2nd June, 2021

Before you plan your podcast, create your Listener Story

When starting a podcast, you have to be clear on what you’re making, who it’s for, and how it benefits listeners. It all starts with your Listener Story.

Understanding how your podcast benefits listeners is thing #1 when it comes to developing a new podcast. Before you’ve figured out your name, artwork, branding, theme music or social media handles, you need to be able to understand what listeners get out of following your show.

The “So what?” question

So you’ve got a new podcast or an amazing guest, but how does that affect the people you want to listen? Journalists have to tease this out, and the answer will vary based on the beat that that journalist covers. It can feel brutal because these podcasts are our babies; we spend time working on them, and to many of us, they’re passion projects, so it can be difficult to look at them dispassionately and to ask “so what?”, but it’s important question.

Chicken wings and beer

There are a few podcasts that have a similar name, so we’re not talking about one specific show, but a genre of podcast: a couple of mates cracked open a bottle or with a cocktail on the go, shooting the breeze about whatever comes to mind. It’s how many people start podcasting, and it’s a great way of understanding the medium and dipping a toe in.

But as it is ultimately a show for you and your mates, if you want to reach a larger audience, you’ll need to work hard to demonstrate your value to someone who’s completely new to you.

Yes, the combination of personalities could be a draw, but how can you demonstrate that value to someone who’s never heard your show before? Entertainment format shows a highly competitive, so you need to consider whether you’re up for competing with My Brother, My Brother and Me, or Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, or the Dax Shepard podcast.

It starts with the audience

Do you want 1,000 people to have a nice time listening to your show, or do you want 10 people to be deeply impacted by the message you’ve conveyed? Now, in order to impact those 10 people, we still need to be able to reach the thousands, so we need to think about who our audience is.

Imagine that you’re running a Facebook ad campaign. If you’re targeting an audience for an ad, think about the interests shared among those you want to see that ad. Be as granular as you can, pinpointing specific authors or film franchises, or more broadly in terms of hobbies.

Also think about how old your ideal listener is, or what kind of job they might have. Do they normally listen to podcasts? this could be an important question as it might affect how you approach them later.

It doesn’t mean that you’re going to exclude potential listeners who don’t fall squarely or neatly into the boxes you’ve defined, but figuring out your audience will help answer this next question.

Where do these people hang out?

Are they part of Facebook groups? Do they follow Twitter or Instagram hashtags? Do they hang out on Reddit forums or a particular Discord server? Are they newsletter commenters? Do they go to local meetups? Do they come from a specific area or visit certain types of venues?

Once you know who they are and where you can find them, you’re halfway to a marketing plan for your new podcast. And once you’ve got some episodes under your belt, you’ll be ready to show these people how they benefit from listening to your show.

How does your audience win?

If you have an entertainment show, think clearly about how the listener benefits from spending time with you. Do they gain deeper insight into the topic you’re covering, or do you have knowledge they’re unlikely to find elsewhere?

If you’re podcasting to support a wider marketing effort, consider how the listener specifically by listening to the podcast, not how they might benefit from a future business relationship with you. For a completely new listener, the podcast is the product – they don’t want to feel like they’re just another person falling into a marketing funnel.

To help you hone your benefit, imagine speaking to a busy friend about your podcast. They like you, they want to support you, but their time is limited. How can you help them understand quickly what’s on offer and why they’ll like it? Imagine you’ve got one chance to send a quick text or WhatsApp message, so you’ve got to get the pitch right. What would you tell them so that they tap the link to episode one you’ve shared?

The Listener Story format, with examples

The format goes like this:

I make [my podcast], about [a subject matter], for [my audience], so they can [benefit].

Here are three entertaining podcast pitches that would be fun for anyone to listen to, but where the purpose and market fit is clearly defined:

I make Spit the Dummy, a funny modern parenting podcast for busy, British, single mums, so they can feel seen, heard and supported.

This could be made by a consultant specialising in infant nutrition.

We make Six Seasons and a Movie, a Community rewatch podcast for budding TV writers, so they can learn how to structure a 22 minute story.

This might be made by a script doctor: someone who helps new and established screenwriters neaten up their work, fixing third-act problems and so on.

I make “Be a Dentist” They Said, a discussion show for dentists so they can share anonymous horror stories about their worst patient experiences.

This could be made by a dental equipment supplier, and should probably not be heard by anyone outside of the dental sphere.

Listener Story workbook

Understand how your listener benefits from your work, by reading Listener Story examples, and filling in your own.

Download (17.3 MB)