) audience first
“We produce the CPA Australia podcast for CPA Australia members, so focusing on what they want is our priority,” says Bowen.
“We have a broader audience that is interested, but it’s important to always come back to your primary audience and, on a regular basis, ask yourself, ‘Is this what they want? Am I answering a question or solving a problem for them?’”
Aim for length
“Unlike video, with podcasts, longer is better. Most podcasts are at least 15 to 20 minutes long, with many running for up to an hour. If you consider how they are consumed by the audience during transit and other downtimes, this makes sense.”
Plan ahead – and for variety
To produce podcasts with consistency think ahead, and map out a content plan – a blueprint of where the show might go over a month or two. Consider guests and topics.
“Our content pillars ensure we are providing variety, while still giving the audience what it expects,” Bowen explains. “We rotate technical, leadership and knowledge topics.”
Publish and distribute
“Like a website, your podcast needs to be hosted. We host the CPA Australia podcast on Libsyn, which is relatively inexpensive and connects to our distribution preferences – all while providing basic analytics.”
Distributing your podcasts across the biggest platforms – such as iTunes and Stitcher – is as simple as opening an account. Then, it’s time to let your audience know.
“Some people will subscribe to your podcast stream via iTunes and similar, but you need to also consider your mailing list or social media channels to alert people,” Bowen says.
CPA Australia podcasts