Why Listeners Like It: 4 Ways to Make a Show Your Listeners Love
Over the past few weeks, I’ve examined five popular podcasts through the lens of a single, burning question: what is it about them that listeners like? I spoke with showrunners from Adobe’s Wireframe, Hubspot’s Culture Happens, Drift’s Build with Maggie Crowley, Basecamp’s Rework, and Death Wish Coffee’s Fueled by Death Cast. Each showrunner shared the one thing they think listeners love most about their show.
Each of those characteristics, I came to realize, can be traced back to a central feature of the show: its core anchor. Whether consciously or not, showrunners gravitate toward just four components that “anchor” their shows. These are the traits or qualities of the show experience that audiences can recall — and, just as importantly, that showrunners can control. They’re the stickiest parts of the experience for the listener, and the element of the show the listener is most likely to remember. The four anchors are the show’s premise, its format, its talent (i.e., its host or hosts), and its community.
My analysis uncovered interesting insights into the thoughts and processes of some of B2B’s best showrunners. It also unearthed a few lessons for future showrunners to heed as they strive to create their own loveable, favorite-able shows.
1. When in doubt, focus on your show’s premise
The shows I analyzed span industries and topics, formats and themes. One thing that unites them, however, is their showrunners’ laser-focus on premise.
For four of the five shows, the premise is the central anchor, and it’s key to why listeners like the show. The one outlier, Culture Happens, is anchored primarily by its repeatable format. Its premise, however, is integral in creating an environment that allows that format to thrive. The show has a broad overarching premise (i.e., how to build a company culture that people love) that, when coupled with the central format of real conversations with various HubSpot employees, creates a unique, recognizable, and repeatable show.
For most of these shows, the premise is the driving force that leads to a positive domino effect on the other anchors. The clarity of purpose that a solid premise provides allows showrunners to find the talent that’s best-suited to trumpet the show’s overarching message. It nurtures and aerates a central idea that resonates strongly with a core audience, which organically creates a passionate community.
Could these showrunners have created equally loveable shows if they didn’t have such strong conviction regarding each show’s premise? I’m not sure. I think it’s the conviction of the central ideas and themes of each show that prompt passion from the audience. Without a clearly defined premise, I fear each show would have struggled to find its footing and captivate its listeners.
If you’re planning to launch your own show and trying to decide which anchor will drive it — consider focusing on the premise. You may find that it’s the catalyst from which all your subsequent good ideas flow.
2. Embrace authenticity
A common thread among these shows is their authenticity. The central premise of Culture Happens is the idea of natural, authentic conversations between coworkers. Build’s highly focused premise centers on issues specific to product managers — and host Maggie Crowley’s authentic interest and expertise in the subject matter is what brings Build from a show that listeners might find helpful to one they truly love. Because Maggie is a product manager herself, she is able to speak with authentic authority about the topics she examines via the show. That, in turn, excites and inspires her listeners, who begin to form a community as they tune in week after week.
The entire premise of Fueled by Death Cast is an authentic echo of the company’s overarching mission. Just as Death Wish Coffee’s mission is not to sell coffee (rather, it’s to “fuel you wherever you go”), its podcast is not a show about coffee. Rather, it’s a show that asks guests: “what fuels you?” It’s not a show that any coffee company (or, indeed, any company — full stop) could make. The show is uniquely, authentically a Death Wish asset.
As you prepare to launch your own show, embrace authenticity as these showrunners have done. Ask yourself: what is it about our company and our show that’s truly unique? What can we provide to listeners that feels real?
3. Prepare, but don’t over-polish
A lovely part of this exercise in analyzing loveable shows has been identifying, time and again, instances of intense strategy and preparation from the showrunners.
As this series (and our show, and, uh, our entire company) can attest: great shows don’t just happen. They’re not accidents. They’re the product of hard work, forethought, and preparation. That preparation comes in several forms: in the pre-launch work it took to define, refine, and codify the show’s premise; in the countless hours the showrunners spend preparing questions for their guests; in the much-needed but little-lauded hours that comprise post-production, where interviews are trimmed and edited, sound effects are added, and the show is packaged from various audio files into something great.
With that being said, these shows are great not just because they’re showrunners have prepared, but also because they haven’t over-prepared. They’re not so scripted that they sound robotic, nor are they so polished that they become devoid of personality.
As Wailin Wong of Rework says: “If Rework occasionally (or often!) comes off as quirky or personal, it’s because the show reflects our personal interests as much as Basecamp’s institutional sensibilities.”
The personal, quirky elements of the show are intrinsically tied to what listeners love about it. These moments should never be edited out, because they’re the ones that offer glimpses of the humanity behind the big ideas. It’s this combination that keeps listeners coming back.
4. The best creators are also consumers
One of the most fun parts of conducting this series was learning about each showrunner’s favorite shows. In every instance, the showrunner waxed poetic about the podcasts they loved — and many remarked that the shows they’d identified represented only a small sampling of their favorites.
This should be a lesson to aspiring showrunners — not to listen exclusively to the shows listed by successful showrunners, nor to directly copy elements of these shows on your own. Rather, it should remind you that the best creators are also consumers.
Just as the best writers are readers, the best showrunners are listeners. To hone your craft, study your craft. Listen to various podcasts with various premises and formats. Perform an extraction, in which you observe then document the underlying framework of a given episode. Deconstruct what makes an interview a good interview, and what questions tease out the most compelling answers from guests.
Every episode of every show is filled with hundreds of data points that you can analyze in your pursuit of creating your audience’s favorite show. Keep collecting that data.
A somewhat accidental marketer, I’m first and foremost a writer. I’ve spent a decade working with global brands to craft on-target content and streamline complex ideas into clear (and even…exciting?!) language. Now, I get to spend every day immersed in content and strategy here, as Managing Editor of Marketing Showrunners, at my company, Molly Donovan Content & Communications. I’m thrilled to be a part of this community of eager next-generation marketers and marketing showrunners.
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