Let’s start by stating the obvious: it’s ok to not overthink your podcast concept.
The best shows in the world are often the product of late night conversations with friends or a harebrain idea brought to life. Podcast icons like Tim Ferriss, Pat Flynn, and Joe Rogan started their shows by taking an extremely simple concept (having conversations with interesting people in their niche) and executing ruthlessly.
My own podcast experience started similarly. The initial idea was a poorly conceived interview-based show based on an area of interest (startups). Yet, the resulting product attracted thousands of regular listeners, local and national media attention, and undeserved conversations with celebrities and successful entrepreneurs during its 2-year run.
So, you don’t have to follow a scientific process to develop a solid concept.
That being said, podcasts are significantly more competitive in 2021. Identifying a niche that you can “own” a slice of will prove valuable for your show. Here is the process we take to develop new concepts at Heard:
- Identify Your Audience
- Define Your Value Proposition
- Do First-Party Research
- Select Your Show Style
Identify Your Podcast Audience
Understanding the “why” behind your show may seem an obvious place to begin your podcasting effort, yet many creators neglect to spend time considering this basic idea. The main questions you need to identify for you and your audience include:
- Who are you trying to serve, specifically (the listener)?
- What are the listener’s greatest dreams and aspirations?
- What are the listener’s struggles or obstacles?
- What does the listener love to do?
- What does the listener hate to do?
- What Unique Value can you offer to the listener through your show?
This list will look radically different depending on your specific idea and the types of people who primarily compose your audience. If you’re an Author connecting with existing fans, you’ll have a different Unique Value to offer than the Consultant who is connecting with individuals who have successfully exited a company. Neither is necessarily easier to build, but clearly distinct in approach and execution.
Define Your Show’s Value Proposition
Identifying and clearly communicating who your target audience is will drive much of the decision making. Combining your audience with your ‘Unique Value’ begins to give form to what your show concept might look like.
Here’s a formula you can use to put some definition around this:
The ____ show is intended to serve the X audience in accomplishing Y by providing Z episodes.
Example: From the development phase of our show, The Content Lab
The Content Lab is intended to serve Marketers and Creators (x) as they grow their brands with smart content creation (y) by providing them with inspiration and education (z) through interviews with successful creators, updates on the latest innovations, and practical guides on how to execute.
Everything we do with the show must be able to ladder back directly to this value proposition or it is not a good fit for our show/audience.
Do First-Party Audience Research
This is a fancy way to say “talk to your audience.”
For all the preparation we can do to ensure our ideas are buttoned up and ready for presentation, the fact is we won’t know if our audience wants what we’re serving until we talk to them directly.
There are two components to this phase. Digital and In-Real-Life (IRL).
Finding your community online is an important part of developing your concept for multiple reasons. Of course you want to bounce ideas off of them and get feedback prior to launching into your show. It’s also important to be aware of where your audience hangs out online so you can source ideas and promote your show directly to them post-launch.
There are a number of places you can find your ideal listener:
- Existing Facebook Groups: look for topically related groups and ask for feedback – these groups are typically not shy.
- Open Slack Communities: there are over 10 million people using Slack on a daily basis. The chances that a group of your ideal listeners are already congregating there are strong. Use this guide to help you find open groups that are relevant to your niche.
- Niche Twitter: too many people get lost using twitter as a platform to shout into the abyss (I do). The most powerful component, however, might just be the ability to tap into thousands of existing communities that are publicly interacting on the internet.Practical note: create a twitter account solely dedicated to this niche (sometimes known as a “burner”) as opposed to using your regular twitter account.
Those three platforms alone will offer you nearly endless opportunities to research. WARNING: do not allow yourself to get sucked into an infinite research cycle. Set a timer and limit the amount of time you’ll allow yourself to dive in. Anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours should be more than enough to get the info you need.
In-Real-Life (IRL) Research
Ok, you’ve had your fun stalking your audience from a distance. Now it’s time to move past your introverted tendencies and have a real conversation with another human person who could be your ideal listener.
Practical note: If this is too difficult for you to do, creating content by having verbal conversations with others or even yourself may not be the best content strategy for you.
Set a goal to talk to at least 5 real people about your concept. Arrive at the conversation ready to take notes, and make sure you get their opinions on the following questions:
- Is (your stated audience problem) a big issue for you?
- If not, what is your biggest area of concern/interest/desire?
- Would you be interested in hearing about (your Unique Value Proposition)?
- If not, what kinds of things would be helpful or interesting?
- What is the one thing you’re most excited about in life or our niche?
The feedback you receive will vary, so don’t put too much stock into a single response.
Having this first-person data may or may not change your focus, but it should at least inform and color the way you go about crafting your show. Now you know the ideas, obstacles, and areas of interest your target audience might have specific to your concept, format, and publishing cadence.
Select Your Show Style
The final component to establishing your concept relates to the style of show you choose to communicate through. There are a variety of podcast styles, and each has its own merits or faults, especially depending on the unique quirks your audience has.
Here is an overview of different show types. Consider how each might support your specific show objectives:
- News Updates: format that utilizes recent news events as the primary source of content. Hosts may summarize and provide insight on the topics within the industry or subject matter area. Examples include: Robinhood Snacks, The Daily, Barstool Rundown
- Scripted Narrative (non-fiction): the format that helped vault podcasting to its current state of glory. This show type became popularized by shows like Serial, S-Town, and Hardcore History
- Scripted Narrative (fiction): Not dis-similar from audio books, these fiction stories are told in an episodic format to drive intrigue and audience engagement. Examples include: Homecoming, Sandra, and Limetown
- Educational: Highly produced and scripted non-fiction podcasts that teach a specific subject or style of information to the audience. Popular examples include: Stuff You Should Know, Reply-All, and TED Radio Hour
- Interview Based: the most common modern podcast type. These shows leverage guest interviews to drive the conversation. This is often the best choice for B2B podcasters. Popularized by shows like the Joe Rogan Experience, Tim Ferriss Show, Rich Roll Podcast, and many others
Outside of the chosen format, there are also variables that can be introduced to add differentiation like mini-series, the introduction of seasons, and inclusion of live events alongside regularly produced content. All of these can be layered onto your core concept once established.
The idea of building is neither as important or as difficult as we make it. Following a process like the above should provide you with some helpful boundaries to begin your creative process while continuing to make consistent forward progress.
- The concept is only as important as the eventual execution of the show. Don’t get paralyzed by the endless possibilities.
- Talk to your actual audience. In real life. Doing so will offer more insight than any amount of time spent brainstorming could provide.
- Choose a Style that fits your audience needs as opposed to your interest. This isn’t the “<Insert Your Name> Show”. Unless it is. If that is the case, then your show style has likely already been defined for you