This lesson will teach you how to assess whether your show idea has the potential to succeed in the long term.
Why Shows Grow
Not every podcast has the ability to grow.
After working with hundreds of podcast creators and publishers, and talking with thousands more, this fact has become abundantly clear.
What’s also become clear is that shows that fail to gain traction tend to fail for the same three reasons.
These points of failure provide a rubric outlining the boxes a show must check in order to have a chance at growth. With this rubric in hand, you can better assess your show idea from the beginning and either mold your idea, workflow, and expectations to ensure you check the requisite boxes or look for another idea that has a better chance of success.
It’s worth noting that for a genuine shot at long-term growth, all of the boxes we’ll be discussing must be checked.
They don’t all need to be checked immediately at launch—in fact, they almost certainly won’t.
But in order to unlock growth, sooner or later, you and your show will need to meet each of the following four requirements for growth.
Let’s look at the four boxes shows that grow consistently check.
The single best indicator of a show’s potential for success (or failure) is Podcast-Market-Creator Fit.
Achieving Product-Market-Creator Fit requires alignment in three areas:
- Podcast-Market Fit
- Podcast-Creator Fit
- Creator-Market Fit
When you have a solid fit in each of these three categories, growth is almost guaranteed.
Without a solid fit in even one category, growth is difficult or impossible.
Let’s examine each.
Of all the three fits, Podcast-Market fit has the most immediate impact on a show’s potential for growth.
In short, Podcast-Market fit describes the existing interest or demand for a show’s topic.
This demand might be assessed within a given niche or industry, or among the general public as a whole. Regardless, the amount of demand ultimately determines a show’s potential for growth.
There are plenty of objectively good show ideas about topics people should care about that fail to gain traction because of a lack of appetite among the target audience.
Shows that are academic, scientific, humanitarian, or journalistic in nature tend to fall into this category most often, though many others fall prey to this fate as well.
In addition to a show’s topic, the format and framing of a show play an important role in gauging demand.
Different niches may have genre conventions that favour one type of format over another.
Going against the genre conventions can work to your advantage—by clearly differentiating yourself (we’ll talk more about this in Lesson 2)—or disadvantage—by defying the preferred audience format.
In all cases, it’s worth stating plainly that you should not attempt to create demand where none exists.
To give yourself the best possible chance at success, ensure your show idea fits within a larger topic that already has proven and obvious demand.
It’s also worth noting that demand alone is not enough.
While a high volume of existing demand drastically increases your odds of success, as well as lowering the bar for the quality necessary to gain traction and grow, shows in a high-demand category can certainly still fail.
These failures may be due to a lack of effective execution, a lack of differentiation, a lack of demand for the specific format of the show, or any of the additional growth requirements discussed in the rest of this article.
Assessing Podcast-Market Fit
If you want to assess whether your show has Podcast-Market Fit, here’s a way to test it:
- Find 100 people who represent your ideal listener avatar. In other words, these are people who should be interested in your show, but have not listened to it yet.
- Note: If you don’t know 100 people who match your avatar but are not existing listeners, start with a more manageable number such as 25 or even 10.
- Get on a video call (or in-person meeting) with each person.
- Pitch them your show idea using the following framework:“I’m working on a show for [target audience] where in every episode we [your unique episode format] with the goal of [how your show helps your audience].
- As you deliver your pitch, watch for eyes to light up. If they do, that’s a sign of genuine resonance and interest. If they don’t it’s a sign that to this person, at least, your show isn’t interesting enough to listen.
- Even better than the Eyes Light Up Moment is if they immediately reach for their phone and ask how to sign up for either the show itself or the waitlist.
- Note: Don’t trust what they say (most people will politely tell you the idea sounds interesting), trust their body language which is more honest.
- Once you’ve observed their reaction, ask them to rate how likely they’d be to listen to the show on a scale of 1–10.
- Count the percentage of people who respond with a 9 or 10. These are the only two numbers that matter. Anything less than a 9 is an indicator that while they might think the idea is good, they likely lack the urgency or interest to listen to it themselves.
