Choosing the Right Podcast Topic (It’s Harder Than It Sounds)

By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I recently hosted a seminar on podcasting for MarketingProfs that examined how to start a podcast. During the one-hour session, I explained everything, from the podcast listening audience (thanks, Edison Research) to planning, recording, editing, and promoting your show.

Nearly half of attendees filled out the survey after (which is about twice the usual number of people), and the results were overwhelmingly positive. There was, however, one detractor (as there typically is), who derided me for offering advice on choosing a topic. This, apparently, made him “chuckle.”

But why?

There is very often a misalignment between the content businesses create and the audiences the content marketer wants to attract. Very often, people make assumptions about the audience or create content using “personas” that aren’t based on actual data but instead were dreamed up in a conference room.

With podcasting, the stakes are somewhat higher, because you’re committing to a series of episodes, produced at regular intervals, and you set listener expectations from the first podcast about what you’ll cover, what your format is, how long each episode will be, and so on.

Choose the wrong topic, in other words, and you’re stuck with it for a while. Even if that topic does nothing for your business, even if the audience your podcast draws will never spend money with you or recommend you to others, even if you personally feel indifferent or even negative about the topic, you must now cover that topic in episode after episode.

In short, choosing a topic isn’t as easy as you might assume. What you want is a perfect marriage of audience interest, business relevance, and personal interest on the part of the host/producer.

So here’s some things to think about when selecting a topic for your podcast. (Don’t laugh – lots of people get this wrong.)

What Does Your Audience Need or Want?

A good podcast, like any good content piece, will address the needs of your audience: a challenge or problem to be overcome, a question they need answered, or a topic they want to know more about. Of course, to know what your audience needs, you must first know who your audience is.

Researching your audience is a necessary first step to creating any kind of relevant content (podcasts included). If you can afford to conduct primary research with a company like Edison Research, that’s the gold standard, but even if you can’t engage a research firm, you can conduct surveys or focus groups, talk with your salespeople about what questions prospects and clients ask, review any feedback you receive through customer service channels… There are many ways to become better acquainted with your audience.

One of the best things you can do is observe. Martin Lindstrom wrote a fascinating book called Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends about what he’s learned doing exactly that. He literally moves in with people to see how they live, how they use household items, how they interact, how they shop. If you haven’t read his book, check it out! I talked with him about it for the MarketingProfs podcast and his work will change the way you think about research.

But you don’t have to move in with customers to understand what makes them tick. Watch how they move through your store if you have a brick and mortar business. Check heatmaps and website analytics to see how they behave online while browsing your site. There are any number of windows into the hearts and minds of your audience, so take a look.

You could also mine the abundant data available on social media. The Conversation Research Institute founded by Jason Falls has derived completely unexpected insights about a company’s audience by examining social media analytics. For example, you might learn that your customers are more interested in fashion than the general population, which might drive you to offer new colors or patterns for your products (even if you’re selling scooters or laptops).

Get to know your audience, and write down some ideas for podcast topics that will either help or inspire them. That’s Step One.

What Will Advance Your Business Goals?

What your audience needs or wants will make your podcast popular, but even going viral won’t help your business if the viral content has zero to do with what you sell. Take another look at the list of podcast topic ideas based on what your audience needs. Now circle a few that are at least tangentially relevant to what your company offers.

If you’re a veterinarian, you wouldn’t podcast about your services and fees. First, that would be boring. And second, very few people would be interested in that. If you want to reach your audience, look more broadly at what they need, then layer on top of that what you need (which is more patients).

A veterinarian who specializes in caring for show dogs might create a podcast focused on preventative healthcare for show animals, which could include things like diet and exercise advice, how to maintain a shiny coat, what kinds of common ailments can be prevented and how, and so forth.

A podcast like this will have people turning to the veterinarian for help and information regularly, and when an acute health problem arises for their show dog, you can bet listeners will be inclined to call this vet (at least if they’re in driving distance).

What Do You Personally Care About or Enjoy?

This is where many podcast creators fall down. They might have thought about a topic that would interest the audience. Ideally, they’d have also chosen a topic that isn’t already well covered by other podcasts. (As Mark Schaefer recommends in his book KNOWN, “hit ‘em where they ain’t,” right?)

Truly smart marketers (like you) will even have thought about making the podcast pay in terms of brand awareness, brand sentiment, site traffic, conversions, etc.

But all this will amount to nothing if the podcast topic doesn’t interest you—the person who has to do the extensive work of planning, producing, and publishing each episode. Why? Because you will burn out. Fast.

Starting and abandoning a podcast happens so often that there’s a term for it: “podfade,” which basically is like “ghosting” on your audience by just not showing up anymore.

But podfade doesn’t have to happen to you! Choose a podcast topic that you like as much as the audience does. You need to have a genuine interest in exploring the topic episode after episode. Do that, and all the work you do on the podcast will barely feel like work!

Which brings me back to the one detractor who attended my seminar: choosing a topic might seem easy, but if you’re not investing some time thinking, researching, and planning your podcast to align it with your other marketing efforts and your business goals, that’s no laughing matter.

kerry gorgone

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is a writer, lawyer, speaker and educator. She’s also Director of Product Strategy, Training, at MarketingProfs. Kerry hosts the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. Find Kerry on Twitter.

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