According to research by hosting platform Libsyn, if your new podcast episode gets over 125 downloads within 30 days, congratulations: you’re in the top 50% of podcasts. When you compare that standard to other forms of content—here are a number of blogs getting hundreds of views a day despite being relatively obscure—there’s clearly room at the top in podcasting. Let’s talk about four things you should keep in mind as you build your podcast audience, and why you might find it different from the kinds of digital marketing you’re used to.
Adjust your budget based on your goals
The amount of marketing investment it requires to build your audience is wholly dependent on the goals you have for your show, according to Share Your Genius co-founder Rachel Downey, who’s been helping B2B brands develop and share podcasts for four years and is a producer and showrunner for Scared Confident, Element Three CEO Tiffany Sauder’s podcast.
Here’s the example she provides. Say you’ve written a book, and it’s coming out in September. You want to launch a podcast in August to promote it, with the end goal of selling 10,000 copies of the book. You’re going to want a large audience for the show, and fast—you don’t have time to spend months cultivating a listener base. It’s certainly possible, Rachel says, but it’ll cost you. If you don’t have a promotion budget around $30–50 thousand, you’re not getting where you want to go.
On the other hand, though, if you’re fine with a more traditional approach—that is, slow-playing it, and building an audience slowly over time—you’re going to be able to decrease that investment significantly. This is what most podcasts do, and while it will still require some promotion on your part, you likely aren’t going to have to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to get there.
Before you set your budget, spend some time thinking about what your goals for listenership are, and how quickly you need to get there.
Don’t think about podcast promotion like other digital advertising
The audience for a podcast is a bit different from the typical audience you might be hunting for as a digital marketer. Your personas aren’t necessarily going to change, but the ways in which you interact with them might, simply because despite podcasting’s growth in the past ten or fifteen years, it’s still something of a niche interest in the way that people connect with it.
Rachel Downey puts it this way: there are basically two different segments in your overarching audience that you’ll need to communicate with differently and in different places. The first is people who are podcast enthusiasts (or who are at least familiar with podcasts and have listened to a few) who fit your target audience. The second is people who fit your target audience and you believe would be interested in your show, but aren’t necessarily into podcasts.
For the former, there’s a whole industry playbook: there are podcasting newsletters you can appear in. You can buy ads on Spotify or Acast or other places where people listen to podcasts. You can even pitch to other existing podcasts that are popular among your target audience; as an ad read, as a sponsor, or even as a guest or collaborator. As per usual, your owned, earned, and paid media options are all going to be on the table, but they might be different venues than you’re used to in a non-podcasting engagement.
For the latter group, you can still find them in the places you typically would, but the struggle there isn’t going to be simply getting in front of them. It’s going to be bridging the gap to get them to try consuming your content in a new medium they might not be used to. The success (or lack thereof) of this process will hinge on your messaging.
Audience targeting can be more difficult than you’re used to
Digital marketers are used to having granular data about their audiences. The thing is, podcasting is a bit different. Listener data is much more protected than it is elsewhere on the internet. If someone listens to a show on Apple Podcasts but they don’t subscribe, all they trigger is a number—”that’s one more download.” You won’t know a ton about who that person is unless they engage with you and take an action, like using a promo offer code from an ad.
That said, you know your show’s premise and topic, and you know your brand’s overarching audience, and a smart marketer can make inferences based on that. Most of the time, if you’re paying for promotion, you’re really paying for reach rather than any kind of guarantee. Think about it like traditional marketing—like, for example, a billboard. You know that certain areas are traveled more heavily than others, so that’s probably where you want your ad to live. But in the real world, women between the ages of 18 and 34 don’t drive on their own interstate that’s separate from where baby boomer men between the ages of 55 and 73 drive. Different kinds of podcasts attract different kinds of people. Whether or not you know the names of the people who download yours, your brand should be able to guide you towards the answer.
Marketer’s intuition, combined with the brand research you’ve already done, isn’t going to be quite as precise and targeted as what you’re used to. But it will certainly get the job done.
When it comes to investment, you have options
If your promotion strategy involves advertising within other established shows, there are a few different ways you can do it. One is to simply go to a catalogue, pick out where you want to advertise, and pay on a CPM model. If you don’t get the hits, you don’t pay. You can also go straight to a show’s producer to negotiate a partnership, whether that’s collaborative or a guest appearance or just a simple ad.
Depending on the size of the show, this can get expensive, and it can be hard to come to an agreement. Even if you’re simply sponsoring a show, podcast hosts and producers are fiercely defensive of the quality and integrity of their shows, as you might guess. An investment can help you get in the door, but it’s not going to be enough on its own. You’ll likely get vetted, and if you pass through that process, then you can talk dollars and cents.
Starting out on the right foot
So what can you do to make sure that first step out the door is in the right direction? One piece of advice Rachel Downey provided was to partner with an established show from the outset, and perhaps even launch your show on their feed at the same time you do on your own feed. If your audiences align, it can provide a major shot in the arm to your initial listener base, and you can get off and running successfully. If you look closely at the podcast industry, you will also begin to see podcast networks forming to aid in cross promotion of shows and to serve up related content to audience segments; one example of this is the HubSpot Podcast Network.
But no matter what you do for episode one, following this strategy through episode two, episode ten, and episode 100 is the best way to build a long-lasting and ever-growing audience for your show. There’s not a perfect route to the top of the charts—you simply have to have the courage to start.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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