Thinking of starting a B2B podcast? Ask these three questions first

Host of one of B2B’s longest-running podcasts, copywriter David McGuire shares his advice for anyone considering the format.

If you’re a B2B marketer and you’re not at least considering starting a podcast, it’s probably because you have one already. At least, it feels that way. As podcasts have shifted from nerdy, niche listening to mainstream entertainment, they’ve increasingly become de rigueur as part of a forward-looking brand’s content mix. 

But how do you know if a podcast is actually right for your needs – and what makes a good one?

I might be able to shed some light on that. You see, as well as being a B2B tech content writer and copywriting trainer, I happen to host the Radix Communications podcast – a show about B2B copywriting that has been running (under three different names) for almost nine years.

We’ve just introduced a new format and title, so the good people of B2B Marketing have suggested this might be a good moment to break from my usual copywriting tips, and spend a few minutes sharing our thought process.

These three questions are a good place to start.

1. Realistically, what are our objectives?

Okay, I know this is where you should start with any piece of content, but it needs stating nonetheless. Because there’s something about the nature of recording a podcast that can make rational arguments fly out of the window. 

Perhaps it’s the wish-fulfilment of feeling like a radio presenter. Maybe it’s the attraction of spreading your thoughts into the ether. I’m not sure. But whatever the cause, there are definitely two kinds of podcasts: ones that have a clear purpose, and ones that are basically an ego trip where a marketer and/or stakeholder wants to be a famous thought leader.

You also need to be realistic about what you can achieve. In a niche market, or an industry where there are already established titles, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve big listener numbers. If you hang your hat on impressive stats from Spotify for Podcasters or Apple Podcasts Connect, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

But here’s a secret: that might not actually matter.

For example, at Radix we don’t need our podcast to reach thousands of people. Our clients are a small number of like minded tech marketers, and, if we were suddenly famous, we’d spend all our time letting people down.

Instead, our podcast needs to do three things. First, we want it to help build the network of smart, like minded people we know. Second, we need to be known as an authority on certain subjects (B2B content writing, in our case). And third, it has to be actually helpful, so people can find and share it.

In that context, the number of listeners is the wrong metric. We’re interested in who we’re reaching, and what they think.

And that, in turn, guided the planning for our new podcast format. We needed to talk to smart B2B marketers (and smart people who influence them). And we needed them to talk about something objectively useful, related to creating great content.

2. How are we going to stand out?

When my former colleagues Emily King and Fiona Campbell-Howes started the show (under its first name The Radix Copycast) in January 2013, just having a podcast was interesting and unusual.

Things are different now. In any B2B market you care to name, there are likely more podcasts than anyone could reasonably find time to listen to (even back when the daily commute was a thing). 

So how will the right listeners find you, and why should they choose to listen to you instead? What’s your angle, your hook?

It could be any of the following factors – or, more likely, you might find your idea at an intersection where some of them meet:

1. A very, very niche audience. You can do better than trying to address an entire industry or job role. Try a job role, within a certain kind of company, within an industry. And/or with a certain challenge or outlook on the job. The more specific you can be, the more direct the appeal – so who is the listener that you most want to think “yes, this podcast speaks to me”? 

Example: Rockstar CMO FM targets its listeners based on their outlook. From the name to the artwork to the guitar feedback intro, the whole package tells you exactly who it’s for.

2. A strong, single-minded concept. “A podcast about network infrastructure” isn’t memorable, because a podcast in itself isn’t novel or new. But “the podcast where network engineers share their biggest mistake – and what they learned from it” might be a bit more interesting. (It also gives you a repeatable formula that will help you if you’re planning to do more than about four episodes.)

Example: It may not be marketing, but Everything Is Alive is beautiful in its simplicity. Every episode, they interview a different inanimate object. The results are hilarious and profound.

3. An unusual, user-friendly format. Think about your listener, and the contexts where they’re likely to listen – then deliberately shape your podcast to suit. For example, if your listener commutes and the market is already swamped with long, discussion podcasts, then maybe think about something the length of a bus ride. Or maybe you’re addressing a subject that would benefit from a really detailed deep dive.

Examples: The Quick and Dirty Tips podcast network does exactly what it says on the tin: useful stuff, quickly. But Mayo and Kermode’s Film Review – essentially two hours of old men bickering – is absolutely compelling listening.

4. A brilliantly individual guest list. You don’t have to be the hero of the story. In fact, it’s often better if you’re not. Your customers probably want to hear from their peers and/or heroes rather than a vendor, so why not interview people they actually want to hear from rather than the ones doing the rounds on every podcast. As a bonus, they’ll likely share the episode on their social media, so you’ll likely reach some of their network too.

Example: Again not B2B marketing, but Laura Kidd’s Attention Engineer is a masterclass in compiling a jaw dropping guest roster, simply by giving artists an opportunity to talk about something that matters to them.

5. A clear, memorable name and artwork. Once you’ve defined your hook, you have the tricky job of crystalising it into a name that’s at once memorable, intriguing and easily to find on listening platform search engines. And don’t forget your podcast artwork will pop up among a whole wall of search results. Have a search and think about what will stand out on the page.

