(TL;DR: Podcast marketing is hard. As independent podcasters, there are three layers to podcast marketing that we can affect every day. Scroll to the bottom to watch a short video for the quick version.)
As an independent podcaster, I have the same challenges as you when it comes to growing my show. I’m “in the trenches” every day growing my show, just like you.
As the CEO of Rebel Base Media, I’m fortunate enough to be able to also take a really long “macro” look at podcasting too thanks to our podcasting solutions being used by thousands of podcasters every day.
When I compare those two views, one “podcaster’s eye” level and one “industry bird’s eye” level, I see a disconnect in the way that growing a podcast is perceived. In fact, so much advice is given at the theoretical level and not that much at the tactical “Hey, try this specific thing” level and that makes it really difficult to actually implement something.
I’ve recently put a concept together which will help you bridge that gap between theory and tactics and that focuses on the discoverability issues that each of us, as independent podcasters, face every single day.
I call this the Podcast Discoverability Triangle.
The main crux of this is that as podcasters we don’t think of ourselves as marketers. But we are, we have to be. We aren’t NPR or Wondery with marketing teams. We’re the host, the marketer, the producer and the coffee maker – we are our podcast; nay, we are our brand.
And brands must market themselves.
The challenge is, that what we all do is simply market our content.
We produce an episode, pop a few quotes on Instagram, drop it into social media a few times, maybe make a fancy audiogram out of it and then we might even tell our social scheduler to add it to a library of “older” content that continues to get shared on an repeated basis.
But that’s not enough, not today.
For one simple reason: the attention of a human being is now at an all-time premium, and it’s hard to get it. It’s even harder to keep.
To this end, we as indie podcasters must address the industry level discoverability issues without concerning ourselves with the technological challenges of podcast discoverability.
Tech companies far and wide are trying to solve that technological issue, in fact, it seems that every week something new launches in this space.
Technology takes time to seep into the public consciousness. Sure, neophiliacs like me will hop on to new technology straight away, and we’ll even advocate for it once we trust it – but the mass of podcast creators and listeners simply won’t move that fast, so any discoverability tool created by any tech company or podcatcher will take time to deliver a net positive effect.
As indie podcasters, we don’t want to wait. We want our numbers to grow, starting yesterday!
So whilst there is a huge technological aspect of overcoming the podcast industry’s discoverability issues, whatever happens in that space likely won’t help you and me, the indie podcaster today, tomorrow or even this year.
We have to help ourselves. And to do that, we have to put our marketing hat on and understand the three pillars of podcast discoverability, the three things that we can do something about, right now.
Here are s
Right now, most podcast marketing works in a linear fashion based around an episode of content.
But that’s not how marketing works. What we’re doing when we market like this is asking so many people who may not know about us to instantly “buy in” to our product: our podcast episode.
We market like a middle-aged Daniel Larusso trying to sell cars from our lot before we’ve earned any trust with the buyer. Our potential new listeners and our marketing is tantamount to Daniel’s billboards along a Los Angeles highway.
Perhaps even more frustratingly, we’re letting our existing listeners down by taking that approach, too.
We’ve now become the bank that doesn’t look after its long-term, faithful and loving customers anymore because all we’re focused on is growing our customer base, and increasing our listenership.
The challenge is that when you ask for podcasting marketing advice, what you usually get is based on the tactics used in marketing an episode, not how to create a podcast marketing strategy. You need to develop specifically focussed and goals-driven marketing campaigns, or how to develop a podcasting brand that you own, deeply live and breathe; a podcast brand that attracts the people with whom you share a kinship, repelling those that will simply never like what you do, regardless.
In order to be able to create a podcast marketing strategy, a series of podcast marketing campaigns and ensure that we treat our current listeners like royalty whilst also attracting the right type new listeners (not just those who will dip in and out), we have to develop a deep, deep understanding of our podcasting brand and then use that brand, in tandem with a solid understanding of the podcast discoverability triangle, to create communications that overcome the non-technological barriers to gaining a new, long-term listener.
