Here’s how our top podcasts of the year get listeners to stay

The key to a listener’s love is getting them engaged

Karen 2

. 10 min read

how the best branded podcasts get people to listen

“How do I know if my podcast is a success?” This question gets asked a bunch of different ways, most often involving a query about the show’s downloads, or whether it knocked The Joe Whatsisname Experience out of its #1 spot.

There are a dozen ways to measure success, but for me the answer is simple. Do the PYWTLYP (People You Want To Love Your Podcast), love your podcast? Yah? Then it’s successful.

The way to a listener’s heart is through their ears

First, you need to get your podcast into the eardrums of the PYWTLYP. (Preferably, lots of them). That takes great art, solid promo, reaching out to them and yanking them into the metaphorical tent to hang out with you.

But all that means nothing if they don’t stick around.

Getting them engaged is the key. Converting the PYWTLYP to PWRFLYP (People Who Really F*ng Love Your Podcast) means turning casual curiosity into commitment.

What does true love look like?

You can measure audience engagement in lots of ways. We’ve picked five podcasts we’ve been lucky enough to work on this year that have the kind of audience loyalty every podcaster dreams of. We pulled different kinds of stats for each to show some of the ways you can measure the breadth and depth of your listeners’ love.

The podcasts on our list are all amazing and different — but you’ll notice a common theme. They all lean into podcasting’s storytelling superpowers.

We often use completion percentages and time spent listening as an indicator of the quality of our storytelling. After all, would you stick around for a story that bored you? Nope, and neither will the PWRFLYP.

Hook them in with amazing content and they will spend more of their time with you–through an episode, through a season, through a whole series. That’s what builds true relationships between podcasts and listeners.

The list

All the podcasts that we are about to showcase have best-in-class indicators of how deeply committed their audiences are.

You’ll also see indicators of how deeply committed our client partners are as well. These shows are listener favorites because these brand teams fully support creative bravery in the stories we tell together, they contribute daily to the editorial process with ideas and feedback, and they pull out all the stops to make sure these shows get discovered.

Read on to learn about some of our most engaging podcasts of 2023.

You know it’s love when…

…They hang on your every word

Case in point: Rocket Mortgage’s Home. Made.
Must listen episodeLove, Loss and Baking

The average completion rate on this episodes is 99% of the show. In other words, all but 1% of this show was consumed by the listeners who started it, on average.

Another pattern to note–only 4 percent of the audience dropped in the first minute, and the attrition rate was a slow trickle right through to the host’s goodbye. It’s not unusual to see 10 or 12 percent of the audience drop right off the top. That’s the audience saying “I’m glad I tried it, but it’s not for me,” and it’s pretty typical.

But keeping almost everyone from the start to finish? That’s a true love story.

What we love about it: An incredibly meaningful story, and a driveway moment that gets us every time

“By far, the top priority for any story to be on Home. Made. is that it’s a great story,” says Clay Closson, Brand Podcast Producer and Earned Media Strategist at Rocket Mortgage. “If Rocket Mortgage, Pacific Content and Stephanie (Foo, the host of the show) aren’t in full agreement on a story, we won’t do it.”

“Jazzmyn’s story blew us away and we knew it was a perfect fit for the podcast. It’s an inspiring narrative of love, grief, tenacity, and success.”

“It’s a story that almost anyone can relate to, because it represents the sudden and unexpected loss of the sense of home and belonging. That’s a terrifying thought for me, and I assume many other people. But Jazzmyn not only survived that loss, but has thrived in her struggle to regain it. That is beautiful. That’s why this story is not only one of my favorite podcast episodes, it’s one of my favorite stories I’ve ever heard.”

…Time flies when you’re together

Case in point: Atlassian’s Teamistry, Season 4: The Untold Story of Concorde, Building the Impossible Airplane
Must listen episodePart 1: The Dream of Supersonic Flight

This show has episode completion rates across the board that rival the best we’ve seen, with the average time spent with each episode at over 33 minutes. If you work in brand storytelling, think about how that compares to the time spent with your average web post, infographic or Super Bowl ad: the average listener chose to spend more than half an hour with each new installment of this story, every single time an episode dropped.

Some other indicators people were falling for this season of Teamistry? Lots of earned media mentioning host Nastaran Tavokoli-Far and the amazing history of Concorde, with references in The Guardian and Wired, who called it a “fascinating story.” Oh and it won the first Tribeca X award for brand storytelling in podcast form, so there’s that.

What we love about it: A serialized story to surprise and delight, specific and universal appeal

This show told a story that spanned generations, giving it appeal on so many levels: aviation nerds reveled in the engineering triumphs; travelers imagined life at supersonic speeds; news junkies learned there was a lot more to the tale than the headlines, and there was even a little something there for 80’s music fans.

That’s something of huge importance to the Atlassian team.

“Did your audience laugh? Did they linger? Did they really applaud? Did they stay after and ask you questions?”

“Your metric is your audience reception,” says Christine Dela Rosa, Principal Strategist at the Brand Team at Atlassian. “That’s true for podcasts. That’s true for any kind of content.”

