Cheryl King, MEPRA Strategy Board Member & Managing Director at markettiers MENA, on why podcasts are a marketing avenue brands simply can't ignore.
What does this year have in store for the podcast market? Last year, the scene was set for a market that was ripe for podcasts. Friends, family, colleagues, and brands jumped on the bandwagon, fuelling an explosion in podcasts. Globally, according to Chartable, there were 900,000 new podcasts created, and these spanned everything from cookery, to gaming, to fitness, to mindfulness episodes.
The market trends
Platforms were quick to capitalize on podcasts suddenly becoming mainstream. Anchor – Spotify’s creation platform – made it even easier for novices to create and distribute podcasts. Indeed, Spotify’s acquisition strategy left no doubt that the streaming platform takes podcasts very seriously. Part of its investments last year seems to already be bearing fruit, with the platform experiencing a 24% growth in terms of subscribers year-on-year, with investments into celebrity-driven podcasts such as Michelle Obama and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex proving popular. Whilst Apple hasn’t gone for the monopoly, it has started responding, with the likes of dedicated podcast series connected to its Apple TV streaming service.
And it’s not hard to see why podcasting is being given so much attention. It is predicted to be a one billion dollar industry this year, according to reports from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PwC. The latest revenue figure represents an increase of 53% in just a year.
Local content for local audiences
When it comes to MENA, we are seeing the localization of global platforms as well as dedicated newer ones. Deezer launched in April last year with a flurry of English and Arabic podcasts to help people navigate through the lockdown. Music streaming service Anghami further built its in-roads, with the platform recently announcing a move to establish its global headquarters and R&D centre in Abu Dhabi at Hub 71. The reason is the big insurgence on localized content, which is why Arabic podcasts are being favored. Approximately one third of podcasts are in Arabic, and with 93% of people tuning into a podcast finishing it, there’s little wonder why so many brands are attracted to the engagement levels.
The rise of brand-funded audio
There are already some major front runners when it comes to brands that already understand the huge potential this platform has in terms of building loyal engaged audiences. Saudi Arabia – one of the biggest markets in the region for podcast consumption – shows that 20% of women listen to a podcast episode more than once a week alone.
Because of the very targeted nature of podcasts, it means that brands can have a direct conversation with audiences whilst building up a loyal following. This is not, though, about pushing the brand name as hard as possible, nor is it about editing the podcast to the nth degree to remove every single ‘erm’ and ‘ahh’ so that it sounds like an advertisement.
Listeners are extremely savvy, and for podcasts to perform well it’s vital that they sound authentic. This is the whole point; podcasts should talk about something meaningful to the listener. For example, it could be a podcast around sustainability, interviewing guests who have interesting, perhaps conflicting viewpoints so that the listener takes something away from it. Debate during a podcast is very welcome, as it sparks intrigue and keeps the listener engaged.
Brands are also committing to the longer term with podcasts. This is a medium that defies the move for shorter, snackable content; podcasts are longer form, typically 43 minutes per episode in the region, and it is those brands that are brave enough to commit to a series that are seeing the biggest successes.
Building your community
Having an engaging host is also important as this becomes the red thread for the podcast series. Just like when you think of your favorite radio station, which likely may be down to you buying into the presenter you are listening to, podcasts also draw similarities here. Listeners by default need to build a rapport with the host; they need to feel a connection; and so, getting this part right is critical.
Other ways brands are becoming much more sophisticated with their podcast is in distribution and promotion. Previously, this has often been thought about the least, with most brands (and people) focusing on the episode itself. But working each episode as hard as possible is crucial, with each episode having the potential to be viewed as a mini PR campaign.
Creating a suite of promotional assets for social media, content for PR, as well as developing a YouTube strategy for those who prefer to watch as well as listen are just a few ways the message can really be driven. From a sales perspective, looking at customer databases, how you targeted audience groups through the likes of LinkedIn with relevant content, is seeing podcasts becoming a very effective platform to engage people. Over time, it is this sustained message that is building loyal communities – with listeners being converted to subscribers, downloads, and average listener consumption being just a few of the metrics that can help canvas success.
So, whilst in the region we’re still at the beginning of the podcast journey, we are using a platform that has the ability to drive very tangible business outcomes. Brands are starting to recognize this, with the early adopters being the bold and the brave already seeing the biggest results.