The Most Important Things We’ve Learned About Making Successful Podcasts with Brands

Reflections from Dan Misener

. 5 min read

This is my last week at Pacific Content.

After more than six years of working with this amazing team of creatively brave podcasters, I’ve decided to take on some new challenges.

In related news, my colleague Jonas Woost has also decided to leave Pacific Content to pursue new opportunities in podcasting.

Big life changes are a great opportunity to look back at lessons learned.

Jonas and I have been reflecting not just on what we’ve learned during our time at Pacific Content, but how we’ve learned, and the community we’ve learned alongside: our colleagues, clients, industry partners, and the broader podcast industry. As Jonas shared on LinkedIn, the overwhelming feeling for both of us right now is gratitude.

There’s no recipe for podcast success, but certain ingredients help. With that in mind, we wanted to share the most important lessons we’ve learned about branded podcasts, with the hope they might be useful to you, too.

Make the show only you can make

Podcasting privileges creative differentiation. What stories can you tell that nobody else can tell? What guests can you book that nobody else can book? What topic or subject are you uniquely qualified to talk about? What point of view can you share that’s uniquely yours? Mark Schaefer calls this the “only we” of podcasting. Smart podcasters consider their moats.

Podcasting listening is transactional

This may sound crass, but podcast listening requires an exchange. Podcasters want listeners’ most precious resources: time and attention. In exchange, podcasters need to offer listeners something in return: entertainment, information, companionship, etc. Understand listener motivations and key drivers of appeal, then offer your listeners a show that adds value to their lives.

The bar for brands is higher

Podcast listeners are savvy. They know when they’re being marketed to. In many cases, branded shows need to be even better than comparable non-branded shows, just to escape the gravitational pull of listener skepticism. For brands, the competition isn’t other branded podcasts — it’s every other media product a listener might choose instead, branded or otherwise. Branded shows need to stack up favourably next to non-branded shows on their own merits.

Don’t make it all about you

Don’t be the person at the party who only talks about themselves. Many of the most successful podcasts from brands aren’t about the brands themselves. Instead, they’re about the common interests of the brand and its intended listeners.

Listeners hire podcasts to do jobs for them

Successful podcasts solve problems for listeners. Savvy podcasters understand their listeners’ jobs to be done. Savvy brand marketers understand the job they’re hiring a podcast to do.

A show for “everyone” is a show for no one

If your intended audience is too broad, it becomes difficult to effectively market your show. If your intended audience is too narrow, you leave potential listeners on the table. Solve this Goldilocks problem by designing your show for multiple audiences, rather than a single monolithic audience. At Pacific Content, we recommend starting with well-defined core, adjacent, and transformational audiences.

Podcast marketing is about sampling

The job of podcast marketing and promotions is to encourage listeners to sample your show. To hit play. To give it a try. After that, it’s the show’s job to keep listeners engaged. Don’t expect your podcast marketing efforts to immediately convert first-time listeners into super fans. That’s the show’s job.

Pick the low-hanging fruit first

In descending order, the best bang-for-buck in podcast marketing is:

  • Internal — if you can’t convince people inside your organization to sample your podcast, how will you convince people outside of it? Your team should be the strongest word-of-mouth advocates for your show.
  • Owned — brands have audience development superpowers — large owned channels that nobody else gets to use. Take your loudest megaphones and point them in the same direction.
  • Earned — podcasts travel by recommendation. Other people’s newsletters, best-of lists, and in-app editorial placements can be difficult to secure, but can help you reach new prospective listeners.
  • Paid — Use paid media to reach audiences you otherwise can’t reach.

Eyes first, ears second

Don’t forget about the non-audio parts of your show. Most prospective listeners experience new podcasts with their eyes long before they listen to a single second of audio. Your show’s artwork, copy, and marketing materials should be an accurate and enticing reflection of the audio product within.

Don’t confuse marketing with marketability

If your downloads aren’t as high as you’d like, you probably have a marketing problem. If your engagement isn’t as high as you’d like, you probably have an editorial problem.

There are no magic beans

Podcast audience development is a mindset and a toolkit. It’s a set of best practices that, when applied consistently over time, tend to yield successful results. Beware of anyone selling shortcuts, growth hacks, or magic beans.

You can’t trick someone into loving a crummy show

Podcasting is a medium based on loyalty, habit, and an ongoing opt-in relationship with your listeners. No amount of slick marketing can trick people into these things.

Downloads aren’t the whole story

Measure success relative to your goals, not someone else’s. If you’re a brand marketer with a podcast, measure things that matter to your business: awareness, favourability, consideration, etc. If you care about winning the hearts and minds of a specific well-defined audience, resist the temptation to compare your download numbers against those of ad-supported shows. Downloads aren’t the whole story.

Things change, and that’s OK

The podcast industry is dynamic. The best advice, tools, and strategies from last year likely won’t work today. Don’t get hung up trying to replicate what worked well for somebody else in the past. Your time is much better spent figuring out what’s next.

Jonas (left), Dan (right), and the Giant Funnel Tower of Jumbo Piston Onion Rings (centre) at Ford’s Garage USA in Dearborn, MI

Hands-down, the best part of working at Pacific Content have been the people: our team, our clients, and our industry partners. We feel tremendously grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to work together. Thank you.

What’s next for me and Jonas? Podcasting still feels like such a nascent industry. There are many challenges ahead, and we look forward to being a part of our industry’s future.

As they say in the circus, see you down the road! 🎪

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