The branding talk. We need to have it.
Right now, I need to take a moment to digress slightly so that I can talk to you about “brand”.
I owned a brand agency for over a decade, creating brands for multiple companies that you use every day so I need to get to this for a second. The reason that I’m telling you this is because it matters. But most podcasters are getting questionable advice about what their brand is or what it means.
When I talk about your podcasting brand I am not talking about:
- Your podcast logo
- Your podcast cover art
- Owning your .com domain
- Your color palette
- Your typefaces (fonts)
They are simply pieces of the front-facing shop window and they are all important. After all, Tinder exists for the superficial reason of being able to choose a potential life partner based initially on their looks.
Choosing a podcast, with no prior context or knowledge by browsing a podcast directory like Spotify or Apple Podcasts is no different – so all of the above need to be exceptional.
But these are not your brand. These are some of your brand assets.
Your brand is how you make people feel, it’s how you’re remembered and it’s that one sentence that people use to describe you to strangers.
Your brand is how you talk, it’s how you look, it’s how you interact with people; your brand is a promise of the type of experience that anyone (listeners included) has when they touch anything that you create “in the wild”.
With or without you there.
The fact is that every single time someone interacts with something that you’ve created or being featured in, that is a representation of your brand – not just your logo, your colors, your fonts or even your message.
For podcasters, we believe that our audio is at the front of our brand but that can only be true once people have made the leap into being a listener from simply being a curious browser or cautious lurker.
One of the most difficult jobs that we face as podcasters is that of channel shifting people from one place to another.
As an example, we ask people to take action based on the calls to action within our show, either for sponsors or ourselves and whilst podcasting performs better in this regard than most other forms of media according to the data, this is still a huge challenge.
The same can be said for channel shifting someone from coming across your brand on social media or via word-of-mouth and then actually moving that person enough for them to try out your podcast.
Heck, even moving someone from glancing at your show in Spotify, for example, and deciding to give it a tentative first listen is tough.
At every step, your brand has to be aligned with your target audience and it must act as a filter quickly enough for someone to ask themselves “Am I the type of person that responds to this brand; are these my people?” – visuals, tone-of-voice, interactions with you and your team; you have to make a promise that your brand identifies its people and then looks after them with the utmost respect, vitality and an actual consistent presence in their lives.
The equity in your podcast is more than its download numbers.
It’s the people who choose you. Those who align with you and believe in you; your podcast’s brand equity lies in the influence that you create amongst your people.
The second a listener tunes in to your show for the first time is the second that your podcast becomes a brand, and as a brand, you have a duty of care to dedicate yourself to giving your people the very best.
Your listeners are investing in you the one thing that none of us are getting back: time. And in return for that investment, they deserve the finest experience, every single time they “touch” your brand.
The marketing podcaster.
I mentioned earlier in this piece that the focus here is not the technology side of podcast discoverability.
Rather, I want to focus on what we as independent podcasters can do to give our show the best chance of reaching our ideal listener with the least friction possible.
In order to do that, we have to think like marketers and stop simply promoting our audio in a manner that implies transience, focussing instead upon building a multi-layered, ongoing approach to our podcast marketing.
As a business owner, you think in terms of marketing campaigns. You set goals, outcomes and you build specific, targeted campaigns around one message per target “persona”, and you run them for a significant period of time – testing, measuring and iterating little and often.
But as indie podcasters, we don’t think like that. It’s easy to understand why: we’re so busy keeping our show in production – and of course, that’s fair.
In fact, when I talk to independent podcasters about their marketing and in particular, what they actually do to market their show, it looks a lot like this:
I’m a big believer in getting your hands dirty and in the past, I’ve talked about my belief that every startup founder should become a solid marketer and how every startup founder should spend the first year of their business highly involved in the day-to-day of the customer support of their business.
That is how you understand challenges and then turn the solutions those into marketable features and benefits from a place of empathy.
Podcasting should be no different. The difference between a startup founder and an indie podcaster though is significant: even though as hosts/creators we have listeners, we aren’t always able to listen to each and every one of them in return.
