How Brands Can Engage Gen Z & Millennial Audiences With Their Own Branded Podcast

Sep 12, 2019 · 9 min read
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It’s no longer a secret that in recent years, companies and brands globally have struggled to engage with younger generations — perhaps more so than ever before. Social media opened doors for brands to communicate, but the golden age of social media and influencer marketing is over — young people have developed an uncanny ability to identify and quickly disregard blatant advertising of any kind. But a new door is opening.

In this article, I’ll be exploring one of the most prescient opportunities brands have to engage with Gen Z and Millennial audiences today: podcasting.

Meet Generation Z — The Youth of Today

The world’s first generation of truly digital natives, Gen Z were born and have grown up with high-speed internet, smartphones, social media and access to information and entertainment at our fingertips. We are more resistant and less receptive to traditional advertising than any generation before us. 82 percent of us skip ads; and more than half use ad blockers¹. We’re not anti-brand. We just hate anything that feels invasive or forced.

Today, effective content is about engagement and discovery. Companies must think of content as an opportunity for their brand’s voice to fit into our lives.

Brands that work to understand this and follow our rules will reap the rewards, and those that don’t will be quickly ignored.

And that’s best-case scenario.

The Rise of Podcasting

According to RAJAR (the official body in charge of measuring radio audiences in the U.K.) the number of weekly podcast listeners in the U.K. (aged 15+) has doubled in the last 3 years — from 4.5m in 2016 to 9.4m in 2019².

But who’s driving this growth?

Podcast audiences are youthful: the steepest growth is among those aged 15–24 — with around one in four (23.4%) now listening to podcasts every week and almost half (49%) of podcast listeners are under the age of 35³.

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Podcasts have a unique ability to fit into our busy lives. Any topic you’re interested in? You’ll find a podcast dedicated to it. Only have fifteen minutes to spare? You’ll find a podcast that you can listen to in that time frame. Prefer stories? There are podcasts to scratch that narrative itch. Prefer news? Nonfiction? Science? Politics? You’ll find a podcast that fits.

In a world where text messaging has surpassed in-person connection and voice calls, podcasts feed our desire and basic human need to connect.

Why do we love podcasts so much? For information and entertainment, sure. But it’s more than that. Podcasts often create communities. They’re a way of finding like-minded people who share your interests.

Perhaps podcasting’s secret ingredient is that in a world dominated by display advertising and video, we have developed a craving to distance ourselves from constant visual stimuli. We turn to podcasts with an empty mind and when we are open to new ideas, with their rich, narrative-led format feeding our desire for constant education, self-improvement and on-demand entertainment.

Podcast listeners in the U.K. spend 3.6 hours listening to podcasts in a typical week⁴ — and this number is only expected to grow.

“Ad avoidance is only going to become more of an issue. The traditional 15, 30 or 60-second Ad spot is going to evolve. Brands need new ways to get their message and their product and their worthiness across. Content and story-telling will be the way that happens.”

Nancy Dubuc — CEO, Vice Media

How Brands Can Connect With This Highly Engaged, Youthful & Diverse Audience Through Podcasting

It takes a clever blend of openness and relatability for brands targeting Gen Z with their own brand original podcast to be successful. The key will be finding a way to resonate with listeners, who want to feel like people — not marketing targets — in a way that doesn’t come off as intrusion or “selling”.

Brands will need to find the right balance of authenticity, frequency, humour and brand messaging in their podcast. They should avoid directly “marketing” and instead, focus on adding to or creating conversations.

Prove you understand and see us as people. Make us feel heard and appreciated. Help us cultivate our personal (and ever-evolving) identities, whilst keeping the message relevant to your own value proposition.

When we realise that a brand understands us on a personal level, recognises our passions, interests, and values — and provides opportunities for greater self-exploration — we’re much more likely to feel a sense of loyalty to that brand and in turn, we’ll reward them with a greater share of our lives.

This shift underlines the power of podcasts to reach a new generation of consumers, who tend to be hard to engage through other digital media platforms. Brands have an opportunity to develop a highly resonant message.

- Korri Kolesa, Chief Revenue Officer, Stitcher

Conceptual Examples of Brand Original Podcasts

Disclaimer: the following ideas are conceptual and designed for illustration and educational purposes only. These podcasts do not exist nor are they affiliated with any of the brands mentioned.

AKQA — Creative Minds

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AKQA: ‘Creative Minds’ (podcast concept)

An open invitation to enter the magical world of advertising. Industry-renowned creatives discuss their stories; highs and lows. ‘Creative Minds’ weaves a riveting narrative journey behind some of the world’s greatest advertising campaigns and thinkers.

  • AKQA strengthens their position as one of the best-in-class creative agencies, attracting the new generation of talent entering the industry (Gen Z is expected to represent ¼ of the global workforce by 2020⁵).

Nike — Step Into My Shoes

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Nike: ‘Step Into My Shoes’ (podcast concept)

‘Step Into My Shoes’ is a raw, unfiltered lens into the lives of athletes chasing big dreams. In each episode, we ‘step into the shoes’ of an athlete, discovering their stories, their successes and failures, hopes and dreams.

