Who Listens to Podcasts?

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Guest Blogger Fatima Zaidi joins us from podcast marketing company Quill Inc. where she is the co-founder and CEO. Today she is speaking to podcast creators about the importance of knowing who your audience is in order to better engage them and grow your brand.

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According to the latest research, podcast familiarity and listenership continues to increase year on year, with approximately 78% of the US population familiar with the concept and 57% having listened to at least one show. Between 2020 and 2021, podcast listenership grew by an estimated 116 million people, likely in part as a result of the influence of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders. These statistics prove that podcasting has well and truly moved from a niche media format into mainstream consciousness. But who exactly is tuning in?

For a podcast creator—whether as an individual or a brand—understanding the demographic characteristics of your audience is vitally important. From ensuring that your content targets the right people to figuring out how to improve your podcast branding and marketing to maximize market penetration and advertising revenue, you can bank on the fact that knowing who your listeners are is fundamental on many levels. Knowing this information also gives you insight into figuring out what they want in order to carry on creating engaging and valuable content and keep growing your audience and reach. 

While every podcast will—and should—have their own specific and unique audiences as they cater to specific demographics, interests, and topics, we do have access to some basic high-level information regarding podcast listenership demographics and behaviors. Although the majority of the data covered here is specific to the United States, it’s very likely that these reflect the situation elsewhere in the Western world as well. So, let’s right dive in.

Age

Unsurprisingly, the majority of monthly podcast listeners are aged 12–34 years, representing the tech-savvy millennial and Gen Z generations. The popularity of podcasts among these age groups—many of whom have grown increasingly resistant to traditional advertising strategies—means that this platform is potentially very profitable from a marketing standpoint, especially considering that these individuals will account for over three-quarters of the workforce by 2025. Nevertheless, it would be unwise to discount the growing interest in podcasts among older individuals. Over the last decade, the proportion of listeners aged 55 and over has increased from 14% to 21%, with an estimated 24 million older listeners tuning in to podcasts on a monthly basis in 2021. Clearly, podcasts are not just for the young; moreover, this segment will likely keep growing as each generation ages.

Gender

Historically, the majority of podcast listeners have been male; however, the divide between male and female listeners is gradually diminishing. In 2008, the proportion of men who had ever listened to a podcast outnumbered women by 25%. This year, female listenership reached its highest level ever, with 39% of women in the US population having listened to a podcast in the last month. While men are still slightly ahead at 43%, this rise is promising. Moreover, statistics show that the women who do listen to podcasts seem to listen to more of them and for a longer period of time—with an average of 7.2 shows per week equating to 7.3 hours of listening time compared to men who listen to 6.8 shows over 5.9 hours per week. The data also shows that 3% of monthly podcast listeners identify as non-binary or other than male/female, a trend which will hopefully encourage better representation of these groups.

Ethnicity

The latest research shows that the ethnic diversity of podcast listeners is increasing and is now more in keeping with actual diversity in the general population. While the majority of monthly listeners in the United States remain white (57%), the proportions of Hispanic and Asian listeners have increased to 16% and 4%, respectively, up from 11% and 3% in 2011. Moreover, African American listeners now make up 13% of listeners, while 10% represent other ethnic groups, such as other non-Hispanic, other Hispanic, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and multicultural groups. Hopefully, this trend will also be reflected in terms of podcast creation and representation. 

Income and Education

Overall, podcast listeners tend to be both affluent and highly educated. Analytics show that the majority of podcast listeners have a household annual income of over $75K USD, with 35% earning over $100K USD and 15% earning $1150K USD or more. Furthermore, 83% of listeners are educated to the college level or higher, with 34% holding an advanced degree; this proportion is considerably greater than that of the general American population in which only 23% of people are educated to the postgraduate level. It’s no wonder that podcast consumers represent a highly sought-after and extremely lucrative sales target.

Listening Time and Location

One key characteristic of podcast listeners is their incredibly high level of consumption, with the average consumer listening to an average of 7 different podcast shows per week. Even better (from the perspective of podcast creators and marketers), 80% of users listen to all or most of each podcast episode, with research showing that such listeners are more focused and demonstrate higher levels of concentration compared to people who watch television or use social media. In terms of location, 49% of podcast listening happens at home, while 22% of users tune in while in the car—probably to make effective use of their daily commute. Overall, the majority of users listen to podcasts on a smartphone (69%), whereas the rest tune in using a computer, tablet, or other device. While most users turn to several different platforms to satisfy their podcast listening needs Spotify (31%), Pandora (18%), Google Play/YouTube Music (14%), and Apple Music (11%) seem to be most popular.

Receptivity to Advertising

By their very nature as early tech adopters, most millennials and Gen Zers are extremely hard to reach through normal marketing channels. This is especially important in today’s advertising landscape where phenomena such as ad avoidance and banner blindness have made it that much harder to capture consumer interest. However, podcasts appear to be a rare gem in that listeners actually remain engaged with advertising delivered through this medium. A recent study found that branded products and services mentioned in podcasts resulted in greater engagement (+16%) and memory encoding (+12%), as well as better brand awareness (+89%), consideration (+57%), favourability (+24%), and purchasing intent (+14%). In fact, 78% of podcast listeners actually approve of sponsorships and 67% remember products mentioned in podcast ads. Shockingly, almost half of all listeners surveyed by Edison Research subscribed to the belief that podcast hosts did indeed use the products/services they touted in their shows. 

Social Media Engagement

Research shows that podcast listeners exhibit a greater degree of social media engagement and involvement compared to the average person, with 94% being active on at least one social networking site. Similarly, podcast users are more likely to subscribe to and share the social handles of the companies and brands they enjoy or are interested in, as well as subscribe to on-demand video-streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. This creates an opportunity for brands to leverage the power of multiplatform cross-promotion, thereby reaching a greater number of potential consumers outside of their usual marketing ecosystem. 

Smart Speakers and Buddy Listening

An interesting new trend has emerged in podcast listening behaviors showing that a growing number of podcast listeners tune in to podcast episodes on smart speakers, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home/Nest. Of these, almost one-quarter practice “buddy listening”; in other words, listening to podcast episodes on their smart speakers alongside other people. As the functionality and accessibility of such devices increases and the artificial intelligence of the built-in virtual assistants improves, it is likely that this trend will continue, exponentially expanding the reach of each podcast episode listened to in this manner. 

All in all, the average podcast listener is young, highly educated, highly engaged, and tech-savvy, with disposable income to spare. But every podcast is different—and so too will be its audience. Don’t underestimate the importance of analytics to really drill down and find out who your listeners are. Regardless of who your audience is, it’s clear that podcasts represent a great opportunity to dial into your consumer base, particularly as podcast listeners seem to be unusually receptive to advertising, so long as such marketing efforts remain honest, authentic, and organic. After all, if you’re not trying to create content of value, all your podcasting efforts amount to little more than shouting into the void.

About the Author: Fatima Zaidi is the CEO and co-founder of Quill Inc. and she can also be reached at fatima@quillit.io

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