| 26 March, 2018

Pick the Perfect Format for Your Podcast


Considering starting a podcast? It might be a good time to get in on the medium—the percentage of people who listen to podcasts grew from 11% to 40% between 2006 and 2017, and that number is still climbing.

Right now, the majority of podcast listeners are Millennials and Gen Zers, but Gen Xers aren’t far behind. Podcast listeners as a group have a higher income and higher level of education than the average US population, and they’re more frequent users of social media and online subscription services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix. And in a survey of its own users, LinkedIn found that senior-level decision makers are more likely to listen to podcasts than their less senior colleagues, meaning podcasting might be the method you’ve been searching for to get in the ear (literally) of your B2B target audience.

Wired called podcasts listeners “the holy grail of engagement” because Apple’s stats show that this audience tends to listen to full episodes, including the ads. Podcast advertising revenue grew 228% from Q1 2015 to Q4 2016 and is expected to hit $500 million by 2020 — welcome news for content creators looking to monetize, and a sign of the times for marketers who haven’t yet tapped this audience.

Apple’s stats show that this audience tends to listen to full episodes, including the ads.

Podcasting is a prime way to reach people where they’re already hanging out — on their mobile devices — with valuable content marketing. Creating a new podcast can be a substantial time and resource investment, but don’t let that be your barrier to entry. Some formats require less prep and post-production, and some of the most popular podcasts are recorded and released with minimal editing. Some topics even lend themselves to more casual, off-the-cuff formats.

podcast headphones
Photo by Malte Wingen.

Which podcast format is right for you? We’ve rounded up the most common podcast formats to help you narrow it down.  

The Interview

Typically features one consistent host, with a different guest in every episode. Listeners get to know the host through their interview style, and hosts can gain new listeners by interviewing guests who bring their own established audience.

Time and resource investment: Medium. Expect to spend time booking guests, managing scheduling conflicts, and conducting pre-interview research in order to craft your questions.  

Check out:

  • How I Built This with Guy Raz (NPR) — Guy Raz interviews the entrepreneurs behind the world’s most famous companies, including LinkedIn, Warby Parker, and Starbucks.  
  • Here’s the Thing (WNYC) — Alec Baldwin interviews people he finds interesting, from Michael Pollan to Carly Simon.

The Investigation of an Idea

A host or group of co-hosts examines an idea from a bunch of different angles. Listeners expect to leave with new knowledge or an expanded perspective.  

Time and resource investment: Medium. This format almost always requires research, and if any of that research involves interviews with experts, you’ll likely have to do some sound editing if you want the quality to be consistent.

Check out:

  • Revisionist History (Panoply) — In each episode, Malcolm Gladwell reexamines something from history to see if we got it right the first time.
  • Science Vs (Gimlet) — Host Wendy Zukerman and her team of fact checkers take on fads, trends, and popular opinion to determine what’s hogwash and what’s backed up by science.

The Narrative

A story is told, often with the benefit of sound effects, interviews, and first-person input from the narrator. Sometimes the story unfolds across multiple episodes — like the hit podcast Serial — and sometimes each episode is its own contained narrative or series of linked narratives — as with the podcast behemoth from which Serial spun off, This American Life, which began airing in radio form in 1995.

Time and resource investment: High. Much like television writing, with a narrative podcast, you’ve got to put in the time required to break the story. Depending on the topic you’re working with and whether interviews are required, this can be a months-long or even years-long time investment. And expect to spend time editing to help the story take shape.

Check out:

  • Invisibilia (NPR) — Co-hosted by award-winning journalists Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin, each episode weaves storytelling, psychology, and brain science.
  • S-Town (Serial Productions) — The story of an Alabama town and one of its most fascinating inhabitants, as reported by Brian Reed.
  • Homecoming (Gimlet) — An experimental fiction thriller written by Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz and featuring impressive audio performances by David Schwimmer, Catherine Keener, and Oscar Isaac, among others.

The Advice Column

Listeners write or call in with their quandaries, and the host or co-hosts — sometimes highly qualified and sometimes not so much — dispense advice on life, love, and everything in between. Shows are sometimes organized around a theme or type of advice, and questions can range from serious to very, very silly.

Time and resource investment: Low. Read the questions and think through your answers ahead of time, of course, but most advice podcasts are fairly off-the-cuff and recorded as a conversation to keep the editing minimal.

Check out:

  • Dear Prudence (Slate) — Also a weekly advice live chat, Prudie (aka Daniel Mallory Ortberg) tackles listeners’ stickiest situations.
  • Magic Lessons (Maximum Fun) — Best-selling writer Elizabeth Gilbert helps aspiring artists overcome their fears with the help of other writers and artists who have been there.
  • Ask a Clean Person (Heritage Radio Network) — Also a text-based advice column, cleaning expert Jolie Kerr shares tips on cleaning wine stains, pit stains, and just about every other mess listeners might encounter.

The Roundtable

By definition, multi-host. Usually features two to four consistent (or at least consistently rotating) hosts — more than four tends to get confusing for listeners, but it can be done. The hosts gather regularly to discuss a specific topic or the latest happenings in their industry.

Time and resource investment: Low. One of the easiest ways to get into podcasting, the roundtable is casual, authentic, and usually just requires preparing an agenda of topics ahead of time and hitting record. Investing in at least some editing and post-production will result in a more polished final product, but listeners tend to be fairly forgiving with this format because it’s all about the content and the perspectives of the hosts.

Check out:

  • The Audio Book Club (Slate) — A rotating panel of Slate critics discusses a different book each month.
  • Seincast: A Seinfeld Podcast (Independent) — Two guys named Vinnie and Matt discuss all 180 episodes of Seinfeld in excruciating detail.

The Grab Bag

Podcasting lends itself to experimentation, and many hosts will mix up the format each episode depending on what best serves the content. That said, the grab bag is not disorganized. This format often features well-defined segments that recur frequently enough to give the listener a sense of continuity but may or may not be part of each episode.

Time and resource investment: Varies; it all depends on the content. Interviews and reportage generally require more editing, while continuously recorded conversations typically require less.

Check out:

  • Reply All (Gimlet) — Part human interest storytelling, part casual banter, part call-in advice show, hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt call Reply All “a show about the Internet.”
  • Happier in Hollywood (The Onward Project and Panoply) — Veteran TV writers and producers Liz Craft and Sarah Fain talk work, friendship, family, and life — in Hollywood.


Several huge companies have jumped on the branded podcast bandwagon and are putting out their own audio content. Zillow’s Office Hours features the company’s CEO discussing company culture with various guests. Open for Business, from eBay and Gimlet Creative, walks listeners through building a business, tackling a different subtopic in each episode. Con Edison’s Plugged In offers an inside look at energy. And, perhaps the most experimental showing from a big brand, The Message is a science fiction podcast from GE and Panoply.

Podcasts can take many shapes, and there’s certainly room for more innovation in the B2B podcast space. If you’re ready to bring some audio to your content marketing and you know how much time you can invest but you still can’t decide on a format, look to your content. Once you’ve got your message, choose the one that best tells your story.

Header photo by Kelly Sikkema.

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