Let me start by saying that podcasts are not the next big thing in marketing. Anyone trying to sell you on that idea is probably not someone you should be listening to when it comes to “the next big thing.” They evidently don’t have their finger on the pulse-of-next because the reality is, at this point, podcasts have been around long enough to have outlived their namesake/the technology that first made them a thing; the iPod.
However, just because podcasting is now a well-established medium does not mean it’s not worth further examination as an enticing marketing channel for travel companies.
When you take a closer look at the audience, market inefficiencies, and level of engagement related to podcasts, it becomes apparent that the medium still has a lot to offer the industry.
Who Is Listening?
Podcasts have slowly grown in popularity (by 1-5 per cent annually, according to a 2016 survey by Edison Research and Triton Digital) over the past decade. In 2016, podcasting crossed the “50% awareness line” in the United States, which is to say that more than half of the U.S. population now knows podcasts exist, while 21 per cent of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past month.
That’s not an insignificant number. Twenty-one per cent of the U.S. population represents about 57 million people. To put that in some perspective, there are currently about 70 million active Twitter users in the U.S. and about 50 million paying Spotify subscribers.  You’d be hard pressed to describe either of those digital services as niche, which means it would be fair to describe podcast listeners as “well within the mainstream.”
Going one level deeper, those 57 million listeners represent an intriguing portion of the population for travel and tourism companies. According to that same survey, the podcast listening audience is affluent and educated, in other words, potentially the ideal audience for travel and tourism companies to tap into.
More than 60 per cent of podcast listeners in the U.S. (34 million people) are aged 35-plus, and 41 per cent of them make $75,000+ per year (compared to 33% of the general U.S. population), while 15% of them make $150,000+ per year (compared to 9% of general U.S. population).
Statistics from LinkedIn support this idea too. Last November, the people at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions dug into their own user data to learn more about who the current podcast listener is. Their summary? Podcasts listeners have money to spend and they’re quite likely to spend it on travel.
Of individuals with a senior role at a company (Department Heads, VPs, Owners and C-Suites), 44 per cent were defined as “engaged podcast listeners,” meaning they actively make time to listen to podcasts. Perhaps even more importantly for travel companies is the fact that four in 10 podcast listeners will travel outside their country in the next six months for either leisure or business.
Are Podcasts Worth it?
Now that we know the right audience is at least listening to podcasts, the next question is whether or not podcasts as a marketing channel provide decent return on investment.
To do that we can compare podcasting to similar channels. According to advertising agency Zenith Optimedia, companies spent some $18 billion on radio advertising in 2016. Contrast that with the mere $35 million spent on podcast advertising over that same period and it begins to become apparent that the market hasn’t really found the medium yet, which means podcasts could still represent unparalleled advertising value for travel companies.
Looking more closely at the podcasting landscape and the market inefficiencies become all the more evident. While the top podcasts are selling advertising, the smaller shows, which make up the vast majority of podcasts today, have audiences, but are either not being well monetized, or simply not being monetized at all.
How are People Listening?
While it’s rather easy to quantify the audience and the potential for return on investment, it can be a little more challenging to measure how people are listening, which is to say, their level of engagement with podcasts.
To put that another way: are people actively listening or simply using podcasts as an alternative form of white noise? Or, to put that in even simpler terms: are podcast listeners actually going to hear your message?
If we go back to the Edison/Triton survey we see that podcast consumers are listening to podcasts at home 53 per cent of the time and in the car, truck or public transportation 25% of the time.
These are prime listening engagement environments, especially when compared to the 14% who most often listen at work. In a very literal sense this means people are bringing podcasts into their personal spaces, which in turn means they value, appreciate, and – most importantly – trust podcast content.
This suggests that marketing through podcasts can help lend a sense of authority and comfort with your brand, generating qualified leads, and connecting with potential clients on a new level of familiarity.
Then you have the fact that podcast listeners are considered to be “very engaged” with brands in social media, presenting an opportunity to also increase your digital brand presence, as podcast audiences are almost twice as likely to engage with a brand through social media than non-podcast listeners. According to Triton/Edison, more than 90 per cent of podcast listeners use social media, and 47 per cent follow brands on social media, compared to just 28 per cent of non-podcast listeners engaging with/following brands on social media.
As with any new (relative term) technology, there’s still room for growth, particularly with travel’s most sought after audience, those aged 55-plus. As of 2016, just 17 per cent of those age 55 and older were listening to podcasts, nearly half that of the 35-54 demographic and there’s no certainty that the 55-plus demo will ever find their way to the new technology. If the potential marketing power of podcasts has one significant hurdle to overcome in becoming an ideal channel for travel and tourism marketing, this would be it.
However, whether the older demographic ever migrates to podcasts or not, there’s no denying that for those looking to take advantage of a space the market undervalues that has a perceptive and committed audience inclined to travel, then I would strongly suggest you consider the podcast.
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