Case Study: The Fundamentals of Actually Growing a Profitable Podcast
Over the last few years, I have worked with various podcast hosts and producers to improve their show and take it to the next level. Instead of sharing each one as a separate case study, I figured I would combine it into a frequently asked questions article.
What should I name my podcast?
Naming a podcast and naming your business are two different conversations. There are arguments for both approaches: giving them the same name and giving them a different name. It depends on what the content of the show is or will be, and whether you should consider using your business name as your podcast name. It also depends on which came first.
For brand alignment, yes, it is easy to say you should give them the same name. It will make it easy for your market to know and recognize you. Depending on what your business name is, that could convey a VERY boring show. Or, if you have a more general business name like Pinnacle Solutions—who’s to say that this podcast isn’t about any of the other millions of companies with the same name? It also doesn’t factor in that people generally don’t listen to a podcast because they care about “your business”. Even the most recognized brand in the world, Coca-Cola doesn’t use its company name as its podcast name. Instead, they have podcast titles like Total Refresh, The Polar Bears, and Coke Summer Sounds. Each of these podcasts has a separate focus and audience, and they are all a part of the Coca-Cola brand. According to a BBC study, podcasts improve brand awareness by 89%, brand consideration by 57%, brand favorability by 24%, and purchase intent by 14%.
On the flip side, if you are expanding an existing offering to deliver it via this platform or this new-not-so-new media, then leveraging the existing product or show name could be beneficial. This is what a lot of NPR shows do. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me started as an in-person show and then expanded into a podcast. On the podcast version, you’ll hear parts of the show that had to be edited out for radio broadcasts and special behind-the-scenes episodes. Everything is specifically related to that one point of focus.
Let’s also bring in the topic of including your personal name in the title of the podcast. For most people, it is easier to remember the name of a show, or the title to a book than it is to remember a person’s name. In time, with listening, your audience will get to know you and remember your name. Also, many podcast hosts quickly learn how much work building and managing a podcast really is. If you include your name, you confine yourself to always being the talent. By having a generic or product name for the show, you then give yourself the freedom to have a co-host or a team that can help. Now don’t get too excited here, most podcasts are strictly audio so you’ll need to pay close attention to the voices that lead the show making sure that your listeners can easily distingue between the hosts. Also, you will still need to have one or two primary hosts with that your audience builds rapport. I have yet to see it done successfully with more than two primary hosts.
In addition to the name of your podcast, make sure that you are optimizing it (yes like SEO). This improves organic discoverability driving a higher position in search results and increasing the likelihood of being subscribed.
How do I make money from my podcast?
Let’s be clear upfront. If you are just starting a podcast, don’t plan on it instantly turning into a million-dollar business. That’s not how podcasts work. On average, it takes three years for a podcast to become profitable. Here are a few revenue-generating ideas to help build a revenue-generating podcast over time.
Advertising or Sponsors. You must know your data points for this and know your specific niche. It would also be a good idea to create a page on your website with this information so potential sponsors can easily access it. Any specific data points that you have are valuable and will show a prospective sponsor whether they are a good fit. Here are a few ideas:
- podcast rating (this matters beyond just getting sponsors)
- the number of subscribers, the platforms your podcast is available on, with links of course
- gender/age/location of listeners
- relationship status
- if they have kids or pets
- if they are a business owner.
Build a Google Analytics-backed landing page for your library of episodes. This will help you better identify your listeners. There are also podcast ad networks that can connect you with advertisers like Midroll or AuthenticShows. Depending on who hosts your podcast, they may also have their own network for you to access. Another idea is to pare sponsors and guests. If a sponsor has an interest in a particular guest, you could give them the option to sponsor that episode or co-host it.
Affiliate Marketing. This works best for products or services that you use or are familiar with, so you can authentically promote them. Then when listeners buy, you will receive a commission. Remember, you do have to disclose that you are an affiliate or will be receiving a commission.
