Though it's been around for over a decade, podcasting is still a very young medium. If this were television, Serial would be I Love Lucy. Every time a new medium comes along, we tend to carry over assumptions about it from a previous medium. It's no surprise that so many early television shows were radio shows retooled for the screen. Yet as time goes on, we inevitably learn that each medium is unique, and while we can look to the past for clues, we should also question the assumptions that we carry over. With that in mind, here are three assumption to avoid when it comes to podcasting:
1. Don't assume that the revenue models that worked in the past will work in the future.
For the most part, radio is monetized through advertising. Advertising is what Seth Godin calls “interruption marketing.” You give an audience content that they want, then interrupt with ads. In his classic book Permission Marketing, Godin points out that the problem with interruption marketing is that people have a finite amount of attention, and they are bombarded with more marketing messages than ever before.
In an oversaturated media landscape, it's harder to reach a splintered audience and harder to develop a marketing message that people remember. Interruption Marketing works really well in a media landscape with only three television networks, two local newspapers, and a handful of radio stations. But in a world of over 600,000 podcasts — not to mention websites, cable channels, video game titles, etc. — it's harder than ever for advertisers to succeed with Interruption Marketing. Increasingly, companies are embracing permission-based strategies like Content Marketing or Search Engine Marketing.
Yet many podcast production companies are building a business on the old advertising model. Will this work? Maybe, maybe not. Interruption Marketing certainly isn't dead, but companies will want to question how heavily their revenue streams rely upon it. There may be better ways to generate a profit.
2. Don't assume that a bigger audience is better.
Traditional broadcasting relies on a simple principle: Get the biggest audience you can, then deliver that audience to advertisers. Of course, this principle was developed before we entered the Information Age. Now that we have digital tools to collect data about our audience members, we understand that size doesn't always matter.
If I run a company that manufactures golf balls, I'd rather reach one hundred thousand golfers than a million people who may or may not golf. It's not just about reaching lots of people — it's also about reaching the right people. The most successful companies in the podcasting space may not be the ones with the largest audiences; they may be the ones with the most accurate information about their listeners. This is likely to translate into the most effective marketing for their clients.
3. Don't assume that the right answer for large companies will also be the right answer for small companies.
When I talk to radio broadcasters about digital strategy, I inevitably hear them ask, “What are other radio companies doing?” I hate this question. It assumes that somebody out there already has the correct answer and all you need to do it copy it. Podcasting is such a new space that it's not clear that anybody has all the right answers yet; and even if they did, those answers may not work for you.
What works for a large broadcasting company like iHeart Media, NPR, or EMF may not work for smaller broadcasting companies. If you have a national footprint with hundreds of radio stations, it may make sense to hire a top-tier Hollywood star to host a podcast; but if your company consists of a dozen stations in small markets, a similar course of action isn't likely to produce profitable results. When it comes to podcasting, don't assume that the same things are going to work for any two companies that happen to own radio transmitters. Find a solution that works for your company, and don't worry about what the larger (or smaller) broadcasters are doing.
Podcasting is a thrilling space to be in at the moment because it's uncharted territory. There are plenty of opportunities to try new things that have never been done before. But it's precisely because it's virgin terrain that we need to question the assumptions that we bring to the space. While some of the past principles will still apply, others will not. The key to success will lie in our ability to figure out which are which.