Make Their Favorite Podcast: Why This Is a Marketer’s Lone Goal for the Show
This article is part of a weekly exploration to answer one question: What would it take to make your audience’s favorite podcast? Each entry in this series builds on past ideas. It will culminate in the first session of our online, interactive, cohort-based workshop for marketers, where we do real work on our real podcasts, together, to find and share our voices and make a difference for our audiences.
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What’s the goal of marketing, really?
(That’s right, we’re starting off nice and easy today: “Why are we here?”)
Is the goal to sell stuff? To “generate” leads? To drive clicks? Is it awareness? Is it to build a brand?
These are terms we commonly use and results we typically seek, but I’d argue even the most important results we could show are merely byproducts — signs that we’ve actually done the job.
So, what’s the goal of marketing, really? I think it’s rather simple to say but ridiculously hard to do: The goal of marketing is to earn an audience’s trust and love. Trust is earned by being reliable, by showing up and delivering on the promises you make, consistently. Love takes trust and imbues it with human emotion, which is how a deeper relationship forms. You’re not speaking to archetypal “buyers” via your content; you’re speaking to whole people. Likewise, you aren’t just a spokesperson for a brand spewing soundbites. You’re a whole person, too.
The goal of marketing is to earn trust and love, or as we like to say it here at Marketing Showrunners, Great marketing isn’t about who arrives. It’s about who stays.
Everything and anything else we could do or measure flows from the trust and love we’ve earned. We sell stuff to people who trust us enough to buy our products. We build a brand championed by people who love us — who opt into a deeper relationship with us.
“Attention” isn’t enough. “Awareness” isn’t enough. Certainly, “emails in the database” aren’t enough. The entire reason we have jobs is that, ostensibly, we are capable of creating experiences that are capable of earning trust and love. That’s the gig, take it or leave it. And that’s why making a show is so powerful.
According to author, speaker, and host of the video show The Loyalty Loop, Andrew Davis, “Shows focus on leveraging the power of a content subscription. Content builds trust. Trust builds relationships. Relationships drive revenue.”
But we shouldn’t make just any type of show, mind you, but a very specific kind. See, if we want trust and love, we have to earn it. That requires time. Our audience must invest time with us.
But first, our audience needs to choose to invest that time. That means we need to provide them with an experience they willingly choose. In a world of infinite choice, if they don’t find something they feel is a worthy investment, they can find a million things (inside and outside our industry niche) that they do believe is a better use of their time.
How to get our audience to choose us
If our end goal is to gain our audience’s trust and love, we need their time. If we want their time, we need to provide experiences they willingly choose. And what do people choose to spend time with when they have infinite choice and finite time? Their favorites. We only choose to spend meaningful time with things we consider our favorites.
I asked Jay Baer — founder and head of the marketing and customer experience consultancy Convince and Convert, a New York Times bestselling author, and host of two podcasts: Social Pros, about social media marketing, and Standing Ovation, about keynote speaking — Why would a busy executive greenlight a show? Why would they be compelled to invest resources and even their own time into it?
“There is only one way a show can succeed: It has to be somebody’s favorite show,” he said. “If you can come up with an angle that is distinct enough to become someone’s favorite, I’ll support the premise. But launching a show that’s 5% different than an existing one, or 5% ‘better,’ is not a rational justification to create a new show.”
As marketers, we can’t just create “yet another” podcast in our space. We can’t just create a bunch of videos because “it’s a thing.” We shouldn’t even set out to create “the industry’s leading video series” or even “the #1-ranked show on Apple Podcasts.” Our real aim has nothing to do with us or our competition, and everything to do with our audience.
Latch onto this idea, because it drives everything we do as showrunners:
If we want our show to cultivate trust and love with our audience, then it needs to be their favorite. If we can build their favorite show, we might become their favorite brand.
What Does “Favorite” Even Mean?
What we don’t mean by favorite is “the” favorite — the single most beloved show in their entire lives. Kudos if that is actually your show, but it’s unrealistic to assume that we’ll get there (though wildly empowering to convince yourself it’s your goal).
No, to understand what we mean by favorite — and both why it should be our goal, and how it impacts our marketing — we first need to understand what causes someone to declare, “OMG, that’s my favorite.” In short, it has to do with someone’s sense of self. It’s about their identity.
On average, people spend 60 percent of their conversations talking about themselves (80 percent on social media). Really think about what we’re doing here: In a world of infinite ideas and moments, we’re most excited and most prone to discuss ourselves. Research from Harvard’s Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab suggests we do this for a simple reason: It feels good.
Separately, in an article from Yale University’s school of management, psychologist Paul Bloom, author of How Pleasure Works, notes that we like what we like because of a complex array of things, all relating to our individual life experiences.
To get to the point where we confirm we like something, our brains “synthesize sensory phenomena, ideas, memories, and expectations” all at once, which results in us saying, “I really like that.” We just call it our favorite, but our brains are making much more complex decisions behind the scenes. But when you really consider those factors (our senses, ideas, memories, and expectations), you can just sum it up as something rather simple: You.
You like something because of you: because of who you are, what you’ve experienced, and what expectations you now have. Writes Bloom, “What matters most is not the world as it appears to our senses. Rather, the enjoyment we get from something derives from what we think that thing is.”
We imbue things with meaning. We give them a purpose in our lives, and as such, they become caught up in our identities.
“It may not be necessary or even possible to make a product physically better at what it does,” says Bloom. “What you want to do instead is tell people things about the product that make it more pleasurable. Tell them it is special—it’s very old or it’s very new. It’s what the celebrities use. It was made on an estate in Scotland. It was made in the finest laboratories. You give it a story and people’s experience resonates with the story.”
