Commentary

How Brands Can Use Podcasts To Appeal To Multicultural Audiences

Anybody can start a podcast. All you need is a microphone and some recording equipment, and you’re set. Because the barriers to entry are so low, we’ve seen an explosion of podcasts that explore experiences and topics not addressed by other forms of media, and it has allowed people from all different backgrounds to get into the industry.

While this has many benefits, not least the fact that people who might not previously have had the chance to share their thoughts and experiences now have a platform to do so, it also means that brands have the chance to reach multicultural audiences in a way that underscores their understanding and commitment to those audiences.

At the end of 2018, research firm Edison decided to compare the diversity of the population of the United States to the population of monthly podcast listeners.

Incredibly, the company found that the ethnic breakdown of the former was remarkably close to that of the latter. For example, whites make up around 58% of the U.S. population, and 59% of monthly podcast listeners; Latinos, 15% and 11% respectively; and African Americans, 12% of both. As Edison notes, these results mark an incredible change from a decade ago, when podcast audiences were overwhelmingly (73%) white.

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However, despite the significant efforts of the podcasting industry to include unique voices and perspectives, there is no denying that many of today’s most successful podcasts (“Serial,” “This American Life,” “Stuff You Should Know,” etc.) have white hosts, and are not intended to appeal specifically to one demographic over another. However, there has also been a marked rise in the number of podcasts that are either hosted by people of color or feature their viewpoints, according to this Mashablepost.  Google has even launched an accelerator with the aim of “lowering barriers to podcasting through education and information sharing” (and seed funding).

So podcasts represent a unique opportunity for brands to reach a varied audience. Much like television or pre-roll ads, podcasts give companies a chance to get their name in front of engaged listeners who have already, by virtue of downloading the episode, demonstrated an interest in the content.

How, then, to find the right podcasts to work with? After all, podcasts, like any other medium, run the gamut from being broad and accessible to niche and specific.

Some companies will no doubt take the easy route out, reasoning that a show with a large number of subscribers is likely to have listeners from diverse cultural backgrounds. But to make such an assumption risks falling into the same trap that proponents of the “total market” have stumbled into: the presumption that using the same message for everyone will build goodwill among multicultural audiences.

The reality is that the best way to reach people is to appeal to them in ways -- and places -- that are relevant to them. If brands are able to use culturally specific references when reaching out to specific audiences, that will go a long way towards ensuring that their messages are heard.

For example, let’s say a particular brand is looking to reach Latino audiences. Finding podcasts with Latino hosts is an obvious first move to make, but so is finding popular podcasts in subjects that Latinos are especially interested in, such as soccer. Their affinity for the game and hunger for any related content has made sports-related podcasts the ones most listened to by Latino audiences -- a fact that advertisers would do well to note.

The best way for brands to show their commitment to multicultural audiences is to align themselves with content that’s relevant to each individual group. Not only does this ensure that they reach their target audiences, but in this case, their support will also help keep the podcasting industry diverse — a self-perpetuating cycle that will give more credence to brands’ multicultural undertakings.

That being said, brands would do well to remember that it’s not enough to merely find the right platform to advertise on. They must also understand the nuances of the audience they are reaching out to, and how to make themselves relevant without pandering. It’s time for them to get with the times.

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