  • Nike can engage the 29% of podcast listeners who consume podcasts while at the gym/working out⁶ — while humanising their identity and building on their brand characteristics of fitness motivation and inspiration.

The University of Warwick — Life at Warwick

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The University of Warwick: ‘Life At Warwick’ (podcast concept)

The official podcast for the University of Warwick (9th in the UK) — we talk to students, alumni and friends about their time in Warwick from freshers’ week, to exams and careers.

  • In 2019, The University of Warwick was under immense scrutiny from the media after a WhatsApp chat — in which 11 male students participated — was exposed for making derogatory comments toward female students⁷.
  • The exposé — labelled ‘the rape chat scandal’ — was covered by all major news outlets. The university’s long-standing reputation was damaged, with many potential students withdrawing their applications.
  • In order to earn back their reputation, the University of Warwick has to rebuild trust in their brand. They could use the ‘Life at Warwick’ podcast to showcase the positive sides of the university, as well as a platform to transparently discuss their shortcomings and plans to improve.

Behind The Headphones

We carried out a series of qualitative research interviews with members of Gen Z (between the ages of 15–24) to learn more about their personal podcast consumption habits and discovery patterns.

19-year-old Dericka listens to podcasts for 1–2 hour(s) weekly on Apple Podcasts

What’s the primary reason you listen to podcasts?

“I listen to podcasts to gain valuable knowledge about running my business.

I’m typically a visual learner and I love to read, but with my busy schedule, I find podcasts more convenient than reading books or watching videos. I want to be able to consume information while on the go.”

How do you typically discover new podcasts?

“I want 3 things out of a podcast: motivation, business advice and lifestyle advice.

I don’t browse by category or look at top charts. I know what I’m looking for and usually, searching for specific keywords will find me the podcast I want to listen to.”

What’s your favourite podcast and why?

“Girl CEO Podcast is one of my favourite podcasts at the moment.

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‘Girl CEO Podcast’ by Renne Brown, ‘The Playground for Female Entrepreneurs’

The host, Renne Brown, shares valuable information in a raw, no-nonsense way. Nothing that she says is just ‘fluff’. She provides me with the information I need to follow my passion and keep my business going.”

“She’s also not afraid to speak her mind, and I love that.”

20-year-old Dani listens to 3–4 hours of podcasts weekly on Spotify

In what environment do you most often listen to podcasts?

“I always listen to podcasts when I’m on the way to and from my internship. I’ll also listen while I’m doing work at home, or when I’m at the gym working out.”

What’s the primary reason you listen to podcasts?

“My internship is an hour away and I commute 2–3 times per week. I get bored with listening to the same music, so I look for podcasts to keep me entertained.”

“Typically, podcasts I listen to hone in on a particular topic and the detailed discussions about those topics make me feel like I’m always learning.”

How do you typically discover new podcasts?

“I’ll ask my friends for recommendations, or search for a podcast around the topic I’m interested in learning more about.”

What’s your favourite podcast and why?

“My favourite podcast is ‘The Rewatchables’ by The Ringer.

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‘The Rewatchables’ by The Ringer (presented by Vudu)

The Rewatchables breaks down only the best, most entertaining and rewatchable movies that everyone has seen a dozen times! The hosts break each movie down into categories for best quote, most rewatchable scene, what aged the best/worst, half-assed internet research and who won the movie, among several others.

The rotating cast of hosts offer a fresh variety of perspectives and the format is the perfect blend of comedy, geeking out and learning something in the process.”

24-year-old Nolan listens to podcasts for 1–2 hour(s) weekly on Apple Podcasts

In what environment do you most often listen to podcasts?

“I’ll usually listen at home, or on long journeys to pass the time.”

How do you typically discover new podcasts?

“I typically discover new podcasts from people I follow on Twitter or YouTube.”

“If someone I follow online has been a guest on someone else’s podcast, I’ll listen to it.”

What’s your favourite podcast and why?

“My favourite podcast is ‘On Purpose’ with Jay Shetty.

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‘On Purpose’ with Jay Shetty

I found out about Jay Shetty through his YouTube videos, where he offers his advice and perspective about life. On his podcast, he invites guests to explore varying life topics with him in-depth. The topics all really connect with me.”

Podcast Opportunity for Brands

With podcasts still a new and emerging trend, the opportunity for companies to engage with these highly engaged, youthful and diverse audiences at scale — and with minimal competition — has never been more imminent.

According to a study by MidRoll, podcasts generate up to 4.4x better brand recall than display ads (scroll ads, static ads and pop-up ads) on other digital media platforms. MidRoll recorded an average 10 percent lift in purchase intent when listeners were exposed to a podcast ad.⁸

About The Author

Rob Knowles — the 21-year-old founder at Podcasted, is passionate about connecting his love of podcasts and audio experiences with his interest in marketing to youth audiences. He is currently working on tailoring original podcasts for brands and helping them connect with youth audiences through the power of audio. He can be contacted at

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Image for post — creating original podcasts for the youth market.

Other Credits

Book Credits: Marketing To Gen Z — ‘The Rules For Reaching This Vast and Very Different Generation of Influencers’ — by Jeff Fromm/Angie Read

Design Credits: Aleksandar Cojic — Head of Design at Podcasted


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