Thanks to the relative challenge of gaining solid feedback from our audience often enough to make a difference to our podcast marketing, we’re left with a void; we’re left with marketing tactics that don’t always work; we’re left without a strategic view of the “why” behind our desired podcast growth.
Thanks to that void, we often fail to build effective marketing campaigns. In fact, more often than not, the indie podcasters that I speak to have never even considered a marketing campaign as something that they’d ever need to consider.
To fill that void, I decided to visualise the three main challenges that we as independent podcasters face when trying to build a listenership.
By understanding the part that each of these pillars of podcast discoverability plays in podcast marketing, we can create a multi-tiered, multi-layered marketing strategy that gives us the chance to implement, quickly and easily, multiple podcast marketing campaigns with each aimed at overcoming each challenge that the discoverability triangle presents.
The podcast discoverability triangle.
The point of developing this is to give you a visual reminder of the three things that your podcast marketing has to cover in order to be effective.
It should act as a bridge between podcast marketing theory and podcast marketing tactics, allowing you to build out a podcast marketing strategy that suits your audience and your show and begin to go some way to helping you to understand why the things that seem to work “for everyone else” may not be working for your audience.
As an independent podcaster, you have to understand and create a marketing strategy that overcomes three things:
- Your potential ideal listener may not even know that podcasting exists.
- Your potential ideal listener may love podcasts but has never heard of you.
- You aren’t creating content that matters enough to your ideal listener for them to tell anyone else about it, even though you think you are.
The reason I chose “triangle” for this visualisation is that I believe that each of the three challenges above is supportive of each other. You could simply market to overcome one of the three or two of the three, but in engineering a triangular structure is far stronger and thus, for our podcast marketing to be as strong as possible, we must target overcoming all three of the challenges above.
Let’s break each corner of the podcast discoverability triangle down:
Your potential ideal listener may not even know that podcasting exists.
Before you come after me, let me explain, please!
It’s true that podcasting is growing but right now, not everyone knows about the medium. People with more data and insight than me report on this every single year, I recommend Tom Webster and his team (this is the 2018 version, 2019 to be published soon).
Whilst at a macro level, there are untapped listeners across the whole industry to be “converted” to podcast aficionados, there’s also the consideration that within the niche you create content for the awareness of podcasting may be greater or smaller than the whole population at large.
This presents you with an opportunity to educate people within your niche on the benefits and ease of podcast consumption and open up more of your market to the medium as a whole.
The reason that I believe that this is a really strong opportunity for growth is that people who love consuming the type of content that you create, albeit it in other formats (YouTube, for example) are already primed to make the jump to audio content – they just need a guide, they just need you.
Being in podcasting I know that it can be really hard to believe that non-podcast consumers will have so many questions, the answers to which we take for granted.
Simple questions such as “Are podcasts free?” and “How do I listen to a podcast?” can seem alien to us, but as a marketer, you have to give your audience what they need, and if answers like that are what they need, then we have to give them.
As competition hots up in podcasting, where so many shows are being launched week-by-week, aligning yourself as the leader in your niche, the audio influencer, by not only promoting your show’s content on an episode-by-episode basis but also promoting podcasting in general puts you ahead of your competition – you are the expert.
The first part of increasing listenership to your podcast lies in creating a long-term education-based marketing strategy that targets your niche and helps them to learn about what a podcast is and how to listen.
Here’s how to teach people.
Who do you know around you that has no idea about what you do? Who is that person in your circle that thinks you’re Chandler Bing – they love you but have no idea what you do.
You know who I mean. There’s always one, right?
Take them out for lunch and talk to them about podcasting, just drop in an open-ended question such as “Hey, do you like podcasts?” and then sit back and listen, progressing the conversation with more open-ended questions:
“Oh really? Why haven’t you ever listened to one?”
“What made you think you have to pay for them?”
“Oh no it’s not complex to listen to one, why did you think that? Let me show you, here’s my phone.”
