“How do I build an audience for my podcast?”

Why this is the wrong question to ask first (and what to ask instead)

. 3 min read

Why this is the wrong question to ask first (and what to ask instead)

Perhaps the single most frequently asked question I get is: “How do I build an audience for my podcast?”

It’s a perfectly natural question.

But for many podcasters (especially brands) it’s the wrong question. Or rather, it’s the wrong question to start with.

A few weeks ago, Scott Galloway shared an anecdote about Brooklinen, the online bedsheet retailer:

In 2015 one of my students asked me to invest in his business. He was sourcing cotton in Egypt, milling it in Israel, and then landing a set of sheet sets, duvets, and pillows in Brooklyn for $79 that he would sell for $129. The value proposition was clear: bedding that sold elsewhere at $400, for a lot less. The Fulops, a husband and wife team, had secured orders online before the cotton was purchased. This is the definition of good marketing and business strategy — finding products for your consumers vs. finding consumers for your products (piling stuff high in a store and hoping people buy).

Even though it’s not specifically about podcasting, Galloway’s anecdote contains an important lesson for podcasters.

Don’t start by asking how to build an audience for your podcast.

Instead, ask how to build a podcast for your audience.

It’s a deceptively simple mindset shift, but I’m often struck by the number of people who get this completely backward. Podcast audience development isn’t a bag of tricks, tips, and tactics you can pour on top of a poorly designed show and expect great results from.

Effective podcast audience development begins with understanding and empathy for your audience. That means digging into questions like:

  • Who are we trying to serve?
  • What do we know about them?
  • What problems do they have?
  • What are they clamoring for?
  • How do we already engage them?
  • How are they underserved by the current podcast market?
  • What can we offer that they can’t get anywhere else?

Red Hat knows who they want to reach with Command Line Heroes: developers, sysadmins, and IT architects. Dell Technologies knows who they want to reach with Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson: CxOs and IT decision-makers. Mozilla knows who they want to reach with IRL: Online Life is Real LifeConscious Choosers. Each show was designed from the ground up with an audience in mind.

There are plenty of audience development strategies out there: paidearnedownedinternal. But those strategies won’t bear fruit if the show they’re promoting isn’t designed for a specific target audience.

“How do I build an audience for my podcast?” often leads to drive-by traffic that doesn’t stick around.

“How do I build a podcast for my audience?” leads to loyal and passionate fans.

Which one do you want?

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