They say you only have a few seconds to make a memorable impression. In podcasting, the very first thing your listeners hear can make or break you. What better way to truly capture them than a great hookline? In this episode, Tom Hazzard takes us on another podcast marketing tactic: crafting hooklines that engage and convert listeners. Hooklines, or as some people know it as cold open, are what your listeners hear at the beginning of your episode. It is meant to get them in the right frame of mind and get excited for what is to come. Tune in to find out how you can choose and create the best hookline for every. Episode of your show. Make the most of this marketing tactic to keep your listeners hooked!
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Podcast Marketing: Crafting Hooklines That Engage And Convert Listeners
In this episode, I want to share with you some important things to consider regarding your show if you’re interested in having a hookline or at least what we call a hookline at the beginning of your show. We’re going to talk about crafting hooklines that engage and convert listeners. I want to first start with a little definition of what is a hookline for those of you that may not know. There are other terms people use for this. Sometimes people call it a cold open. We call it a hookline.
It is the very first thing your audience hears at the beginning of your show episode. It’s a little audio clip from within the episode. It doesn’t matter if this is a solo cast or an interview episode. Most often it’s done with interview episodes and it’s usually a clip of something the guest says. The intent is for it to give a little tease or a little preview of what’s coming in the episode and get people excited, in the right frame of mind and wanting to listen through the whole thing.
If it’s a tease or it’s building anticipation, that’s a particularly good thing because then people are like, “I got to hear the rest of that story.” They then are set up and want to listen. However, there are a lot of pros and cons. I want to talk about some of that first and then get into what makes a good hookline. Especially toward the end, I want to put what makes deciding on the right hookline challenging. There’s a reason why, at least in our experience, less than probably 4% or 5% of shows we produce use a hookline. Some do and have done it their entire existence and do it very well. Most don’t. When you learn a little bit about why that number will make some sense to you, it might not be so shocking.
Let’s talk about some pros and cons of hooklines. The first thing is, the very first thing your audience is going to hear is out of context. Often, it’s not a familiar voice, especially if it’s the guest because every episode you might have a different guest and it’s a voice the audience never heard before. It’s not your voice necessarily. It’s not familiar to them. They haven’t heard your pre-recorded intro with your music and voiceover that they’re used to, at least not yet. Usually, the idea is it’s the very first thing people hear. You could do it differently. You can have your pre-recorded intro and then have a hookline but the idea here is to give your audience something new, something engaging and something that builds curiosity right up front.
It’s the first thing they hear and then it gets them to be like, “That’s an engaging quote,” that caught their attention. Out of context can be a bad thing but could be a good thing because it let makes people think, “Where did that come from? What’s the rest of that story?” They then want to go listen to the rest. The bad thing is they don’t hear your voice right from the beginning or a familiar intro.
A common mistake people make when they choose a hookline is they choose a very long hookline. People are like, “Wait a second. What is this?” If it’s a minute long, that’s way too long. People are hearing this other person. Maybe you interject, they hear your voice briefly but oftentimes not. They’re like, “Did I turn on the right show? Did I click the right one? Is there a problem with the app?” It can cause confusion and problems. That to me is the con or the downside of using a hookline. There’s a lack of familiarity at the beginning of every one of your episodes.
Here’s recommendation number one. When you have a hookline, it needs to be a good one but I recommend short and sweet. 15 seconds or 20 seconds maybe max would be my goal. That may not always happen. Certainly, there’s no absolute rule. If you’ve got an amazing soundbite that’s 30 seconds long, you certainly can use it. When it gets to be a minute or longer that I do hear, some people on other shows do, I’m like, “You’re risking things here. You’re going to lose your audience before you even get the show started.”
Have your pre-recorded intro and people are like, “That’s great. I’m familiar. I’m getting comfortable. I don’t know who this is.” That’s the other thing. They don’t necessarily know who it is in the hookline. Another downside to the hookline is you haven’t introduced that guest. If it’s not you, the host with the hookline, that’s a new voice, people don’t know who it is so why should they listen and care? That’s why a hookline and what it says is important. Does it stir some emotion quickly? Is it piquing curiosity? Is it helping to warm people up for what’s coming? You want to make sure. You want to think about these goals in mind when you choose a hookline.
It’s like that appetizer, a little taste or a first listen. It sets the tone for what the whole episode is about. The degree of difficulty for the task of choosing the right hookline is pretty high. The importance of it is very high. Herein lies one of the pitfalls of hooklines. I’m not anti-hookline. I’m just trying to set realistic expectations for what’s involved in choosing one. Also, this is going to start to help you realize why few shows do it. Choosing that hookline is so important. If you’re a do-it-yourself podcaster, that adds quite a bit of work to what you need to do. If you’re not a do-it-yourself podcaster, are you going to trust your podcast editor to choose that hookline? Are they capable of that?
At Podetize, we got 4% or 5% of our done-for-you production customers that use hooklines. Most of them have us choose them. These are people we’ve been working with for mostly several years or more and they’ve developed a comfort level. In the very beginning, some of them were choosing the hooklines for us and giving us, “Here, use this quote for the hookline.” Taking all that time and consideration to figure it out themselves. We then learn their preferences, their style and what kind of quotes they like and then eventually choose them.
You’ve got to realize whether we’re producing your content or you have another producer doing it and you’re not choosing that hookline yourself. Your producer can’t read your mind. They’re never going to choose the exact soundbite that you would. It’s highly unlikely. This was one major important moment that’s obvious in that episode that makes sense to use but usually, it’s a judgment call. You either have to let go and trust your editor to do it, which is why a lot of people don’t when they’re not do-it-yourselfers.
Even if you’re not a do-it-yourselfer, you can take some notes. We send our customers these pads for making notes while they’re in their episode writing them down so they’re not typing and the keyboard sound isn’t heard over the microphone. If you can write down, “That was a good quote or soundbite, I might want to use that for the hookline.” You can make some notes and then you need to go back, listen, find it and provide that information. If not the exact timestamp, at least enough context that your editor can then find and use that clip as the soundbite.
The old adage is true. If you want something done right, you better do it yourself or at least in the beginning until your editor or production company can learn and they can end up choosing a hookline that you’re more likely to be happy with. One example of the show I can tell you all to check out is a longtime show we’ve been producing. It’s called The Successful Pitch with John Livesay. That show has a hookline for every single episode at the beginning. We’ve been doing it for years.
John is at that point of comfort level with us where he doesn’t ever give us any information. He records his audio and uploads. He’s done. We do everything from there, including the hookline. At this point, he never comes back with any concerns, questions or needs it changed. It’s extraordinarily rare. If it happens once a year, I’d be shocked. It can be done and it can be done well.
I want to set up some realistic expectations. Let’s say you’re comfortable spending the time yourself as a do-it-yourselfer or you’re willing to find that clip you want to use and provide it to your editor. They’re going to make sure the outcome ends up exactly what you want it to be, which is very important, at least in the beginning. Let’s talk a little bit more about that hookline.
The title of this episode is to convert listeners. Crafting hooklines that engage and convert. What does convert mean? I want to make sure I define that. Engage means to get people’s attention and to either build curiosity or evoke a certain emotion. If you got somebody telling a story of some tragic crash in their life, hopefully, there’s going to be a rise to victory, success or getting to a better place in life. Sometimes that crash can be something shocking to get people’s attention and evoke a certain emotion. They’re like, “That’s unbelievable. I got to hear the rest of the story.” Do you hear what I keep saying? “I’ve got to hear the rest of the story,” is what I would be saying in my mind.
Here is the conversion. The idea is you want people to listen to your entire episode. This is the whole point. Sometimes when we have our episode format that’s the same every time, it can become a little routine even though people are subscribed, they come back and they’re listening to you every time because they’ve come to like you, trust you and want to hear your message. You have the same pre-recorded intro and maybe you haven’t changed it in a few years. We recommend a lot of the time considering every year, “Do you want to update your intro? Freshen it up a little bit.” People get into this routine.
