Opinion

Staying relevant in a $43.47m market: Podcasters must catch up to the big industry players

As the podcast landscape matures, established podcasts are leading the way by pioneering innovative strategies to enhance value for both partners and audiences. Lauren Meisner, founder of Centennial World and host of internet culture podcast, Infinite Scroll, asserts that the rest of the podcasting industry must catch up to remain competitive.

For the better part of a decade, podcasting has been on the rise.

The medium, which has technically been around since the early 2000s, is now a staple offering for many publishers and has become a lucrative channel, particularly for independent media who tend to have highly engaged, niche audiences.

When we launched our first podcast five seasons ago, the landscape was already competitive. There were hundreds of Australian podcasts on the market and not a whole lot of advertisers willing to take a chance on niche podcasts like ours – an internet culture podcast by an indie media brand (this was before TikTok, after all).

But as measurement tools have increased in accuracy and the introduction of IAB guidelines implemented a universal standard for downloads, the industry has matured and podcast advertising has become a key approach for many brand marketers.

With this evolution has come a shift in priorities for advertisers. Though brands no longer need convincing of the value in spending with podcasts, there seems to be a new concern. Recently, my sales team and I hear the same thing from prospective advertisers: “We want to be more than just another ad on another podcast.”

This a valid concern. With podcast advertising projected to reach $43.47 million (USD) in 2024 (Statistica), the effectiveness of traditional advertising methods, like programmatic ads running across a network of podcasts, should be questioned.

It’s especially important to challenge these norms if your target audience is Gen Z.

Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z love podcasts and find them far less toxic than social media. But Gen Z also hate advertising and are experts at avoiding it. According to a 2022 report by digital consumer research firm, Bulbshare, 99% of Gen Z will hit “skip” on ads if they have the option to, while nearly two thirds use ad blockers. Furthermore, a 2023 survey by NCSolutions found that 58% of Gen Z don’t like advertising that interrupts the content they’re consuming and a global study by Yahoo and OMD found it takes just 1.3 seconds for Gen Z to lose attention to ads.

These behaviours make sense when we consider that Gen Z are the first generation to grow up with access to social media from the time they were children. Between influencer marketing, digital marketing, social media marketing, and pre-, mid-, and post-roll ads on video and audio content, Gen Z have advertising fatigue, making them a difficult generation to market to.

As an independent youth publisher, helping brands reach Gen Z is our bread and butter. It’s clear where advertisers don’t want to be “just another ad on another podcast,” Gen Z don’t always want that from brands either.

So, what do they want?

We talk a lot about “authenticity” when it comes to marketing to Gen Z, and what that boils down to is this generation doesn’t want to feel sold to. Gen Z want to feel heard by the brands they support and they want sponsored content to feel natural, integrated, and to provide value.

As an industry, we need to listen to these concerns and adapt our strategies, or we risk losing Gen Z engagement and loyalty. This is especially true for indies, who might not have the backing of a bigger publisher or a network on their side.

In considering advertiser concerns about achieving cut-through in a saturated podcast space, as well as Gen Z’s super-human ability to avoid ads, we recently tested out a more collaborative approach to podcast sponsorship– launching a branded podcast mini-series about women in gaming, called Let The Girls Game, nested within our existing RSS feed.

Nested podcast series are not new, but they are still a relatively untapped opportunity for publishers and advertisers alike, where brands can leverage a podcast’s existing audience to successfully introduce partnerships or campaigns that feel authentic to the feed. This approach provides a meaningful value-driven sponsorship for the brand while prioritising an audience-focused experience with fewer ads and less interruptions throughout the content.

For Let The Girls Game, we co-designed five-episodes about the challenges, successes, and history of women in gaming with the music video game, Let’s Sing. This partnership gave us the chance to explore the relationship between video games and gender in-depth. With Gen Z showing higher engagement rates in the gaming space than any other generation (EMarketer, 2023), this mini-series has served both our existing audience, who have been expressing interest in more gaming-related content for years, while helping us reach new youth listeners– a win-win for both us and Let’s Sing.

All in all, it’s clear that remaining competitive in the podcast industry is challenging for indie media – and this isn’t only because the market is extremely oversaturated. Brands often lean towards established podcast networks for their ad spend, seeking reliability and security. However, this approach grossly underestimates the power and reach of independent podcasters and publishers.

These podcasters, often covering niche topics, have cultivated loyal and enthusiastic audiences. As a result, listeners take pride in seeing their favourite indie podcasters succeed, making advertisements and partnerships feel less intrusive and more like a part of the content they love.

On top of this, independent podcasts offer a level of flexibility that larger networks simply can’t match. They tend to be more willing and able to experiment with branding ideas and tailor content to the tastes of younger listeners. By ignoring these opportunities, advertisers miss out on innovative collaborations and campaigns that effectively tap into the Gen Z market.

Though investing in nested podcast series requires a shift in publisher mentality (and possibly sales strategy), putting value for audiences over value for advertisers is an authentic and creative way to stay relevant in an ever-evolving space, particularly among Gen Z.

Lauren Meisner is the founder of Centennial World and host of Infinite Scroll.

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