That last part really hit me hard, given what we evangelize at Marketing Showrunners. When we give something a story, and that story resonates with a person’s own story, it’s like the world’s best match-making service. That’s the power of story — whether a narrative crafted artfully about a human overcoming conflict, or a broader idea of how you’ve noticed something broken about the status quo, and why your company and the community you’re building are building toward a better way. Stories reveal commonalities that would otherwise remain hidden. Those stories and those commonalities — and the resulting affinity — become undeniable as our audiences spend more time immersed in them.
We like things because we see ourselves in those things, find others like us because of those things, and allow those things to become part of our identity. And when we only have a little time but infinite choice among things we like or could potentially like, we retreat to a shorter list of our favorites. As showrunners, it’s our job to be among those things.
Favorite Doesn’t Mean Great
Now, an important disclaimer: “Favorite” doesn’t mean “great,” in some academic or objective sense. Just because something is beloved by someone doesn’t make it objectively high-quality. Plenty of people love a certain restaurant or dish, or a certain baseball team, or a certain color. Whether or not we can say it’s objectively the highest quality or the best-looking or even the most popular is besides the point. To them, it’s their favorite. They may even admit that the restaurant is only so-so, but then smile wistfully as they remember all the times they shared with friends and family, throwing back cheap coffee in a thick ceramic mug inside this admittedly sub-par diner. The “soundness” or public opinion doesn’t matter. Their own personal feelings towards it matters much more. That’s what makes something a favorite.
One more time for the people in back: Our favorite things feel personal.
If we want to make our audience’s favorite show, we need to make it feel personal.
In a podcast interview on my personal show, Unthinkable, the CEO of design software company InVision, Clark Valberg, summarized this notion perfectly when he urged marketing leaders to ask, “What can you do to tap into the personal, emotional reasons people do their work or care about something and how their personal identity is caught up in it?”
Valberg and InVision think of themselves as providing a “platform” for their audience. I don’t mean the tech notion of “platform” (though they have that too), but more so the politician’s platform: a set of beliefs and views, an idea of how the mission will get done, and the rally cry to bring people together to join the cause. InVision’s marketers explore what it means to be a product designer in the modern workplace. They portray the people who practice the craft as downright heroes, and they evangelize a set of shared beliefs and goals as a leader in the community. Through their podcast and various video series and films, InVision goes beyond content that is merely relevant or enjoyable. Instead, their shows feel personal to those who listen and watch.
That is our inherent challenge. We spend a disproportionate amount of time focused on the elements of our content that are actually table stakes. We can actually chart this in a very simple model.
The Audience Relationship Pyramid
First, let’s get a look at the pyramid in full:
Simply being relevant is table stakes in any niche. If you create a show that is just topically relevant, you’re forgettable — capable of being found, but just as easily, capable of being forgotten. (If you’re not relevant, you’re not even in the picture.) Being relevant is the foundation to creating a show. But again, it’s utterly table stakes.
Likewise, being enjoyable is table stakes, too. No amount of smart thinking can make up for a show that’s horrifying to try to listen to or watch. This plagues many B2B companies more than most: They’ve made something nutritious, but it’s not delicious. If that’s the case for you, you’ll be pretty darn forgettable, too. Nobody will choose to invest time in a painful experience, and if all they notice is how boring or uninteresting or poorly built the show is — even if it is hyper-relevant — you aren’t likely to get more time to earn their trust and love.
But what if we tried to make a show that was different? Better yet, what if the show wasn’t merely “different” in some stunt-like or gimmicky way, but instead, it was different in a welcome sort of way? Let’s call that “refreshing.” You didn’t just add in a bunch of sound effects or music. You didn’t pull a random stunt like slapping on a game show section to an otherwise dull interview. You crafted a unique premise, and a smart episode structure, all in a way that delighted the audience. Through careful planning, creative production, or perhaps some extra editing love, your show feels different and welcome. You’ve made needed changes to the stale status quo of a certain genre, or topic, or industry niche.
You’re so close to being their favorite. You’re relevant, so they’ve glanced your way. You’re enjoyable, so they’ve decided to stick around. You’re refreshing, so they remember you. And then, you can become personal. Through your point of view, your support and evangelism of certain ideals, and the invitation to your audience to join you on a journey to explore and celebrate the things that make them emotionally invested in the topics, you’ve ascended to the final piece: Your show feels personal to them. It can become their favorite.
And why do favorite shows matter? Because they accelerate trust and love, as well as spur word-of-mouth: a shared evangelism of the ideas in the show — and therefore the show itself.
To become their favorite brand, we can make their favorite show. Shows are the world’s best vehicle for earning a prolonged investment of time from an audience. Since we want trust and love, we should necessarily pursue more time spent with our audience, not brief moments together. But to do that, we have to create something that feels personal, something they willingly choose because it’s among their favorites — for this topic, their job, their health, their hobby, their views on the culture, or their goals.
Ask yourself: What are you doing in your show to tap into the personal, emotional connection your audience has with the topics? Does the audience see themselves reflected in your content, not just because it’s topically relevant, but because you share a certain sense of identity with them?
Don’t make a podcast. Don’t make a bunch of videos. Make their favorite show, so you can be their favorite brand.
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Founder of Marketing Showrunners, host of 3 Clips and other podcasts and docuseries about creativity, and author of Break the Wheel. I’m trying to create a world where people feel intrinsically motivated by their work. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.
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