Examples: How to Fail with Elizabeth Day and How to Breathe So You Don’t Look Fat strike the balance between explaining the concept and capturing the imagination. Others like The B2B Marketing Podcast are more keyword-friendly.

At Radix, we realised the rising tide of B2B-themed podcasts meant our existing format (where we had an enlightening chat about an aspect of B2B copywriting and content) was no longer as individual as it once was. Also, while the name Good Copy, Bad Copy was a strong pun that had served us well for 74 episodes, it didn’t really explain what the show was about.

So we took the core idea of getting likeminded experts to talk about areas of interest to our audience, and focused it in a shorter and more single-minded way. We came up with B2B Q&A: Your content questions, answered. It’s the podcast where we take your question about B2B content and go in search of an answer.

Instead of a rambling chat, we structured each episode around one question – which is asked by a listener, so we know it’s something the audience cares about (or one of them does, at least). And we can use each question as the episode title, to attract people searching for an answer online and prompt social media content to think: “Hey, that’s what I’m struggling with…”.

We gave the podcast artwork in colours that’ll stand out in the search page and we hope the six-beat rhythm of the name will make it easy for people to remember. Ask me next year if it worked.

3. What are we definitely committed to?

Finally, it’s important right from the start to set yourself some principles that will guide how you put your podcast together, for as long as you keep doing it. And you might want to state those aims in public.

The idea of having a podcast is really attractive. But in practice, people often underestimate how much time and effort it takes to keep going after the initial novelty of “hey! Look at me making a radio show…” has waned.

Guests cry off. WiFi cuts out. Recording sessions get missed. That’s just the reality of assembling a podcast in a work context where everyone has a day job. As a result, the temptation to cut the occasional corner (or even skip an episode) gets really strong, really fast. That might be alright, or it might not. And that’s why you need to identify where your red lines are, and what you’re actually committed to doing.

Then, if you’re brave enough to state those commitments in public, the thought of an audience holding you to account really helps to keep you honest. For example…

Are you going to release your podcast to a regular timetable? 

Releasing your content in an ad-hoc way gives you flexibility when things get difficult or other work priorities intrude – but you may find that happening more and more often. By contrast, a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly schedule can be daunting – but it does at least ensure the podcast happens.

It also lets your audience know when and how often they can expect to hear from you. At Radix, we imagine our listener knows the podcast will usually arrive in the last week of any given month, and for the last few years we’ve broadly kept this schedule. (In truth, they probably have no idea that’s what we do, but the deadline is very motivating.)

How many episodes are you committing to? 

Some podcasts keep running forever (we just celebrated episode 100), but that’s not the only way to do things. Organising your podcast into seasons gives you the opportunity to try things out: deliver, reflect and refine if necessary. 

At Radix, we trialled a second podcast, the B2B Content Audio Blog, for one season (13 episodes). It was a limited success, so we haven’t prioritised another run.

How will you make space for diversity and accessibility?

You might want to make other commitments too – for example making deliberate choices about diversity, inclusion, or accessibility – and let these shape the way you put your podcast together.

We’re very clear that we want to include a diverse mix of voices on our podcast. This can get tricky because the current host (yours truly) is a white, abled, cishet, middle-aged man – and the nature of B2B means some of our interviewees will be too. So, we intentionally have a rolling guest co-host, which increases the number of people (and therefore our opportunity to represent a broader cross-section of people) in any given episode by 50%, while also increasing the value for the listener.

Similarly, a recent episode on accessibility and readability has caused us to reflect on the lack of a transcript in our show notes. As a result, we’ve moved our whole monthly schedule forward by a week, to make sure we have room for this important extra production step.

What is the hierarchy of your commitments?

Sometimes, your intentions for your podcast will come into conflict with each other. In this case, it’s important to know what wins. Which is rock, which is paper and which is scissors?

These days, we’re relatively confident that our podcast has a pretty good record overall when it comes to representation (at least comparatively within B2B). So, if unforeseen circumstances like a late guest substitution means we end up with one all-white-male episode, we’d probably go ahead (and explain it during the show then balance it out later). Two in a row would be too many, and we’d delay or skip an episode.

Likewise, if we couldn’t publish an episode on time with a transcript, we’d probably wait until it was ready. And there have been rare occasions in the past where we've missed episodes altogether when we didn’t feel the content would be of value to the audience. (We still have a commitment to the audience, so we might release an apology and some alternative content.)

Remember, you don’t have to have a podcast

It might seem a fun thing to do (and it often is – I’ve had an excuse to talk to all kinds of cool people: an orchestra conductor, a professor of jargon, even Joel Harrison) but you don’t have to have a podcast however much it might feel that way.

That being said, the format is more varied than you might think – and that means there’s more potential to use it in smart, tactical ways. Put down your preconceptions and you can get creative with the premise, the length, the guest list, the tone.

The trick is, start with a goal in mind, then let that guide your production choices. When you do, I’ll give it a listen. (Unless it’s just another bloke talking about what they think for 40 minutes. I’ve heard enough of those.)

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