“Ahh so you’ve heard of Kevin Smith and that he has one, have you heard of anything in [insert your niche]?”
There are hundreds of questions like this that you can ask to gain really insightful, honest and unbiased feedback on the barriers keeping people that you know from consuming podcasts.
At that point, you’ve gathered enough information from a non-podcast listener to create a long-term, brand awareness led marketing campaign intended to educate non-podcast listeners on how to listen to them, how they work, the fact that they don’t need to pay, etc.
Creating a suite of marketing materials that overcome each of these barriers and that answers each of these questions quickly and specifically will help to position you as the leader in your niche, opening up more of your niche market to the idea of listening to any podcasts.
But the really cool thing is that within all of the materials that educate on “how to listen to podcasts”, it’s your podcast featured and guess what: every time that a podcast convert shares some “how to listen to podcasts” education from you to another potential podcast convert, that new podcasting prospect in your niche sees your show as their first ever experience of a podcast. Sweet!
Here’re a few quick, simple ideas for marketing materials that you could create for this:
- One minute Instagram “how to listen” videos that cover one aspect of how to listen, each.
- Facebook Live where you talk about something you’ve covered in your show to your niche market and then at the beginning and then again towards the end (before a recap, for example), you whip out your phone and show someone how to find your podcast.
- Some printed materials at live events that show the quick three steps to finding your podcast and how to actually use podcasts in general (important: you aren’t just promoting your show here, you’re using your show as the example to teach people how to find podcasts in general)
There are plenty more that you can think of, I’ve no doubt.
Run this campaign forever and update it every year, minimum.
Your potential ideal listener may love podcasts but has never heard of you.
Again, don’t come after me just yet!
It’s true, there are people in the world who love podcasts but who don’t know about you. Heck, I’d posit there are plenty of available prospect listeners who already love podcasts and who already love people who you class as “competitors”.
First up, I don’t think podcasters have competition, per sé. Rather, I believe that hosts build their own tribes and attract their own avid fans – all ships rise in a high tide.
When you look at the data that Edison provides, it’s clear that podcast listeners have got time to listen to new shows so all we need to do, theoretically, is show a podcast consumer who loves something similar to our show that 1. We exist and 2. We’re worth a look (listen, then).
Now, I know that sounds flippantly easy yet I also know that it’s absolutely not.
In my opinion, these are the people that we think will respond heavily to our Instagram pull quotes, to our short audio wave snippets and who will convert to a listener based on the repeating episode level marketing that I illustrated above.
But I’m not so sure. After all, those tactics don’t really work in product or service marketing and are generally used to build brand awareness, not drive conversions. Of course, tactics like this have a place in podcast marketing, but they aren’t going to convert someone to a new listener in my opinion – all they will do is add some brand reinforcement (“Oh yeah, it’s that girl!”).
Instead, I believe that to convert current podcast listeners into listeners of our show we have to create a path of least resistance and we have to stop assuming that our listening prospects are willing to invest their valuable time in consuming something long-form from us when they’ve never heard of us.
How to do it.
I feel that there are some pretty simple tactics that we can use to garner new listeners from existing podcasts in our niche.
First, I’d suggest that we guest on other podcasts in our niche and I’d suggest that we do that from a place of giving, not receiving. There’s a lot of advice out there about this topic, so I’m not going to go into it here, rather I want to make a slight tweak to the logic of this.
Specifically I want to talk about the question we’re always asked when we guest on a podcast: “Where can our listeners find you online?”.
More often than not, we assume that the best answer here involves one of three things:
- Sending people to a generic landing page, such as our website homepage
- Creating a specific offer/link for that podcast
- Asking people to subscribe to our podcast
I think we can do things more effectively for our show and reduce the friction for our potential new listeners.
Here’re some things I’d like to see you try instead of any of the three above:
- Create one consistent call to action that you use on all guest slots – this sounds counterintuitive because you potentially lose that “short link” tracking for each show-by-show call to action, but I think that’s a fair sacrifice in order to become known across the niche for recommending people do one thing.