Tip Jar or Crowdfunding. At the end of each episode, you can ask your listeners to “give you a tip” or “buy you a cup of coffee” to help support the show. While these are small donations, they can give you direct feedback about which episodes are more popular than others and allow you to start receiving some revenue. It is also good information for sharing with potential sponsors that your audience does invest. You could also sign up for a platform like Patreon to collect these donations and offer a Premium subscription to your listeners.
Online Courses or Books. If you have these or are in the process of building them, you can leverage your podcast content, ads within the show, and even your outro to point listeners to purchase or sign up.
Branded Merchandise. As you build a following, they will want your merchandise. You can have hats, tote bags, shirts, or stickers. Make sure you put the URL on each product as well, so the listener becomes a walking billboard for your podcast.
Talk with Your Listeners. Give them a nickname that you regularly use in the show and invite them to contact you through a specific email address, a Facebook Group, or a Google Form. The more they feel like they are a part of a community, your community, the more they are likely to do business with you and your sponsors.
How do you like the format that I am using?
There are any number of formats out there that work—interview style, host(s) talking, and even story format. There are also short two-minute shows and long 90-minute shows. It’s not about “the single solution that guarantees success”. Instead, there are specific areas of your show that when done correctly, can increase subscribers, generate sales, better leverage ads, and so on.
Let’s start with the first 30 seconds. As host, the “intro” or the show opener is important because it educates the listener about who you are and what the show is about. But as the listener, when every show starts the same it doesn’t entice the listener to stick around. The first 30 seconds instead should reveal the most impactful message of the episode or reveal a teaser of what the listener is about to hear or learn. This will pique their curiosity and get them to stick around. Then go into your opener and in all honesty, it needs to be less than 30 seconds. The shorter the better—target ten seconds, seriously. We don’t like commercials and we have a fast-forward button that we’re not afraid to use--magically it jumps ahead 30 seconds! The shorter the intro, the more likely your listeners are to listen to your intro, get attached to your branding, remember your name, and share your podcast.
The same is true for your “outro” or the show’s closing message. Keep it short and seriously consider what it is. If you end with just formalities, your audience will fast forward through it. My Favorite Murderer ends with a distinct kitty sound that many followers admit, they listen to at the very last second just so they can hear it, even though it’s the exact same and they have over 200 episodes.
If you interview people on your show, remember, they too, need an intro and outro. Though for a guest this is going to look different. Most podcast hosts only focus on the formal introduction of their guests (aka reading their bio). While this is good to give a viewer insight as to who the person is as well as their expertise. Remember, you are most likely looking at the person you are interviewing or know this person personally. On a podcast, most of your audience is only listening to your voice. And, many in your audience don't actually know this person. So before you close out the episode, add an outro for the person that you interviewed that YOU say, stating the person's name, and website address, and reinforce any call to action that was mentioned. This way your listeners don't have to scramble to remember the person's name or figure out how to find them.
When you have ads in your show, remember the fast-forward button! Sprinkle ads throughout and let there be a distinct break between the show and the ad. Otherwise, it can leave the listener feeling confused as to whether you are excited about a product that you are using or if this is an actual ad that is supporting the show. It also makes it easier for having conversations with potential sponsors. If they can see how their ad will be a part of your show, it’ll make it easier for them to say “yes” to sponsor your show.
If you use a format where the host alternates between interviewing someone and reflecting on what was just said, make sure that there is a clear distinction between the two “environments”. An example could be to add a piece of subtle background music behind the host as she reflects on what was just said.
Episode titles. Numbers are good as it makes it easy for your listeners to remember which one they wanted more information about. Make sure your podcast website follows the same format. Also, long episode titles get cut off on the phone. Yes, they scroll, but do people always have time to watch that? You can have longer titles, just be sure that the most important information is within the first 20 characters.
And finally, if you have a podcast website where you share show notes--which I do recommend. Plug this regularly (you will get tired of this, just deal with it) and make it easy for people to find the specific episode they are looking for. Taking this extra step of having episode show notes is more work and it gives you further reach and better SEO. Some people prefer to read instead of listening or watching, and some want to review what they heard. If a lot of tips were mentioned it's easier to find them on a show notes page than try to scramble to write them down as you are talking about them.
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