Are brands in APAC ready for the podcast explosion?

Do you only think about video when you think of content? Think again. Think audio.

While the Western world is in the middle of an undeniable podcast explosion, Asia has started to slowly embrace podcasts, with Australia being one of the podcast leaders in the APAC region. In Australia alone, listening to podcasts via mobile phone has grown by 33% in 2018 vs. 2017*.

Despite the hype of 5G networks emerging globally, data costs and bandwidth are still an issue and holding back the spread of podcasting (for now) in most Asian markets. South-East Asia markets in particular still depend on 3G, which is often unreliable and not everyone has unlimited data plans. A lot of consumers carefully monitor their data usage and don’t want to “waste” data unless they are highly convinced of the benefits the offering they have to download offers. However, there is little doubt that with both smartphone penetration growing and data costs further reducing, Asia will be the next region to experience the podcast boom, potentially following similar trajectory as either Australia or the USA.

Why are podcasts booming now?

There are many reasons why we have seen an explosion of audio content in the last year. One is the on-going growth of smartphone usage; another is the increasing time consumers spend in transit; not to mention the brain-stimulating and addictive effects of audio learning and the multitasking potential behind listening.

Additionally, auditory based activities offer an alternative to viewership-based media consumption, especially for those consumers who are looking to reduce their ‘screen time’.

According to research, the retention rate of auditory learning is two times higher than reading and four times higher than attending a lecture, meaning consumers’ attentiveness and engagement with the content they listen to is high.

Podcasts also provide a highly immersive experience, and with attention levels high, there is a hypothesis that consumers are less inclined to skip ads. Listeners are a highly engaged audience, who opt-in to listen to a specific podcast. This is different to radio where most listeners frantically try to change the station once they hear the first ad.

So what’s holding brands back from jumping on this boom?

In 2018, Podcast Advertising was still in its infancy and there are many challenges and barriers ahead for this to be treated as an equal comms channel in 2019 and beyond:

  1. One is the lack of audience scale: While podcast advertising certainly comes with many benefits, reach is generally not one of them – at least not yet. In other words, if your objective is to add incremental reach to your media plan, then podcasts are probably not the right answer at this time.
  2. The second one is measurement: Most Asian markets have measurement for key channels such as TV, print or any form of digital in place. Podcasts lacks any form of independent third-party measurement, and many brands stick to the credo, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”, resulting in brands shying away.
  3. Closely related to measurement is targeting – not knowing where podcasts are listened to – i.e. do we really know for sure if the audience in Singapore or the USA? – makes precise targeting a challenge for marketers.
  4. Fourthly, consumers. Even though consumers are being highly engaged when listening to podcasts, there is the long-term risk of them becoming sensitive towards podcast advertising. Many industry experts wonder if ads will be too disruptive or if listeners will begin to view the podcast as just another advertising platform.

Only once these hurdles are addressed and resolved can brands gain a better understanding of the full potential of this growing medium in reaching and engaging their consumers. Like every other form of media evolution, these wrinkles will inevitably be ironed out and podcasts (as well as other audio and non-display forms of media) will continue to proliferate, offering marketers new media opportunities to communicate with their consumers during moments when they are highly engaged and receptive.

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