What is it exactly that allows some shows—and the marketing behind them—to be successful and others not?
This question has been playing on a constant loop in the back of my mind for at least the past 5 years.
For a while, I—like most people—was most interested in the specific tactics and strategies that successful creators were using to grow their shows and the businesses around them.
But I’ve worked with and studied enough podcasters to realize that tactics and strategies—while a necessary part of the process—can only take you so far.
The real difference, I’ve noticed, is in the person behind the show and the marketing.
The most successful creators tend to possess a specific set of skills, personality traits, and mindsets that are the best predictors of podcasting success.
Based on my experience working with hundreds of podcasters, what follows is an incomplete list of the traits I’ve commonly observed among the most successful creators.
A few notes before we dive in:
- By no means do you need all of these traits to be successful. In fact, you can easily find exceptions for every single item on the list. But from a big-picture view, the more you can stack up, the greater your chances are at success.
- Success looks different for everyone. In the context of this list, we’re referring to a show that in some way allows the host to earn a living doing self-directed work full-time (ie. growing a business that the podcast supports, working on the show full-time, etc), which is what most people I talk to are pursuing.
- While some of these traits may come more naturally to some people than others, the good news is that most of them can be learned, adopted, or reinforced through habit. In fact, most of them can only be acquired this way.
Alright, here goes.
1. Have an intuition for topics and ideas that are aligned with the current zeitgeist
2. Have strong, specific, well-articulated opinions on style, tone, vibe, and production
3. Have produced several hundred podcast episodes, probably across multiple shows
4. Genuinely love the process of producing their show
5. Have a clear and logical reason that they are the right person to be hosting this show
6. Study the craft of podcasting (and content creation more broadly) obsessively
7. Are (compulsively) obsessed with their topic
8. Are somehow able to balance well above average quality with well above average consistency
9. Ask the right (big) questions about their topic that no one else is asking
10. Approach every aspect of show creation through the lens of their listener experience
11. Say the things everyone is thinking but no one is saying out loud
12. Make their guests smarter and more thoughtful for having talked with them
13. Aren’t scared of interrupting
14. Don’t care about looking smart
15. Push their guests into territory they haven’t covered before
16. Take editing seriously… and employ it ruthlessly
17. Understand that a good show concept/premise will make up for shortcomings elsewhere and massively amplify strengths
Business & Marketing
18. Understand the narrow role their show plays in their larger business and maximize for it… while eliminating expectations outside of that scope
19. Have a clear eye for good design
20. Are embedded in the community their show serves and are an active contributor
21. Can clearly (and compellingly) articulate what is interesting about their show in a way that makes you want to listen… even if you don’t care about the topic
22. Take email marketing very seriously
23. Get the economics of attention and the business of content marketing
24. Know how to pitch and sell — Whether it’s ideas, products, services, sponsors… or pretty much anything else
25. Are exceptional (and regular) writers
26. Personal values are clearly (perhaps unavoidably) reflected in their brand
27. Have a strong, articulate, spiky point of view that you can immediately grasp from any interaction with their brand or content
28. Prefer to ship a project that’s 80% of where they’d like to to be rather than shelving it “until they have more time/inspiration/energy”
29. Have produced a ton of side projects, many of which are totally unrelated to their current focus
30. Their work is one of the top 3 priorities in their life, and they enthusiastically make sacrifices everywhere else to devote more time and attention to it
General Personality Traits
31. Their biggest influences and idols are people you’ve never heard of… much less listened to, read, or watched
32. Are highly articulate
33. Have good instincts around wit and humour
34. Are natural storytellers as well as story elicitors
35. Have a knack for “finding the thread”, connecting dots, and identifying themes others miss
36. Experiment compulsively. Accept that most experiments will fail… but the few that hit are worth the effort
37. Have 5-10 years of prior creative experience
38. Possess exceptional taste
39. Are (just) one or two steps ahead of everyone else – Making their content both relatable… and also prescient
40. Move exceptionally fast, but…
41. Possess exceptional patience
42. Have an expansive skill set that they’re always adding to. Beyond their core topic, they rank well above average skill and knowledge in at least half a dozen other disciplines
43. Value their own opinion more than the opinion of others… but…
44. Update their opinions regularly and shamelessly based on new information and experience
45. Somehow manage to be both plugged in while also above the fray
46. Have perspective, and are on their way to (or already possess) genuine wisdom
47. Are natural puzzle solvers and love picking apart a marketing, technical, or strategy problem
48. Comfortable sticking through long dips in results or personal enthusiasm when they know (or suspect) they’re working on the right thing… even if its not getting results
49. Can clearly articulate the big-picture goal they’re working towards and never give up on that… even if they give up on dozens of individual projects and commitments along the way
50. Can intuit the future
51. Are massive consumers of media across mediums
52. Possess (and practice) exceptional focus
53. Are extremely curious
54. Are playing a longer game than almost anyone else, and are willing to forgo short-term gains in the pursuit of their long-term vision