20+ years ago, the great Jack Trout wrote a book called “Differentiate Or Die: Survival In Our Era Of Killer Competition.” Six years after his passing, the competition ain’t getting any less killer.
In other news, podcasting is, apparently, passéing away. (See what I did there?) At least that’s what one major newspaper appears to think, publishing these laughable words over the weekend:
“Was podcasting just a passing trend – and one that’s already over? Surprising new industry figures have revealed that the number of new shows fell rapidly in the last year; a worldwide decline of 80% compared with the two previous years.”
Sure, podcasting is a fad, just like rock & roll. Podcasting is dead, just like radio (which only has 94% penetration in a country of 332 million people). In fact, podcasting only added another 6.2 million U.S. listeners in the last year.
The Guardian kindly quantifies the near-fatal symptom for us: in 2020, Earth saw 1.1 million new podcasts. In 2022, that number dropped to “only” 219,000. Ohmigodohmigodohmigod! The sky is falling, right?
Let’s start our analysis with a personal example: I’m a huuuuge college football fan. I drive 600 miles round trip to see my beloved alma mater play 6-8 times per year. Last Labor Day weekend saw me fly back to my mother country – Louisiana – just to see my hometown schools, LSU and Tulane, in action (and to eat a couple tons of gumbo, jambalaya, and beignets, but that’s another matter). I’ve flown 4,000 miles and driven 2,000 miles over a six-day period just to catch six games at six new (to me) stadiums.
For years, barely a week went by I didn’t have this podcasting-related conversation with someone:
- Whoever: Steve, we (or you) should start a college football podcast.
- Steve: Why?
- Whoever: Well, you really know college football. I do too. Plus, we’re a hell of a lot more experienced and entertaining on a mic than all those other hosts.
- Steve: Agreed. Also, when I search for “college football podcast,” I currently get 114 million results. How is our show going to be different than all those other ones? Why are people going to download, subscribe and listen?
- Whoever: Uhhhh…it’s going to be better?
I got news. In this world of what one well-known exec insultingly (but not entirely inaccurately) called “arts & crafts,” you may think your product is “better.” It might even be “better,” though, in our data-driven world, good luck quantifying that.
Unfortunately, what you (and a lot of other people) may think is “better” probably isn’t – at least not in the minds of your consumers, who don’t have a filter for determining what they think is better but do have a tendency to attach themselves to products they have pre-existing relationships with.
In a world of a functionally infinite number of competitors, you’d better be able to cut through a whole lot of clutter, and that means that you’d better be different. (Or, if you’d like to use the brand development words, you’d better have a unique selling proposition.)
How many of those 219,000 podcasts that joined us in 2022 do you think actually have a USP, or said, differently, meet a need that isn’t currently being met? 2,000 would no doubt be a wildly high guess; it would also be less than 1% of those new shows. Oh, and you can safely assume that, if you add another 900,000 new podcasts to that number to meet the 1.1 million shows that arrived in 2020, you wouldn’t get anywhere close to 0.1% with a USP.
At some point, those 900,000 would-be podcasters simply – and wisely – ignored the relatively low barriers to entry connected with starting a new podcast and decided to save themselves the time and energy – a wise decision on their parts.
So what’s a startup podcaster, any other kind of audio content creator, or for that matter, any audiovisual or print content creator to do now? Actually, what’s any brand that doesn’t already lead its vertical to do?
Say it with me.
CUT THROUGH THE $@&%ING CLUTTER!!!
And if you can’t think of a way to do that, then you’d better have one hell of a marketing budget to promote your product.
Go pull a podcast chart and look what’s at the top of it:
- Well-established brands (The New York Times, Malcolm Gladwell when he’s in-season)
- Shows with hosts who already have a serious following (Joe Rogan, major national radio hosts)
- Shows that are in a popular vertical (e.g. true crime, storytelling, politics, sports) and are backed by a player with a serious following (Wondery, Crooked Media)
Does that mean there are no other ways to stand out? Of course not, and here’s where your creativity comes in.
Find a niche. Find an angle. Find an audience that isn’t being served. (And they’re out there. I wish I could tell you about the show I’m working on right now, the niche it serves and the problem it solves.)
Since I’m not going to talk about what I’m working on, which I’ll happily blab your ears off about when the time comes, let’s talk about a company that just works. I won’t mention the name unless the guy who runs it asks me to, but if you know the business, you’ll know who I’m talking about.
Let’s say you could help highly successful businesses connect with their customers by making podcasts connected to their brands. Why might that be a good idea? Let’s break down the advantages the businesses would have, using a totally made-up example that we’ll call “Nike”:
- You have access to unique content. As Nike, you have exclusive access to your design team, plans, and products. (You also have non-exclusive access to your endorsers.) Do you think that the plethora of passionate partisans who participate* in the Nike brand would want to look behind their curtain? You’d better believe they would. *Alliteration: it still prints well in the digital space.
- You already have a massively devoted fanbase. Sure, not all of Nike’s customers would be interested in that podcast, but their biggest fans would be, and…
- In a world where the 80/20 rule is absolutely in full effect, you’d be reaching the customers who really drive the Nike bottom line with your show.
So there, that’s one way to differentiate. (Another brilliant way to cut through the clutter, by the way, would be to start a podcast company that was differentiated from all the big institutional podcasters due to its focus on branded podcasts.)
Podcasting isn’t going away. The hunger for more and more content of all types to consume keeps growing, and that isn’t changing anytime soon.
However, as more and more content spaces – podcasting, OTT, etc. – keep maturing, the need to differentiate becomes ever more imperative.
It’s important to make great content, but it’s mission-critical that you make differentiated content.