It’s not confusing and the message is consistent every single time people hear from you.
If you really want to track, use Pretty Links for each show to create a custom trackable URL for that show that points to the same thing every time. (Note, this is built into Podcast Websites, natively.)
- Don’t assume that prospective listeners are willing to invest a chunk of time with you – building upon the idea above, rather than asking someone to head to a website homepage or to subscribe to a show in their podcast app, how about giving them a low-risk, low-time-investment option instead: recommend that they listen to a trailer of your show.
Your podcast host makes this easy, so the tech isn’t an issue and it gives that prospective listener a really simple and quick way to get to know you and get a feel for your show.
When setting this call to action up, make sure to give some specifics about what that listener can expect, e.g.:
“Thank you for the opportunity! The best place to find me is to check out my 30-second podcast trailer where I’ll talk you through the format of my podcast and why you might enjoy it, give you a sneak peek at some recent content and tell you everything you need to know about when new episodes drop. You can find that at [website short-link].”
The last part, the website short-link, is important and could be controversial. Why not send someone to Spotify or Apple Podcasts, etc?
- Retargeting – the answer to that is three-fold: less friction, brand ownership and retargeting.
You have to think like a marketer and marketers endeavour to move someone into their eco-system early and quickly so that they can do more with that prospect.
By giving a website short-link instead of a “Go find it in Spotify or Apple Podcasts” style call to action you actually gain three big positives:
- Less friction for the listener – they can listen on any device, anywhere, to just that trailer without having to fire up a podcast app and search, etc.
- Brand ownership – you own that landing page so you can put other, curated pieces of content on that page that reinforce the idea that your show is potentially great for them. You can move them through your eco-system easier and with more control, finally asking them to subscribe as they’ve gotten to know, like and trust you. Heck, you might even get them on your email list if that’s a goal for you.
- If you’re using Facebook’s Tracking Pixel, for example, you can create a simple retargeting campaign to target people who have visited your website with “latest episode” or more trailer-led content on Facebook & Instagram, in order to pull them over to being an active podcast subscriber and listener.
Thinking like a marketer doesn’t need to be complex, it just needs to be considered and most of this section is “set it and forget” to a large degree.
You aren’t creating content that matters enough to your ideal listener for them to tell anyone else about it, even though you think you are.
First of all, I have no doubt that you’re creating outstanding content and I have no doubt that you love it.
What I’m talking about here is that honestly, we’re all a little lazy when it comes to sharing things. As a podcast listener, we’re often doing something else whilst listening and for us to break whatever we’re doing, grab our phone, tablet or mouse and proactively share something, it really has to move us.
It has to hit us hard enough that the very act of taking out our device is a small price to pay for the rest of the world finding out about the content that just gut-punched us.
When we’re creating our shows, we have to add value – we’re always told that, right?
Sure, but we also have to make someone laugh or cry; reel in shock or empathize so deeply that the listener’s first reaction is “I have to tell someone about this” – and that “someone” will often be “people like us”, i.e. people like the listener and people like you the host/creator.
Your content has to be so powerfully aligned with your listener that they simply have to be the one to tell “people like us” about it.
Your content doesn’t have to appeal to everyone, your content must be targeted and focused solely on those with whom you created your podcast for in the first place.
Be something to someone rather than nothing to everyone.
Word of mouth is one of the most powerful methods of growing & marketing anything and so, we must cultivate that.
Here’s how to create word of mouth.
Simply put, we have to make our audience feel.
Too often I hear podcasters waxing lyrical about their unique podcast being so stand-out because they “add value” – of course, you do, you have to. That’s not unique. That’s like a plumber showing up at my house and reaffirming that they “can do plumbing”. It’s a given that if you’re recording something, you believe in it enough to believe that it delivers value.
But let’s not forget podcasting’s past, before entrepreneur shows and we all started to use it for marketing.
Let’s think here about entertainment, about making someone laugh or cry; let’s understand what it is about our content that touches people and let’s spend time developing our skills so that we become a better host, a more effective interviewer – let’s appreciate our listener enough to respect that we have to give them something that they feel.
