Digging Deeper: Making Your Podcast more Entertaining

We recently lifted the hood of our podcast content research to get a better idea of what is the most important thing you need to do to make your podcast so appealing it brings listeners back for more. As you know, when you’re competing with millions of podcasts, standing out is more than just getting your podcast a single download. It’s about keeping those listeners coming back for more.

When we looked into how appealing listeners found a podcast and linked that to their other reactions towards the same podcast, we could see that the key driver to make (and keep) your podcast appealing is: make it entertaining.

drivers to podcast appeal

Of course, that’s easier said than done. First of all, defining what is ‘entertaining’ is hard since it means different things to different podcasts. So we thought it might be more helpful to share how some successful podcasts retain listeners by entertaining them.

Compelling storytelling lies at the heart of many of the most entertaining podcasts.

Stories sell. Intuitively we know that, but we have more than anecdotal proof that this works for podcasts.

We recently conducted a study for the podcast Tell Me What Happened by OnStar, GM’s safety and security app, that reveals the power of entertaining through storytelling in branded podcasts.

Tell Me What Happened is a collaboration between OnStar, their agency Campbell-Ewald and Pacific Content building on OnStar’s mission of helping people feel empowered and safe in their everyday lives. Putting the appeal of the podcast first in their branded podcast strategy, their goal was to communicate On Star’s mission by using true stories that keep you on the edge of your seat. We were commissioned to do a study to verify both the appeal of the podcast and its impact on the brand.

One of the episodes we tested was A New Kidney & A Big Surprise, sharing the story of a retired police officer who was dying of kidney disease because he couldn’t find a transplant donor. He was saved by a stranger, a woman with a history of substance abuse and petty crime who was seeking redemption. The surprise? It wasn’t until they met that the woman discovered this was the same officer who had arrested her multiple times yet had always treated her kindly.  So bonded, the two have become close friends.

Making it less about the brand and more about the story paid off.

Tell Me What Happened delivered breakthrough results in our podcast research study. It emerged as a highly appealing podcast, exceeding virtually all of our benchmarks including those for ‘entertaining.’ It also generated significant brand lift on favorability (+29%) and purchase consideration (+33%), all of it based on one exposure to a single episode.

The story that your brand tells will be linked to your brand values. But the big lesson of Tell Me What Happened is that if the story puts listener entertainment first, it can stand above all the other branded podcasts looking to achieve the same thing.

Of course, entertainment is not just about playing to the emotions.

Learning something new can be entertaining.

As much as ‘learning something new’ did not emerge as a key driver of appeal scores in the analysis of our past podcast research we talked about earlier, it is one of the superpowers of podcasts when compared to other types of audio.

In The Canadian Podcast Listener study, we’ve seen that 36% of podcast listeners say one of the most important reasons they listen to podcasts is “to learn something new.”

The key point is that being ‘entertaining’ is not mutually exclusive from ‘learning something new.’ Just because so many listeners go to podcasts for learning, it doesn’t mean that they are looking for dry lectures from pompous professors.

Indulge me in a personal example here. I love history podcasts. Mainly because I get to learn so many cool things. When choosing which history podcasts earn my loyalty, the ‘entertainment’ factor always wins out.

There are three I find most entertaining: The Rest is History; hosted by two historians, Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook, who manage to mix British humour and chat with fresh insights on all things history. The Secret Life of Canada, with Leah-Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson, takes an irreverent look at weird and hidden stories that reveal the diversity in Canada’s history. Finally, there’s Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, from the master storyteller who manages to pull me and hundreds of thousands of listeners like me through his 5+ hour episodes.

Each of these podcasts combines information with a unique take on the topic. They create an experience that makes me anxiously await every new episode. How? By entertaining me.

All in all…

Podcasts are called “a show” for a reason. Like other shows, podcasts are as much about performance as much as they are about authenticity and intimacy. An entertaining podcast doesn’t necessarily mean song-and-dance or cracking jokes. It’s more likely to come from gentle humour, gripping stories or crisp but casual conversation. Finding the right entertainment angle for your podcast and creating a thoughtful experience can make even the driest topic come to life.


Signal Hill Insights is an audio research consultancy with custom solutions for publishers, broadcasters and advertisers. As part of our services, we conduct podcast research studies to help our clients understand and optimize the appeal of their podcasts. Click here and we’ll set up a call to see how we might be able to help you.

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