The Four Ways to Make Your Podcast Unique

With millions of podcasts out there, one of the most common questions clients ask us is how they can make their show stand out.

Even though there are a lot of podcasts, most of them get very few listens per episode, and one of the main reasons is that these shows simply aren’t unique. Many follow the exact same format with a host that asks the same boring questions to uninteresting guests. Just take a listen to a random sampling of investing podcasts on iTunes and you’ll see what I mean.

Podcast listeners have more options than ever, so how can you break free from the pack? In this blog post, I’ll share the four ways I’ve seen podcasters create unique shows and how you can replicate them for your own show.

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How to Make Your Podcast Unique

1. Great Host(s)

I’ve been a guest on dozens of podcasts over the years, and the worst experiences have been with boring hosts. It’s frustrating as a guest (and listener) when the host is low-energy and unprepared.

The best hosts do research before the show, know how to guide a conversation, make guests look good, and have a personal following that attracts listeners irrespective of the guest’s popularity. A well-known host will typically bring a personal network, garner trust, and attract better guests.
Many of the best-known podcast hosts are celebrities or at least well-known in their field. Shows like Smartless and Revisionist History lean on popular hosts that are household names.

Smartless Podcast.

On the other hand, more niche podcasts can do this too. For example, Peter Attia may not be a celebrity known by everyone, but his name carries a lot of weight in the world of health and longevity, giving his show, The Peter Attia Drive, a huge leg up in that niche.

In addition to celebrities or experts in their field, journalists can make great hosts as well. Guy Raz from How I Built This and Wisdom From the Top is a good example. While he’s not personally an entrepreneur, he’s built a reputation by interviewing hundreds of people who are. Journalists tend to be great at asking thoughtful questions, following up on interesting threads, and weaving together a cohesive story.

2. Great Guests

Another way to make your show stand out is to feature A-list guests. This often works in tandem with having a great host, but it’s worth mentioning as some hosts may not have their own public following, but still be able to bring in top-tier guests.

Celebrities, actors, TV personalities, authors, musicians, and internet influencers can all bring their own audiences when featured on your show. Typically, it’s hard to get well-known guests to come on a brand new podcast, but if you happen to have a strong network or money to pay for appearances, you can certainly build a show on this strategy.
One show that does this well is Armchair Expert. Host Dax Shepard is a solid host, but because the show has a good reputation, has been around a long time, and has had good guests in the past, it tends to continue attracting high-quality, interesting guests today.

Armchair Experts Podcast.

If you’re not seeking a mass-market audience though, you can find plenty of good guests who are simply well-known in their niche rather than being household names. If you have strong connections in your industry, this could be a great way to fill up your guest roster. Look for people who have written books, speak at conferences, or have strong social media followings in your field.

3. Unique Format

At this point, most podcasts have adopted the 1-guest, 1-host, 30-60-minute, audio-only format. It’s ubiquitous for many reasons: it’s relatively easy to coordinate, inexpensive to produce, and offers value to listeners who wouldn’t otherwise have a conversation with the guest.

But some of the most unique shows break free of this format in one or many ways.

For example, podcasts like Serial adopted an investigative, narrative format that sounds more like a radio or news show than a typical podcast. This kind of show is much more complicated to edit, plan, and produce, but it can lead to a very high-quality show, and is becoming more widely used in many genres.

Serial Podcast.

You don’t have to go that far to create a unique show format though. Panel discussions, multiple (or rotating) hosts, and compilation shows are all interesting ways to break out of the one-on-one interview format.

Having a video podcast is another way to make your show stand out. This allows you to leverage YouTube and Vimeo as distribution channels, and it gives you more content to spin as short-form content on social media.

Despite creative podcast formats being more interesting, they’re also more expensive and difficult to pull off. I typically only recommend clients take this approach if they have strong in-house creative teams that can help coordinate and manage the show.

4. Unique (Niche) Audience

Finally, one of the best ways for a podcast to stand out is to pick an extremely niche audience and lean into it.

For example, I recently met a podcaster who is making tens of thousands of dollars per month with a podcast that focuses exclusively on futures trading in a very specific geography and industry.

The niche is so narrow that there are probably no more than 50,000 potential listeners, but he does such a good job comprehensively covering this topic that a large percentage of that list listens and a portion of them pay a monthly fee to be on the show’s premium subscriber list.

Other shows that lean into a highly niche topic include 21.Five, the only podcast for professional pilots, and Beef and Dairy Network, the top show for the cattle industry.

21.five Podcast.

A lot of podcasters come to us thinking that they need to create broad market appeal, but it’s extremely hard to stand out when you’re competing with so many other shows with such long histories.

So, we typically recommend starting small. Go dominate one specific niche, and then branch out once you’ve built an audience and learned all the gotchas of podcasting. It’s much easier to compete in a small pond where you can clearly define your audience.

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More Tips for Creating a Successful Podcast

You need to use one or more of the four strategies above to make your show stand out, but just having a unique show won’t guarantee that it attracts listeners. Here are five more tips that we offer to new clients as they’re defining a new podcast:

  1. Deliver value to your audience – Know your audience, what your show delivers to them, and why they would get it from you instead of another source.
  2. Set a focus – Don’t be the “we talk about everything” show. It’s too hard to compete, and listeners won’t know what to expect.
  3. Quality audio builds trust/authority – Make sure you’re recording high-quality audio with a good external microphone, and use a professional audio editor. You can learn to do this yourself, but you’ll spend much more time and have a much lower quality end result than if you hire a professional.
  4. Promote your podcast – Share it with your friends, family, professional network, and social channels. If you’re afraid to tell others about your podcast, you might want to ask yourself why you’re doing it at all. Learn more about how to promote your podcast in our blog post.
  5. Reuse your podcast content – One of the best ways to derive more value from your podcast is to slice it up into content for social media.

Creating a successful podcast takes time, there’s no way around it. Even with a unique format and all the right tools in place, it’s rare that a new show leaps to the top of the charts on day one. Understanding your podcast’s performance is crucial for growth. Check out our detailed article on podcast analytics to learn more.

That said, if you’re going to invest the time and money into starting a podcast, you’re better off doing it right from the beginning. If you have questions about launching a unique podcast, you can find me on Twitter or book a call with me here.