If we can do that, if we can craft stories and entertainment that evoke emotions and if we can develop our own host skills enough to know how to present these stories in such a way that the emotion lingers and that we let the content breathe – not simply keep on talking – then we’re halfway there.
The other half of that then becomes a simple matter of asking your listener to share that one thing, the one thing from each episode that touched them.
In my opinion, it’s better to ask someone to share something pertinent from each episode than it is to request a “Hey, share this episode will ya!”, purely because there’s a reason to do so.
At the point within each episode that you know you have delivered something powerful, funny or shocking, why not take a second to respectfully, and in a classy way, request that your listener tells someone about that moment in your episode.
Learning from our broadcast brothers and sisters.
To that end, as podcasters, there’s a lot that we can learn from how broadcasters, both radio and television, cultivate these shareable moments.
Early morning breakfast shows or drive-time shows do this really well. They create segments within their show and they repeat those segments at the same time, every single show.
I’m a big advocate of doing something similar within a podcast. So many podcasters do this but not enough new podcasters that I see are putting the time into developing this concept.
I think we all should be thinking about this. After all, it’s easier to share that you heard something within a specific segment of a specific episode of a podcast than it is to simply tell someone the “why” about the shareable moment and the episode that it featured in.
As a recent example of this, my friend and Rebel Base Media sister, Jess and I have put together a new podcast to help podcasters and to run alongside our podcast hosting service, Captivate.
Our podcast, Captivate: The Definitive Guide to Becoming an Audio Influencer features a few specific, easily shareable segments – named for complete comedy effect and to capture the personality that Jess and I bring to the table:
- “Podcasting Mass Debates” – talking through something newsworthy or pertinent in podcasting.
- “Stupid Shit in Podcasting” – discussing the craziest advice, the most nuts BS out there in the industry today and generally covering podcasting pet peeves. It’s hilarious.
- “Audio Influence Assignment of the Week” – giving you physical and specific homework as an independent podcaster to help you to actually grow your podcast.
- “The Flattering Ram” – we pick something or someone in podcasting and flatter them, for no reason other than it’s nice to be nice. For example, “How nice is Harry Duran’s hair these days?!” Ain’t no-one else doing that!
It’s worth a thought for your podcast, too.
Quick visual recap of the Podcast Discoverability Triangle:
And implementing a multi-tiered podcast marketing stack based on the podcast discoverability triangle and the episode level marketing that you’re already likely to be doing:
This multi-tiered approach incorporates marketing through the three structural supports of the podcast discoverability triangle along with the the traditional cycle-based marketing at episode level.
Podcast marketing tiers breakdown:
- Tier 1: “Shareability” – micro-marketing using visual assets and tagging of anyone included on social to drive conversation around the segments of your podcast. Lifespan: heavy during episode release week and recycled for future use. Interestingly, you could explore “Best of…” style round-ups, etc for these segments.
- Tier 2: The traditional cyclical episode-level marketing that you’re probably already doing. Lifespan: heavy during episode release week followed by sparing recycling in the future.
- Tier 3: Brand-level “Who am I” marketing intended to target the “Love podcasts, but don’t know me” challenge. Lifespan: ongoing guest strategy and retargeting.
- Tier 4: “What is a podcast” educational marketing. Lifespan: ongoing.
Each of these tiers should be consistently marketed and come together to form your podcast overall marketing strategy.
In closing: podcast marketing is hard, but we do have control.
Whilst the barrier to creating a podcast is becoming lower and lower every year, marketing a podcast is really hard and honestly, it’s only going to get harder as more and more shows flood the space.
Whilst technology in podcasting is always evolving and bringing us new toys to play with when it comes to our marketing, none of these will work effectively over the long-term without a solid and sound understanding of base marketing strategy and running these multi-layered marketing campaigns for your show will help you to win the long game.
Because that’s what podcasting is.
Here’s a quick recap for you: