There’s a huge opportunity right now for content marketers to get in on the ground floor of the podcasting game and really stand out in a space that has room for newcomers. From the outside, it may not feel that way—you might look at large, established podcasts and think that breaking in would be difficult. But let’s really look at the numbers, and compare the state of podcasting today to one of the pillars of content marketing: blogging.
According to Daniel J. Lewis’s Podcast Industry Insights tool, in March of 2021 we hit the two million podcast mark. Just over 36% of them are active today, meaning there are over 756,000 podcasts that have published at least one new episode in the past 90 days. Over 50 million individual podcast episodes are available to listen to right now. That sounds like a lot, and it is. But consider this as well: there are perhaps as many as 600 million blog sites across the internet, and over 2.5 billion individual blog posts go live every day.
All of this is to say that there’s tons of momentum in the podcasting space—and yet when you compare where podcasting is today to where blogging is right now, the sheer volume of blog content absolutely dwarfs what’s available in the audio medium. There’s clearly plenty of room for new voices to take hold and find their audiences in the podcasting space. Our CEO Tiffany Sauder started a podcast this year, and as we get Scared Confident rolling, we thought it might be worth a look at how the strategy behind our podcast was born.
To get some of the details, I talked 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. Let’s get into what we found.
Does your business need a podcast?
This is a fair question you might be asking right now. The short answer is that more content tends to be better, and the more media your content lives in, the easier it is for your prospects to find you. Since there’s so much more blogging being done, it can be a lot harder to stand out; with a relatively smaller podcasting ecosystem, attention’s a bit easier to get.
On top of that, the medium itself offers some unique benefits. The conversational style of podcasting allows for a rapport that other media don’t, and it creates a touchpoint for your brand that doesn’t involve making people stare at a screen. That conversational style also offers an organic entrypoint for guests, which opens up a network effect. You have someone on your podcast, and they’ll likely promote it. Their network listens, and they learn about you in the process. These are people you might otherwise have never had the opportunity to reach. And it can go both ways—if you go on another show, you can impact their audience network that way, as well.
The bottom line? Podcasting allows you to use your show to bridge connections with people in ways that other media just don’t.
How closely should the podcast be tied to your business?
This might seem like a simple question to answer—after all, we are talking about starting a podcast for your business, so it seems like the two should be pretty closely related. But it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. Depending on exactly what you want to do with the podcast, there are a few different strategies that you can employ.
You can, of course, simply brand your podcast in the same way you have branded your business. The “Tom’s Tools Tool Hour” can perform great, as long as you’re providing your intended audience with the content they’re looking for (in this case, probably home improvement tips or reviews of new tool releases). You don’t necessarily have to get fancy with it. You can also go in a direction in which the podcast and your main brand are related, but not necessarily identical. For example, Red Bull’s “How to Be Superhuman” podcast isn’t about energy drinks, but its focus on endurance athletes definitely fits with Red Bull’s “extreme” lifestyle branding.
You can also go a bit further off the beaten path and really lean into the host’s brand instead of the business’ brand. That’s what Tiffany has done with Scared Confident—while it’s obviously going to be associated with Element Three because she is, the show itself isn’t necessarily about marketing. There are things that she wants to talk about that end up being closely related to Element Three, like when she talked about DEI topics with San Pathak, our COO—although it wasn’t at all about marketing. But there are also important conversations that barely touch on Element Three at all, like when Tiffany talked about becoming a mother for the first time with Lindsay McGuire.
There’s no one right answer here. It depends on the goals you have for your show, and it also can depend a lot on what kind of business you are, and who’s running the podcast. Some shows will be best served to try to ride the coattails of a larger brand, others should lean heavily on the host’s personal brand.
What’s the “why” behind your podcast?
According to Rachel Downey, the “why” behind your podcast is the most important thing to establish before moving forward. What do you want to achieve through your show? What are your goals, what does success look like? Getting clear on this from the outset establishes your roadmap—and that “why” is going to determine the answers to a lot of the other questions we’ll talk about.
Take Scared Confident, for example. When Tiffany set out to start this show, she had a very specific vision of what it should be. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a show that simply talks to interesting people, but she wanted to specifically interrogate how fear affects our lives inside and outside the workplace, and especially to examine that through the lens of the female experience. Everything that we do, then, is centered around that truth.
Your own goal doesn’t have to be that specific. A show that’s just about interviewing cool people in your field is a great idea—if done well. If your goal is simply to build networks and connect with the big names in the industry, then that kind of show’s perfect. But make the decision in a way that allows you to fit your format to your goals, rather than the other way around.
So once you know that, what next?
What do you want to say with your podcast?
This coincides with what we were just talking about, but once you’ve established your “why” you need to establish the “what.” The simple fact that a podcast exists doesn’t mean that it’s going to get—or deserve—attention. While the podcasting space is far from hitting its saturation point, it is growing swiftly. It’s easy to believe podcasting is going to see a similar trajectory to the one blogging followed a decade ago. It’s going to become ever more difficult to stay fresh and stand out.
The podcasts that struggle to gain meaningful traction with the audience lack a compelling angle or a point of view—those are the ones that fade into the background as other, more interesting shows come to the fore. So what’s your podcast saying? What’s the unique angle that you’re taking that’s going to make it worth the listener’s while?
What is your podcast’s audience?
Just like any other marketing engagement, you need to know who you’re trying to speak to in order to know precisely how you should be communicating with them. And just like any other marketing effort, research can help support your decision making. You might explore using a topic modeling process to help uncover what your audience cares about and how you could connect what you do and sell with the audience’s curiosity or needs.
Depending on how you’re planning on branding your podcast, you might already have some insights based on your business’ brand. But even if you feel pretty confident at that level, it’s still worth doing some investigation into how your chosen audience will interact with a new medium. It’s likely that no matter how well you think you know your audience, you’ll learn something new, especially if this is your first foray into audio/visual content.
Figure out who you want to be talking to, and determine what questions they’re asking. Then, be the one who’s answering those questions. These principles of good content don’t change, no matter what medium you’re working in.
Why not start a business podcast?
Finally, before you get up and running, this is an absolutely critical thing to consider as you’re strategizing. If you’re not good at narrative and verbal communication, you probably shouldn’t start a podcast. This seems obvious. But in the same way someone who is not a writer—or someone who doesn’t want to do the work to become good at writing—shouldn’t start a weekly newsletter, if you don’t enjoy talking, you won’t be good at podcasting.
Sometimes as marketers it can be tempting to jump into the hot trend rather than focusing on the medium you think you can win at in the long term. Like with all content types, sustaining the work of a podcast takes much more stamina and attention than you think when you’re first starting out, and excited about the cool new project. The internet is littered with resource sections, blogs, and failed attempts at newsletters because there wasn’t a commitment deep enough to the channel to get through the mid-game fatigue. Podcasting is exactly the same. It takes commitment, proper resourcing and a champion that has a clear vision. If you don’t have those things, don’t do the job halfway. It won’t be worth it.