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Varun Duggirala, Founder of the digital ad agency The Glitch, started podcasting with his show ‘Advertising is Dead’ in 2018. While the show’s popularity was growing at a slow and steady pace, it was only in 2020, that he shot to fame for a show he did with content creator Tanmay Bhat. Post that, there was no looking back for him. Since then, he has created podcast shows like ‘Think Fast’, ‘The Varun Duggi Show’, ‘Everything Is Out Of Syllabus’ and ‘Take A Pause’. For Duggirala, consistency and clarity of mind paved way for his success at podcasting. 

Varun Duggirala

While Duggirala and several others like him have been creating podcast content for close to six years in India, the podcast economy got a shot in the arm only during the pandemic. Many storytellers started creating podcasts during the pandemic. The advent of platforms like Spotify and JioSaavn acted as a buoyant force for the podcast ecosystem to reach every nook and corner of the country. This trend has also fetched the advertisers’ attention. 

As per a PwC report from 2021, India is the world’s third-largest podcast listening market with 57.6 million tuning in to podcasts every month. Another report by KPMG states that India saw a 29.3 % increase in podcast consumption in the first year of the pandemic.

The number of podcast content creators is on the rise, but creating audio content that keeps the audience engaged is a task and comes with its own set of challenges. 

Garima Surana

According to Garima Surana, CEO at Sochcast, the on-demand audio content platform encouraging women’s voices, the biggest challenge a podcast content creator faces is discoverability which leads to shareability, reach and lesser money. 

Surana started podcasting during the pandemic and is known for shows like ‘Popkast with Garima’. She founded Podcash (later acquired by Sochcast), a marketplace to bridge the gap between advertisers and creators – which was started during the pandemic. 

Another big pain point which is a hindrance to podcast content creators is that there is no standardised platform to monetise, said Surana. “Earlier, I used to bring my own leads. Even at Sochcast, we aim to do the same for the content creators associated with the platform. Today, we have monetised successfully for 100+creators. We’ve roped in brands like Amazon and Noise and attempted multiple formats.”

There are so many podcast content creators in India, who have full-time jobs and are in different professions like banking, marketing, engineering and even medical. For them, managing time to consistently create podcast content is a challenge. 

Vineet Kanabar

Vineet Kanabar is a marketing professional and the creator of ‘Storytellers and Storysellers’ Podcast. His podcast gives a sneak peek into the lives of people in the entertainment and media industry. He started the podcast as a need for storing all the learnings from entertainment and content marketing in one place.

He said, “I got into podcast creation because when I was teaching entertainment marketing and content marketing at a lot of B-schools like NMIMS, MICA, I realised that there was a need for a better way of storing learnings. So, I started this podcast to talk to people who are in the entertainment business and get their learnings stored in one place. It also becomes a teaching material aid for me.”

For Kanabar, the biggest challenge is finding the time and executing episodes for his podcast. He also said that for people who are making podcasts without a production team behind them, editing is a big task. He said, “I’m not a full-time content creator and have a day job. So, challenges are finding the time to get the right guest on board, doing the right kind of programming, researching their work and then coming up with programming.” 

Another challenge for people who are not full-time content creators and have a niche audience is to market the content to the target audience. “Because I’m not a full-time content creator with half-a-million subscribers and my show is also not meant for a lot of people outside the industry, finding the right audience and marketing it to them are some of the challenges,” added Kanabar. 

But he has found ways to manage time between his day job and creating podcast content. He said, “I dedicate five-six hours a week to content creation. In three years, I have completed more than 150 episodes. Now I have settled into a nice rhythm where I record on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Mid-weeks I record, and I prepare for that on the weekend.”

Roshan Abbas

Roshan Abbas, actor, TV and radio host, producer, event manager, film and theatre director, lyricist, CEO, angel investor, serial entrepreneur, author and public speaking coach, finally began creating podcasts during the pandemic with the shows ‘So, What Do We Do Now’ and Good Night Stories for Adults’.

When spoke to Abbas about the challenges he faces while working with brands for any audio content, he said, “The challenge is that many brands still don’t believe in podcasts even after podcasts medium having an audience which is highly engaged for a much longer time.”

He went on to say that another difficulty that brands face with podcasts is that it’s not easy to describe a brand product through audio, in comparison to the audio-video medium. 

