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Ask anyone that knows me, and they’ll tell you that I love podcasts (and that they’re sick of my endless recommendations). I think that the immediate and intimate nature of the format makes podcasts a unique vehicle for powerful storytelling and you can often find niche topics explored in a depth you can’t find anywhere else. All you need is your phone and a pair of earbuds, and you have instant access to more than 2 million different podcasts, totalling 48 million episodes, available to you while doing the dishes or catching the bus.

I’m not alone in my podcast obsession. In 2020, 485 million people listened to podcasts worldwide and weekly audiences have doubled since 2017. Additionally, not only are there more listeners than ever before, but those listeners are more diverse. This is a testament to the accessibility of podcast production: anyone with a microphone and some editing software can create and publish across all the mainstream platforms. The popularity, accessibility, and flexibility of podcasts — facilitated by advances in smartphones, speakers, and laptops — has driven the phenomenal growth of the industry, with the global podcasting market estimated at $11.5 billion in 2020.

In 2020, there were initial fears that the pandemic would damage the podcasting industry, due in part to changing working habits and fewer commutes. However, audience listening behaviours quickly adapted to the new normal and business is better than ever. Weekly podcast listeners are consuming 30 minutes more per week than before the pandemic, and the global market size of podcasts is expected to keep growing by around 31 percent every year.

Utilising podcasts in the post-pandemic marketing landscape

So, podcasts are clearly big business, but why is this important for the life sciences industry? COVID-19 has expedited a digital transformation in almost every business sector. With the heightened spotlight from the pandemic, many companies have recognised the true importance of their online presence and digital offering. As a recent Deloitte report on the life sciences industry stated, a “digital transformation is no longer a buzzword, but a strategic imperative”. In other words, it is now vital for businesses to maintain an online presence. An ideal way to do this is through digital, content-driven marketing and thought leadership, and podcasts can be a key piece of this puzzle.

Used appropriately, podcasts can be a powerful tool in the content arsenal and the ideal medium for demonstrating thought leadership. The flexibility of the format allows for more specific and relevant topics to be explored. The direct and intimate engagement with the audience—coupled with the relaxed, informal nature of podcasts—can lower barriers between listener and host, and help build those all important customer relationships. Podcasts can also be a great way to drive your audience towards other content, products, or services, break up text-heavy webpages, or encourage dialogue and engagement when shared on social media. In a crowded competitive field, a podcast can be a great, dynamic form of content that will help your business stand out.

Although it might seem daunting to release a podcast, there are some easy wins to be had. For example, interview-based podcasts, while being the simplest format, are consistently the most popular with listeners. Each guest brings their own unique thoughts, opinions, and ideas which can stimulate fascinating conversations, and guests will often cross-promote within their own networks, expanding your podcast’s reach.

Podcasts are also a versatile format where you can successfully try out many different styles and approaches. All good hosting platforms allow you to glean insightful metrics, so it is easy to experiment and discover what works. Most importantly, podcasts can help to humanise your brand in an increasingly digital marketing landscape. In a time when developing and maintaining a relationship with your customers is more important than ever, podcasting can be invaluable. And if you aren’t sold yet, setting up a podcast has never been easier, with a huge array of podcasting platforms and editing software available. All you need to do is make use of the resources and expertise that your company already has to showcase your unique position in the market.

The podcast advertising boom

As well as being a beneficial addition to your content portfolio, podcasts can also be a great way to advertise products or services directly to listeners. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, audio continues to form more of the content that people consume online, with podcasts increasingly dominating this landscape. In the US, mobile time spent listening to audio content is greater than time spent on social media, videos, and gaming, and podcasts’ audience share of ad-supported audio has nearly tripled since 2016. Secondly, listeners tend to be more receptive to ads on podcasts than on other platforms, and are more likely to remember and follow up on them too, especially if they’re a long-time listener. This is because podcast ads are often read by the hosts, making them feel less intrusive and more trustworthy.

All of this makes podcasts a very attractive prospect for marketers, so much so that the biggest players in the audio streaming industry are desperately vying to control the space. The current market leader, Spotify, has continued to heavily invest in their all-encompassing advertising platform, which will allow advertisers to make their own highly targeted custom ads and obtain detailed real-time metrics on ad delivery, performance, and listener engagement. They will be able to reach the whole of Spotify’s listenership, including their own podcasts and those published on Spotify-owned hosting platforms Megaphone and Anchor. This is different from the title-by-title basis that has typically been how marketers have placed podcast ads, and until now has limited the scale at which they could be distributed.

The push into the advertising arena by Spotify and other streaming giants indicates a step change in the perception of podcasts as an advertising platform over the last few years. In a survey by Westwood One and Advertiser Perceptions, it was found that between 2015 and 2020 the number of marketers who said they would likely advertise in a podcast nearly quadrupled. Podcast ads are going to keep expanding, with estimates that advertising spend will hit $1.7 billion dollars by 2024 — an annual increase of almost 20 percent. Clearly, now is the time to be investing.

Time to harness the power of podcasts

The podcast industry has seen phenomenal growth over the last decade, thanks to increasing accessibility and huge popularity. For the life sciences, podcasts provide a great opportunity to better engage with their target audience, either by utilising podcasts as a vehicle for thought leadership in an increasingly digital marketing landscape, or by leveraging the latest advertising technologies to reach and understand those audiences better than ever before. I think it is time for the industry to jump aboard the podcasting train, because it isn’t slowing down any time soon.

If you enjoyed this blog and would like to learn more about podcasting in science, look no further than our in-house podcast channel, The Scientific Podcasting Network.