Steve Pratt: Who is going to scale the podcast industry? It might not be who you think.

Guest columnist Steve Pratt is co-owner and Partner of Pacific Content, which creates original podcasts for brands including Slack, Mozilla, and Dell. This article originally appeared on the Pacific Content blog.

There are a lot of very smart brains working on how to grow the podcast industry to the point of mainstream adoption.

Simply put, the challenge is to convert people who are not regular listeners into new podcast fans. We have written about strategies for “growing the denominator” versus “preaching to the converted” and we have also discussed how rethinking podcast formats is an important way to expand the listener base.

However, one very unlikely group is making major strategic inroads in growing a lot of new podcast listeners:


Specifically, the ones producing their own podcasts. (Full disclosure: this is the sole focus of our business 🙂 )

Why? Brands can reach a LOT of people in a lot of ways and many of them will not be regular podcast listeners.

How many people can Facebook, Charles Schwab, Mozilla, Slack, Dell Technologies, Red Hat, or Prudential reach if they utilize their owned channels? A LOT. Millions and millions, in fact.

And, if the huge number of people they can reach is representative of the general population, the odds are that the vast majority of those people are not regular podcast listeners.

How brands can grow new podcast listeners

So, how do brands transform non-listeners into listeners?

  1. Make an amazing show. Mediocrity won’t cut it. Informercials won’t cut it. The show has to be so good that large numbers of people will try a new medium for the first time because the premise is so compelling.
  2. Sell the story, not the medium. It’s tough to sell the value of podcasting as a medium on its own. Just an unfamiliar word like “podcasting” can be daunting for non-listeners. So when you’re promoting the show, get people excited about the story, the lesson they will learn, and the information they will get from listening. Sell the value of the listen. If you can plant a strong enough story hook, they will take the chance to try a new medium.
  3. Don’t use confusing language that might act as a barrier to sampling. For example, the word “subscribe” could imply that you have to pay to listen. There are some smart experiments going on that are testing various language choices to see what is most effective, including “Listen now” or “Listen for free.” Again, you might not even want to use the word podcast to promote the show.
  4. Make it easy to listen. Try to reduce friction wherever you can. If you’re able to tell whether people are on iOS versus Android, send them straight to Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts. The apps are pre-installed on their phones and they can start listening right away. Nothing to install. Just tap and get listening.
  5. Use all your strengths. Use your email newsletters, use your websites, use your apps, use your physical locations, and use whatever else you’ve got at your disposal. If you’re making an amazing show, people will be happy to have it promoted to them.

What’s in it for brands to do this?

Why would a brand make an original podcast? There some pretty compelling reasons:

  1. You never forget your first. Do you remember your first podcast? Almost everyone does. It’s a privilege to be the ‘first’ for new listeners. I still remember my first few podcasts and have many fond memories of Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code and the Ricky Gervais Show podcast. So if you can be the first experience in a new medium for a lot of people — and if you’re making an amazing show — there is a lot of love that’s going to come your way.
  2. You can build an audience quickly. Every podcaster starts at zero downloads and zero subscribers. If you have the power to reach a lot of people through channels that you already own, you have a massive advantage over almost anyone else in podcasting. Not using your own strengths is like Superman deciding not to fly.
  3. Create value for podcast platforms and get help reaching existing podcast listeners. This is a whopper. If you can demonstrate a powerful marketing plan to reach non-podcast listeners, you’re creating a lot of value for the rest of the podcast industry.
    For example, let’s say I work at a podcast platform like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Radio Public, or Pocket Casts. Imagine that a great new show comes into my inbox and it also demonstrates that it can drive a LOT of new podcast listeners to my podcasting app. Would I give that show more weight when it comes to which podcasts I want to feature in my app? Yes, I would. And would I give that show more weight when I decide which podcasts I promote on my social channels, email newsletters, etc. Yes, I would.
    And for brands, there are huge benefits if you get featured in a podcast app because they reach the people that brands can’t: existing, passionate podcast listeners looking for their next favorite show.
    If a brand can demonstrate that it is growing the pie with a fantastic podcast, the podcast platforms are often interested in helping that podcast reach the existing podcast faithful.
    Major win-win for everyone involved: the brand, the podcast industry, and most importantly, podcast listeners.

This pie chart pulls it all together. ?

As we think about how to reach the 74% of Americans that don’t regularly listen to podcasts, we absolutely need to make new types of shows that will be appealing enough to get people to try a new medium. We also need to think about how to tell them about those amazing new shows. Brands that reach huge swaths of the population are a greatly undervalued solution to this problem.

There is a major opportunity for both the podcasting industry and for major brands to work together to create the next wave of listener growth.

Steve Pratt