There's an old adage that every entrepreneur claims that they coined but that Jeff Bezos, he of space, is widely credited as saying first:
"Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room."
What do people say about your podcast when you're not in the room? What do they tell friends about your podcast and how, if you aren't in that proverbial room, can you have any influence over what they say?
By creating an experience.
Brand, at its core, is just that: the promise of an experience that becomes synonymous with a company, person, product, service or place.
Or a piece of media. Just like your podcast.
As podcasters, we become focussed consistently on our content. And rightly so: without great content we have nothing. But too often we create superb content and assume that's enough and that because we have put blood, sweat and tears into that content, people should come listen and if they don't, it's them that's the problem.
The hard truth, though, is that there's so much great content in the world right now that people can choose from and for us to shine and become the choice of content for our prospects, they have to know about us and feel like they're a part of what we do.
That can sound really odd to a podcaster like you or me because we know our content is great and we know that we don't have lots of time to put into anything else except our content. But in order to thrive as a podcaster, you have to focus on experience.
Consider any of your favourite movie, TV or literary franchises. They always have apathetic and passionate sides to their fandom.
Many people consume content that they love yet don't feel strongly enough about that "world" to vocalise their opinions but some, like the Star Wars or MCU fanbases, are often vocal about their love or hate of a certain decision, storyline, character or product delivered by their beloved franchises.
That passion is borne from brand: the promise of an experience and that passion overspills into noise which, in turn, attracts new fans or activates less vocal fans in becoming vocal.
Once a brand reaches that level, it unlocks new "powers". Advocacy becomes natural and word-of-mouth becomes a huge factor in new people discovering what that brand has to offer.
The more a brand delivers on its experiential promise, the more that flywheel spins and the bigger the brand grows.
You see it often in the startup world where, suddenly, a new app or platform springs into the mass market from seemingly nowhere but actually, that platform has gone through the early adopter phase (where it ironed out its brand and product/market fit) through to the curious user stage (where more curious users buy-in, but don't identify as early adopters) and beyond to the establishment and scaling stages (which is where many of us first discover a new brand).
Could we do the same for our podcast?
Could we, over time, devise and refine a brand promise that targets our niche audience so specifically that we build advocacy and growth through simply doing what we promised to do?
But producing content isn't enough. We have to be focussed on our brand but perhaps even more keenly, focussed on the experience that we want our brand to deliver for the long term.
What do we want people to say about our brand when we aren't in the room?
The challenge with brand-building is that you have to be so personally aligned to your brand that living it and embodying it doesn't feel forced - it has to feel natural and certainly not like a "job".
A great example of this is how we run Captivate, our podcast hosting and growth platform.
Our brand experience is designed to be one that educates, supports and innovates and leads for our podcasters in a really inclusive way. If you look at the reviews that Captivate has or the reasons that people sign up to host their podcast with us, those values are reflected in the comments that we receive.
Because those tenets of our brand are ingrained in our personalities, too. They aren't hard to maintain because we built the business around what we personally believe and give ourselves the permission to be frank and honest with our podcasters.
The experience of talking to me is the same type of experience that you'll have when engaging with Captivate, the brand and the product.
The beauty is, we can scale that nicely because we don't have to work at it. We follow our intuition and listen to our podcasters and, as long as we always overlay that belief system, the brand experience that podcasters have with Captivate will always be the same.
What that means to our advocates is simple: if they recommend Captivate (which means putting their own reputation at stake), the experience will be exactly the same as they have told people it will be and they can be confident in that every time.
2 Actionable Podcast Brand Experience Tips
You're a busy podcaster and you are staying on top of your content production nicely.
But, introducing more "work" to your life as a podcaster is pretty terrifying - I get that completely.
At the same time, though, building your brand experience is very, very important. Connecting with your listeners and parlaying that brand is a significant and often overlooked bridge between you, the creator and your listeners, the consumer.
How can you begin to deliver a stand-out brand experience whilst not adding too much, right now, to your podcasting workload?
There are two vital cornerstones of your brand that you can nail down right now. Think of them are the core "tests" that any decision that you make for your podcast must pass.
1. How will you "reward" engagement?
Engagement is one of those things that podcasters say they want more of but that often, they don't really know how to measure.
Personally I focus on one engagement platform, my Twitter account but it doesn't matter which platform you choose - you have to design the experience that you'd like people to have when they do engage with you.
Using Twitter I have three things that I do consistently: converse and reply; get to know; acknowledge outside of Twitter.
By conversing & replying the "getting to know" happens pretty naturally. So many podcasters measure engagement using transient metrics like "Likes" or "clicks" (to episodes, etc) but the problem with those style metrics is that you simply can't focus on consistently building a relationship with someone which, in turn, means you don't earn the chance to continually let them know about your content.
It becomes something you have to keep "filling up" because you don't build any trust.
If you spend time actually conversing with people who take the time to reach out and then acknowledge that outside of the engagement platform, you build genuine trust and friendships.
For example, if someone reaches out to me on Twitter and we generally have a good time on there together, I'll give them a shout out on my show or a live stream in the future and then let them know that I did.
It's a small detail but it matters because it shows that you genuinely want to connect with your listeners.
And that's something that people will talk about. It's the experience.
2. How do you want to be described?
This is a really nuanced tip.
Podcasters like us focus on our show so much. We drop into "pitch mode" every time someone asks about it and we can describe the show really well to anyone.
The more time progresses, the better we get at that, too. We refine and become more tuned in to what our listeners want from our show.
But we forget one core thing: people don't just come to our podcast for the content, they come to it for us, the host - they come for our voice and personality, too!
Have you thought about how you want to be described to anyone recommending your podcast?
I know this feels and sounds weird because we're talking about brand experience, but this is so central to your brand - after all, it's your voice at the core of it all and it's that voice of yours that people relate to, get to know and come to recognise.
A few years ago I revamped my personal brand and really put a focus on how I'd like people to describe me: straight-talking, open and honest, innovative in podcasting.
It can be uncomfortable to do that exercise on yourself but if you do, you'll give yourself a way of focussing that language throughout your episodes and that will then seep into how people go on to describe when you aren't around.
For example, during a podcast episode, I may dispel a myth from some guru or course that I see online. I'll say what I need to say and then follow it up with something like: "Hey, I know that might not be popular but it's my job to be open, straight-talking and honest with you...".
I've designed that around my natural personality and extended that into how I want to be perceived - I don't have to work at it, it's just who I am.
Most podcasters act in a way that's in line with their own beliefs and ethics and this, they naturally attract some of the people who will become fans of theirs by simply happening across them.
The difference between those people and those who scale their brand is that the latter are purposeful about how they put themselves out there and, to some degree, influence how people talk about them when they aren't in the room.
There's a lot more to brand experience design than these two elements but without them, a brand experience won't exist. You can carry out as many marketing tactics as you like, share your podcast far and wide and do so relentlessly, but without designing these two core tenets, your brand won't last and it certainly won't scale.
Word of mouth is huge. It always has been and it always will be.
Work on these two elements of your podcast's brand today, it won't take long, and you'll be surprised how quickly people begin to tell their friends about you in ways that you'll find are perfectly in tune with what you have designed.
Your next steps
I teach podcasting a lot, and usually for free. So, here's what I'd recommend you do next:
P.S. you can start engaging with your listeners using AWeber. It's free, no credit card required: Mark.Live/Email