…You reach those magic milestones together

Case in point: Charles Schwab’s Choiceology, now in its 13th season
Must listen episodeA Cup of Knowledge with AJ Jacobs and Steve Sloman

This show first debuted in January of 2018, and while we don’t normally shout out to downloads as any kind of be all and end all, when you exceed the 6 million mark you know you’re on to the real thing.

As the show approaches its sixth anniversary, we wanted to highlight how numbers like that speak to quality and consistency over time. To prove that out, a few additional indicators that Choiceology listeners are investing in their relationship with the podcast: it has over 446,000 hours of time spent listening.

That’s almost 51 YEARS people. It’s like reaching a golden wedding anniversary.

A peek at some listener comments reveals some of the reasons for the show’s success as well: they point to the knowledgeable host, fascinating guests, and the fact they are endlessly entertained.

What we love about it: Consistently super storytelling over time, and A-list voices

One thing we know, you don’t build an audience like this without valuing them.

“All of our attention is very fractured. Having that sustained attention, it’s probably the most valuable thing,” says Matt Bucher, Senior Manager of Marketing and Audio Producer at Charles Schwab. “That, to me, is a very simple metric of success: are we growing? Are we reaching more people? Are we building upon some kind of momentum?”

Each episode, host Katy Milkman and the team teach you how to make better decisions through stories about sports, business, war, and even K-Pop. The best shows are the ones where you learn something new about something you care about: this is a show that goes then next mile, where you will learn something new about yourself too.

…It’s love at first listen

Case in point: Morgan Stanley’s What Should I Do With My Money?
Must listen episodeA Surprise Inheritance

What Should I Do With My Money? takes you inside conversations between real people with real financial dilemmas, and advisors who help answer their questions about saving, spending and how to plan for their future.

So did the show hit the mark for listeners? It was, well, right on the money.

One more way we can take the temperature of an audience is through focus groups or brand lift studies with partners like Signal Hill Insights. Here’s a bit of what audiences who heard pre-released episodes of WSIDWMM? had to say:

  • 85% either liked or loved the episodes (in the top 15% of all branded podcasts, with 25–44 year old listeners coming back with an even higher like/love score of 96%)
  • 77% said they would listen again
  • 8 in 10 respondents in one very desirable demographic said they’d listen to ALL the episodes available

Now that’s commitment!

What we love about it: Raises both EQ and IQ, makes money more human
It can be a little daunting to open up about how much you make, what you spend it on, and what you want to save it for. It’s a sentiment that isn’t addressed in a lot of “expert investor” podcasts in the market.

“Nothing was really speaking directly to somebody who didn’t understand what it was like to work with a financial advisor or if even they needed one,” said Jamie Roô, Head of Wealth Management Digital Content at Morgan Stanley and host of the show.

“We thought that this was a really good medium to show the human side of what we do.”

“To give listeners a window into what a relationship with a financial advisor looks like and feels like, lean into the relatable stories of our guests to demystify the whole process, and hopefully educate and entertain along the way.”

…They want to follow where you go

Case in point: OnStar’s Tell Me What Happened (with Campbell Ewald)
Must listen episodeInternet Sleuth Saves Lost Hiker

This show has stakes about as high as any you can imagine: life and death situations that rely on the kindness of strangers. As you can imagine, this results in some amazing completion rates on episodes with edge-of-your seat suspense, and a share of inspiring selflessness mixed in.

But looking at this show there’s another indicator of how this kind of amazing storytelling drives commitment from listeners over time.

The show has been in-market for three seasons.

With the latest season, followers of the show have almost doubled, increasing by 88%

That growth in the committed audience is one more way great podcasts show they’ve built a strong relationship with listeners: they go from samplers, to super fans. The fact that the show inspired so many people to follow, means listeners never want to miss an episode. It’s a characteristic we call “sticky” when it comes to podcasts–and whether you’re making a branded show or a passion project, you want your show to stick.

What we love about it: A show that cares deeply for story and storyteller, a takeaway that inspires and informs.

“The success of Tell Me What Happened lies in its emotional impact.”

“Building a successful podcast isn’t just about the numbers; it’s about crafting meaningful narratives that resonate with our audience,” says Laura Thornton, Director of Marketing Digital Business Team, General Motors. “By intertwining compelling stories with OnStar brand values, we’ve fostered genuine connections that have led to significant brand favorability and lift.”

Lessons in love and podcasting

There you have it, five things we love about some of our top performing shows of 2023, and different ways to answer the question about whether the PYWTLYP really do love your podcast.

You can make sure of it, by giving them great stories they care about, with authentic emotion, super sound design, and making sure every minute they spend with the show is really worth their while.

So next time you wonder if your audience is really hooked, think about these indicators:

  • What do your episode’s completion rates look like?
  • If someone listens to one episode, do they come back for another?
  • How much time do listeners spend with you each week?
  • Do you reach new metrics milestones over time?
  • How many listeners commit by going from sampler to follower?

If you answer yes to some of those questions, and especially if you say yes to all of them, then you’re on the right path. We’d love to hear from you — what metric means the most to you when you are measuring the quality of your audience’s commitment?

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