How challenger brands can build audiences through podcasting

Growing an audience for your business through podcasting is as tough as it is rewarding

Growing an audience for your business through podcasting takes time and tenacity. It’s as tough as it is rewarding, but as the founder of a start-up brand, which I grew from the ground up, I’ve witnessed the impact it can have firsthand. 

For a small brand that wants to get its message heard, audio is a powerful medium. Podcasts garner 44% more mental availability than other digital channels, according to a recent study from NeuroLab and ARN.

When emerging brands are building a cross-channel marketing strategy on a budget, they rarely think of adding a podcast to the mix. But among the marketing channels you can choose to grow a business, podcasting is a great way to build brand awareness and grow a captive audience who share the values of your company. 

Because podcasts are a low-fi channel, launching your own show is relatively easy. Ideally, the company founder will want to put themselves at the centre of the show as the host. This allows the audience to get to know the founder better. In my case, that’s me.

A funny thing about podcasting is that people get to know you through your voice. You might then meet them in real life and you’ll notice them trying to take all of you in as they try to connect the voice to the face they see moving in front of them. They might occasionally quote something you said back at you. It’s both strange and rewarding.

One of the most important elements of a podcast is the intimacy thatit builds between hosts and listeners, especially if the host is prepared to open up and share more of themselves, personally and professionally. People listen to podcasts for in-depth discussion about topics they care about and things they want to learn. They yearn for openness, vulnerability, and difficult truths.

The more podcasting you do, the deeper you go into your industry, the more questions you receive, the more ideas you get. It’s a wonderful way to test ideas which could become a social post or a book, an event, or a new product that drives engagement for your business. And it’s a brilliant way to understand your audience better, to build a dialogue with them, and engage in a conversation that’s far more in-depth than is possible on social. 

So why don’t more challenger brands and creative companies jump on board? Well, podcasts are difficult to promote. That’s why the top ten lists are dominated by already-famous people and big media brands. And often, businesses over-produce their podcasts while taking few risks with the content. This leads to shows that people don’t listen to, and usually ends in failure. 

Committing to podcasting means committing to audience-building. A podcast can help to generate and build content to feed other social channels, growing engagement with your brand. Again, the power of audio is important here. Social campaigns experience an 83% uplift when ads are heard first, the NeuroLab study found. 

Recording both audio and video that can be cut down into social posts will help. I also test potential content on social media; if a post reaches a lot of people, I might turn the idea into a podcast episode. Announcing new episodes on a company website is a great way to generate news stories to share with your audience, and to hopefully find new listeners too. 

However, before you get to any of this, you need to choose a format that fits with your business and which will chime with your target audience. I’m a strategist - I write books and articles about strategy, I train people on strategy, and so I know my community well.

I built my podcast alongside my business, Sweathead, to reach a captive community of strategists and planners around the globe, and the Sweathead strategy podcast has achieved over 1.5 million listens so far. I think this is because we speak directly to our core audience, and the format is designed to teach them something they need to know. 

Choose a format that isn’t too difficult to produce, and stick with it. This way, your listeners know what to expect and will want to return, and gradually a community builds around them. Go-to tactics include weekly topical discussions, small panels, and interviews with big personalities and well-known guests (who can promote themselves into bigger fame through the podcast). 

There’s usually two main format modes: either you’re already an expert and will teach your audience what you know; or you’re a bit ahead of them in the learning curve, sharing as you learn and bringing your audience along on the journey. 

Of course, experimenting with formats is okay too, and finding out what will capture people’s attention through trial and error will help you understand what works for your audience. 

I started playing around with a monologue format. I came back from a conference in India and decided to record myself talking about it and answering questions from Instagram Stories, while walking around Central Park. It felt obnoxious, but New York doesn’t really care. I think this helped me become a character in people’s minds, to the point where some have suggested that this should be the only format I do. I think they feel a bit cheated when there’s a guest.

I’ve also used live workshops as a format where I try to solve a problem using strategy frameworks alongside a guest. This is a little voyeuristic in nature, and I think it interests people because the advertising industry is competitive, and people rarely share how they work openly. 

Essentially, the scope is huge and the opportunities are scalable. Challenger brands and small businesses really have little to lose in the podcast space. With a little investment and a lot of ideas, a podcast can help to build an engaged audience whom a brand can get to know deeply. You might also have some fun along the way.