- Gauge your results. Keep in mind that it’s unlikely for 100% of the people you talk with to rate your show idea a 9 or 10. That said, if you have Podcast-Market Fit, a majority of the people you talk with (provided they match your ideal listener avatar) should be responding highly.
- Repeat the process as you hone your show concept & idea.
This is a somewhat simplified process as the best indicator is always people actually subscribing to the show once they hear about it.
That said, if you haven’t launched yet or are looking at pivoting your show idea or concept, this is a useful gauge for measuring demand.
After Podcast-Market Fit, the next type of fit to consider is Podcast-Creator Fit.
Podcast-Creator Fit is about how well-matched you as a creator or brand are to the show you’re creating.
There are probably an infinite number of good podcast show ideas, of which, only a handful might align closely with you as a creator.
Even with a strong Podcast-Market fit, a lack of Podcast-Creator Fit tends to lead shows to fail as their creators lose interest, burn out, or are incapable of maintaining the dedication to stick with a good idea… that they simply weren’t well matched with.
Assessing Podcast-Creator Fit
Podcast-Creator Fit can be assessed based on a number of attributes:
- Interest: First and foremost, does the show align with your genuine, personal interests? While podcasting can be a fantastic marketing tool, it rarely works when done for purely strategic reasons without a strong personal interest incentive. It will likely take years for the show to pay off financially. Do you care enough about the show topic to do it for free (or at a deficit) in the meantime? In most cases, the most successful shows are the product of one of the creator’s genuine obsessions that they spend all their time thinking about.
- Credibility: Why are you the right person or brand to create this show? Are you an expert in the field? Do you have unique connections to potential guests? Do you have some unique insight on the topic that differentiates you? Do you have a unique angle of inquiry into the topic that hasn’t been covered before? Note that you don’t need to be an expert to be an effective and credible host. But there needs to be some compelling reason for listeners to follow you as the host if you want to grow.
- Skills: Do your skills as a creator or team align with what needs to be done to execute on the show concept? Even better, do you have unique skills that can elevate you show above other similar shows? If the concept relies on extensive sound design, for example, do you have those capabilities?
- Time: Do you have the time required to execute the show concept effectively? Some shows might require dozens of hours of production for every episode, which is not attainable for many creators and production teams.
- The Work Required: Every show requires a different type of work in order to be executed effectively. Some shows require hours of research, others require scripting, extensive post-production, or networking. Over time, some of this work may be outsourced. But some of it will always remain your responsibility as the host. Often the difference between one show’s success and another’s failure is that the creator of the successful show genuinely loves the work involved in creating the show while the other creator drudges through it.
Beyond these measures, the best shows are often uniquely aligned with the personalities, curiosities, and quirks of the creator or team behind them.
Said differently, great ideas often fall flat until the exact right person comes along and breathes life into them.
The last of the three fits required for podcast growth is Creator-Market Fit.
Unlike Podcast-Market fit which is a measure of demand or interest in your unique combination of topic, angle, and format, Creator-Market fit is a measure of your personal interest in the market and audience you are addressing.
Why Creator-Market Fit Matters
For a show to grow, you’re going to need to spend a lot of time engaging with the individuals, communities, creators, and brands that make up your target market. In fact, there’s often a direct correlation between the amount of time a creator has spent engaging with their target audience and the success of the show.
It’s infinitely easier to rack up that engagement time with your potential listeners when they’re the people you want to spend all of your time talking to, rather than another task to check off from your marketing to-do list.
A strong Creator-Market Fit means you likely already know intimately the desires, goals, frustrations, and pain points of your potential listeners.
You know the language they use, the trends and faux pas, and the inside jokes.
You also have an awareness of the other content, products, and solutions including what works, and where they fall short.
While easy to overlook in the short run, Creator-Market fit is a superpower.
It indicates how committed you are to putting the work in to serve your audience and your industry as well as how capable you are of creating highly-resonant content.
Honing Your Idea
Together, the three fits we’ve discussed here provide a strong starting point for podcast growth.
But even with solid Podcast-Market-Creator Fit, a show’s idea must be refined and sharpened in order to cut through the noise and immediately hook potential listeners.
That what we’ll discuss in Lesson 2.
Next Lesson – Sharpening Your Idea
How to make your idea marketable.