What’s Wrong With Most Podcasts?
And two things to help you build a solid foundation
Podcasts are still a giant question mark for many marketing teams. And because it’s more art than it is science, there isn’t really a recipe for success. Sure, there are repeatable frameworks for tactics, but ultimately, it’s all in the execution — and the willingness to slug it out over time.
So at the Swipe Files’ SaaS Marketing Summit earlier today, when the question of designing a great podcast came up during the content marketing panel, several of us felt it easier to talk about the things that haven’t gone well, or the things that lots of marketing teams get wrong.
Some of those mistakes: assuming you need to book big-name guests; defaulting to the long interview-style format (why not short-form? Or narrative-style?); and misaligning goals with the podcast. This last one is the most important. Pivoting on guests and show format is something you can change anytime. But if you’re starting out with unfair or misaligned expectations for your podcasts, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Before you even decide what your goals are, here are a few key things you should consider:
Your competition might not be who you think
If you’re launching a podcast for your brand, you might think your competitors are other brands in your niche. That’s only partially true. Your real competition is whatever your audience is normally listening to while they’re doing something else.
It’s unlikely that people are going to sit at their desks, screens off, actively listening to your podcast while copiously taking notes. They’re probably listening while folding laundry, doing dishes, exercising, or sitting in the dark, nap-trapped with a fussy baby who insists on being swaddled in a carrier.
Unless you’re going for the high-production value, narrative-driven This American Life style show, you should probably assume your would-be listeners will be multi-tasking. So consider how to make your show as listenable, enjoyable, and as light of a cognitive load as possible.
People’s attention is expensive
Your audience could be listening to or watching literally anything else. So if they choose your show, they’re already giving you one of their most valuable assets — their time. And if they’re trading this for your show, you better deliver value on your part.
What value do you bring to the table? If it’s information, your show has got to deliver novelty, or at least be well-researched. If it’s entertainment, your show must be funny, dramatic, gripping, or some combination of the above.
Maybe think of it this way: Pretend your listener’s hourly rate is $50. What value can your show provide that’s worth $50?
Podcasts are not transactions
If anything, podcasts are more in line with parasocial relationships. People don’t listen to podcasts as a 1:1 exchange. They listen because they want to be a fly on the wall — they want to sit at the cool kids’ table. This is particularly true of interview or conversation-style podcasts.
So if you’re starting a podcasts in hopes of generating leads, it’s unlikely you’ll find success. Granted, this also depends on your parameters for lead generation. If you run a service-based business and want to start a podcast to generate leads, you may be perfectly happy with generating a handful of leads per month. But if you sell software or physical goods and successful lead generation means collecting hundreds of emails per month, a podcast is unlikely to drive those results.
All that in mind, get crystal clear about your goals. It might help to define your goal as a forward-looking statement. Try something like:
Six months after launching our podcast, we’ll know we’re successful because we’ll see X.
If your goal is brand awareness, forcing yourself to write out that definition of success will help you land on something less squishy than, well, “our goal is brand awareness.”
And in lock-step with that goal, you’ll also need a positioning statement, or a premise. This will challenge you to think outside the box of classic interview format. More than that, it pushes you toward a show concept that outdoes your competition and that delivers on that $50 value.
Try this positioning statement from showrunner and author Jay Acunzo:
This is a show about X. Unlike other shows about X, only we Y.
This is a show about B2B startups. Unlike other shows about B2B startups, only we have raw conversations about growing from zero to one.
Sounds good, right? Nope, that’s still not it.
(I just gave the general premise for literally every B2B podcast.)
These might be better:
This is a show about B2B startups. Unlike other shows about B2B startups, only we get founders to share their favorite 15-minute dinner recipes, what these dishes mean to them, and when they cook them.
This is a show about B2B startups. Unlike other shows about B2B startups, only we talk to customer success managers who tell anonymized nightmare stories about the awful customers they had please.
This is a show about B2B startups. Unlike other shows about B2B startups, only we shine a light on the marketing managers who work harder than their directors, VPs and CMOs — who take bullshit, nonsensical orders from the top and magically spin them into gold.
Would you listen to all of these? I doubt it. And that’s a good thing. These premises, however deeply flawed as examples, are at least specific and unique. They’ll deliver on the novelty they promise to give.
The next time you consider a podcast, give Jay’s positioning statement a try. The world has enough crappy podcasts. Spend a little bit of extra time and effort to ensure yours rises above the fray.
And if you liked that last bit of podcast advice, you’ll love this upcoming webinar I’m co-hosting with Jay!
The Urge to Act: How the World's Best Storytellers Grow Audiences and Inspire Action
In this eye-opening, inspiring talk, you’ll walk away knowing…
How to turn yourself into an effective storyteller
How to tell gripping stories about the seemingly mundane details around you
A powerful technique to write and speak with greater impact
It’s $10 to attend — but the money’s not for us. We’re donating it to GiveDirectly.
Jay is easily one of the best speakers I’ve ever seen, so even attending just to see him do this thing will be absolutely worth it.
And yes, there will be a recording. So if you can’t join live, I’ll send you the replay if you register.
By the way, if there’s a topic you’d like to see me cover in this newsletter, feel free to reply to this email and let me know. It’s always nice hearing from you. :)