Innovate or Die: Why What Worked for Other Podcasts Won’t Grow Your Show

By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns

As far as corporate buzzwords go, “Innovation” is surely one of the best.

The reason, I think, is that every company knows that if they want to stand out and stay relevant, they need to innovate. But when it comes to the actual innovation…

Well, let’s just say innovation is easier said than done.

And so, in the absence of doing, it gets said.

A lot.

Hence the buzzword.

As creators and entrepreneurs, it’s easy to snicker at the suits while ignoring that we face the same challenge.

If we want to stand out and stay relevant, we need to innovate as well.

And while innovation is almost certainly harder to come to by a boardroom committee, it’s no easy feat for any of us.

A quick scroll through your podcast app proves the point.

Pick a topic at random and do a keyword search.

Invariably, you’ll find dozens of shows that fall into a small handful of archetypes.

Within these archetypes—expert interviews, co-hosted banter, guru-hosted solo episodes, etc—shows tend to have similar cover art styles, similar descriptions, similar topics, and similar (if not identical) guest lists.

Not a whole lot of innovation in other words.

Of course, if they every one of these shows had thousands of listeners, it wouldn’t be an issue.

But they don’t.

The median podcast, after all, gets less than 50 downloads per episode, with less than 1% of all shows reaching 5,000 downloads per episode.

Clearly, the imitation game isn’t working.

Which means if you want atypical results your best is to create an atypical podcast.

Said differently, you need to innovate.

Today, everyone knows that the easiest way to grow a podcast audience was to start your show in 2015.

When I first started producing podcasts in that era, I had plenty of clients with (what would now be considered) generic interview shows that grew to 50k downloads per episode, all without any real marketing.

It’s easy to say they got lucky.

That they were simply in the right place at the right time.

And that’s true.

But that explanation misses a key factor in their success: They offered a unique and compelling (though easily overlooked) innovation.

From our current standpoint, the innovation is hard to see.

The typical show in 2015 consisted of broad content with basic production quality, after all.

Compared to shows today, they weren’t doing anything terribly innovative, in other words.

The innovation, however, wasn’t related to their show format, however, but in bringing their content to the podcast medium in the first place.

In a world where many niches didn’t have even one decent podcast on the topic, that innovation was enough to stand out and build a significant audience.

But times change.

A decade later, podcasting is in a different era.

While a podcast interviewing experts in your field might have been fresh and innovative 10 years ago, today it is boring, trite, played out, and generic.

Many of those early podcasters have found this out the hard way themselves—having tried to replicate the blueprint that served them in the past on new shows, only to struggle to acquire more than a few hundred listeners.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t do an interview (or any other type of) podcast, mind you.

Just that if you want to stand out, you’ll need to offer some additional compelling layer of innovation on top of your chosen format.

Something that solves an unmet need or desire in your audience.

Or offers a surprising and refreshing twist on your topic.

This innovation can come in many ways, including your show’s format, target audience, topic, the angle you take to explore that topic, or some combination of all of these.

No matter how crowded, how evolved, how settled, there are endless innovations to be made on every topic.

All you need is one of them that resonates.

The first step is familiarizing yourself with the typical show on your topic.

  • What does it look like?
  • What does it sound like?
  • What does it feel like?
  • What promise does it make?
  • What topics does it cover?

This is your blueprint to getting to 50 downloads an episode.

If you want to go beyond that, you’ll need to find some angle, some edge, some innovation.

Something that from the first glance, catches the eye of your ideal listener, draws them in, and makes it clear that unlike the other shows on your topic, yours offers something they haven’t quite seen before.

Something new

Something surprising.

Something refreshing.

Something they didn’t know they’d been missing until they came across it.

And now that they’ve found it, something they won’t soon be letting go of.

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