Podcasts aren't new - they've been around since the early 2000s - but they're now incredibly popular. Shows like "Radiolab" and "This American Life" likely have radio and online audiences of equal sizes. In fact, NPR proved many of its radio programs not only have a home online, but they're wildly well received in that medium. For instance, "Serial," the investigate journalism podcast hosted by Sarah Koening, was the subject of many water cooler conversations when it debuted in 2014. Overall, NPR held the top spot on Podtrac for six consecutive months in 2016. During that September, it's combined collections reach 63 million unique downloads. One could argue podcasts are ready to take their place in pop culture hierarchy right next to primetime television shows.
There's a strong lesson here for media publications using subscription billing to learn: Podcasts bring a new element to the customer experience that can be incredibly engaging. In fact, for print companies, they bring a literal voice to a publication's popular contributors. Through podcasts, publishers can engage new readers, re-engage existing ones and push both groups further through the subscription funnel.
Establishing identity online
While major players like The New York Times manage to achieve stable revenue from online subscribers, smaller and newer companies still struggle with establishing and maintaining their internet presence. The internet has shifted the way publishers and consumers think of media, leading to what journalist Josh Sternberg described as an identity crisis during a conversation with Neiman Lab.
"Are we pageview chasers?" he asked to illustrate his point. "Are we the full bundle of news and information we used to offer, or some subset? Are we planning a strategic future or just managing decline, watching the plane slowly circle its way to the ground?"
"This confusion may be part of why media companies struggle to market online."
This confusion may be part of why media companies have struggled to market online. They don't know what their objectives are - Journalism? Engagement? Advertising? - so they're unable to effectively convey their value to their audience.
At the same time, many have tried to use social media as an engagement tool. There's no doubt platforms like Twitter and Facebook are essential to a core marketing strategy. However, publishers must conform to the rules of these social channels, not their own. All of their content is displayed through a Facebook- or Twitter-filtered lens.
Podcasts free publishers from both dilemmas, restoring their identities and providing greater control over the customer experience. They can be as structured or conversational as the publisher likes, and listeners grown more engaged as they hear their favorite writers speak with their own words and intonations.
More than media: Podcasting in other subscription industries
What's most innovative about podcasts is they can be used in almost any industry. To provide an example, Fast Company profiled several nonmedia businesses, including two that operate on a subscription billing model, for insight on how these programs are part of their marketing strategies. Most notably, the content of their podcasts are only partially related to the products and services they provide. In fact, State Farm Insurance uses its podcast to target a specific demographic rather than to discuss its area of expertise. Instead of talking about insurance, the program speaks to women of color on subjects like relationships and personal finance. In doing so, State Farm ties its name to these subjects and increases its top-of-mind awareness among listeners.
With a little creativity, businesses in other industries can most certainly do the same. Now is the time to do so, as podcasts have never been more popular.
The ultimate benefit of podcasts
Subscription companies need new ways of encouraging people through the sales funnel, and podcasts are an effective tool to that end. For the most part, they're simple and inexpensive to produce, easy for listeners to obtain and get consumers engaged with the organization. In addition, as Wired reported, Apple recently announced changes in its iOS software that will provide podcast creators exceptionally detailed analytics on how listeners interact with their programs. This is the perfect chance for media companies and other subscription services to capitalize on this trend.