Surana suggested that it’s important for brands to understand that podcast does wonders when it comes to the top of the funnel, but is not apt for the bottom of the funnel. She said, “Podcast is mainly used for branding and awareness and not necessarily lead generation today, which is the biggest challenge we face in all the brand meetings.” 

She also pointed out that the lack of consolidated metrics is another challenge. “Every platform today has its own definition of the measurement metric. For brands tracking the overall data, it becomes really difficult to measure because it isn’t standardised. One of our endeavours at Sochcast is to standardise audio measurement and for that, we are working very closely with relevant companies.” 

She added, “Building data governance and building the industry infrastructure around spoken word audio is something we should all work together around for podcast to further gain brands’ interest.”

Tips to ace at the podcast content creation game

While in the above section we have discussed the growth of podcast content creators, how the pandemic gave rise to the audio medium and the challenges associated with the medium, now we will know from the masters of the trade how one should go about creating content for the medium and the right way to integrate brands into the content. 

Duggirala told that it’s important to create content that is relatable to the audience and at the same time brings a certain amount of freshness to the table. He commented, “My shows are structured in a way that you’ll find a lot of familiarities. The audience doesn’t feel that they coming to a different show each time. But the guests I get are different in each episode. I think it can take just one guest or a single episode to make it famous. Stay consistent, and work on what people like.” 

Kanabar seconded that one must be patient and consistent with podcasts. One will not become an overnight success in podcasting. “So, stick with it, build an audience, be patient and consistent,” he said. 

Duggirala further said that engaging with the audience and taking feedback regularly is also an important factor to keep in mind. “It’s important to build a community with people, ask them what they liked, and respond to their DMs. In my 175 episodes in a go, I have hardly taken a break of more than a month. Often, some of my best guests have come from the audience. It’s important to build a sense of ownership among your audience to make them feel they are part of it.” 

One should also keep on mapping the content performance through data to check where the audience drop-offs happen. “One gets a retention graph when you get data on podcasts. You have to look at the graph and guess at which point did people drop off. My learning is that if I talk about a topic for more than 7-8 minutes, my audience drops off. Even if I have to talk more about it, I change the topic and bring it back,” said Duggirala.  

Although, Surana added that instead of stretching the episode longer, create another IP or an episode out of it. “For example, I created ‘Popshots’ which are like small nuggets of information from the larger piece of content.” 

She also said that one must ensure to keep catchy captions for the podcasts. “Some of the episode titles I gave have triggered listeners to check in what’s there. I am not hinting at making captions for click bates, but such attractive captions have worked for me.”

So many times, people starting their podcast journey are advised to just go with the flow, at least begin and not think much before beginning. But Surana said this is the biggest mistake one can make. She emphasised that it’s important to think through what one will speak in the audio. Surana ensures to have everything written down and planned well for her podcasts. 

During an interview with someone on the podcast, it’s also important for the content creator to be a good listener, according to Kanabar. He commented, “As a podcast host, it is very important to be a good listener. This gives us an opportunity in every conversation to make it richer and even more interesting. So, be a good listener.”

When it comes to marketing, Duggirala suggested creators to come up with content around the main podcast material, use social media for promotions and collaborate with other content creators. 

He said, “Use social media, build SEO, put the podcast on YouTube, even if it just has your audio with texts. While promoting content on social media, don’t just share the episode creative. I was guilty of it for a very long time.” 

Duggirala opined that when it comes to collaborating with other content, getting famous people as guests is not the best way to market because those famous people go on every other podcast as well. “Occasionally getting them onboard gives you that slight amount of bump if you ask them something that no one else has. Going on other people’s podcasts also helps. I ensure to go on other people’s podcasts at least 10-20 times a year.”

But how does one go about creating branded content for podcasts which doesn’t hamper the audience's content consumption experience?

Abbas answered that the loyal audience is not bothered too much as long as the placement is done in a tasteful manner and the creator gets some amount of creative liberty from the brands. He said, “As long as the brand is not too visible, you don’t need to worry too much. The brands must allow the creators to weave the brand in their own way. Also, if the creator is the user of the brand, then it really comes across as a lot more authentic. Inserting an ad in the middle of the podcast is not the best way to go forward.” 

Duggirala thinks that today's audience is smart enough to realise when an ad is an ad. They also understand the reason why is it there. “Once, someone texted me why is there an ad at the start of the episode. I said don’t we have to make money? That person then sent me back LOL and said I love your show and listening to it anyway.”