If you’re following this show, I’m starting the show the same way. The first fifteen seconds are probably the same every time. It’s not necessarily a good thing. It doesn’t get people excited. It is familiar to them. They’re driving and listening to back-to-back episodes. They’re like, “The right episode played. This is the show I wanted to hear.” That’s a good thing.
The conversion and the idea here, when you’re listening to a lot of shows back-to-back or the same show week after week and everything is the same in the beginning, while there’s a comfort and familiarity with that, there’s also not a lot of anticipation being built. There’s not a lot of excitement being generated. A hookline can do that if it’s done well. It builds excitement and anticipation. It gets the listener to be like, “I got to make sure I pay attention.” Podcasting can be a passive activity while we’re driving, exercising, walking, jogging or running.
People sometimes can listen a little too passively. If you set up this hook from the beginning that gets people to realize right up front that there’s something different, important, controversial, shocking or heartwarming story, whatever it is, if there is a clip, short and sweet is Tom’s recommendation anyway, that does that, that communicates that feeling or sets up that anticipation and is like, “I need to pay attention to this episode. I want to listen through this whole thing,” you’re going to get people listening all the way through your episode.
I also recommend this as a clip that’s somewhere deep in the episode. You’re giving an appetizer or a teaser. Don’t make that something that happens in the first 10 minutes of a 40-minute episode. I recommend it’s something that’s pretty deep, more than halfway through, 2/3 of the way through or so. This is a judgment call too. It can be very much toward the end and one of the last things people get or it could be more halfway through. The point is you want people to listen through to the whole thing so don’t give it away right up front. Unless the episode continues to path in other ways and there’s a reason why you want to set them up with something they’re going to get early and then they’re going to keep getting more.If you want something done right, you better do it yourself or at least in the beginning until your editor or your production company can learn. Click To Tweet
I’m making some suggestions. You can do what’s right for you and you can experiment with this too. There’s a trial-and-error factor here. You’re welcome to do. Any podcaster who’s been podcasting long enough pivots their show at some point in some way and maybe multiple ways. This can be one that you can try. Some people do interview episodes and solo casts where they’re speaking on a topic on their own like I’m doing here.
A hookline in that situation may not be as important as it is in an interview episode or maybe something you don’t want to do unless it’s an interview episode. That’s a choice too, although you certainly could do it if you had a good hookline in a solo cast. Conversion is about play through so I want to make sure that’s clear. Judgment calls are tough. These are all judgment calls about the shows that we make and the decisions we make like whom we’re going to interview, what the main topic’s going to be and what those opening question is going to be. That brings up another concept for a hookline if you want it to be your voice as the host every time.
If you’ve got a good question that is short enough to ask in that 15-second to 20-second timeframe, that can be another good idea for a hookline. Ask a question early on but don’t give the answer. Don’t let the guest answer or don’t let them answer completely because that can build a lot of anticipation. You ask a question and maybe you hear a little bit of the start of the answer or maybe the guest chuckles or is like, “That’s a good question.” Don’t let them give the answer. There’s building anticipation. Setting up the listener and be like, “Wait. You tease me now. That’s a great question. You got me. I’m going to listen.”
There are lots of different things you can do with a hookline but fair warning, it’s advanced podcasting in terms of the amount of time and effort the host is going to have to put in, especially if you’re editing your own. Even if you’re not, the amount of time you are going to need to put in to communicate, here’s where it is. You got that recording, go through it, find that clip, give the timestamp to your editor and use this hookline. Until you get to a point where if you’re hands-off, the way John Livesay is for The Successful Pitch, you have enough faith and trust in your editing and production team, they’ll choose a good hookline for you.
That’s where John is. He’s hands-off at this point. Many years later, he has 300-plus or more episodes. He’s not going to spend that kind of time. He’s focusing his effort on getting those great guests and what questions he’s going to ask. He’s leaving all those editorial and production decisions up to us. We’ve gotten to a point where it works for him and he’s happy with it.
Be aware of those things. Think about what could you do in your podcast that would be a way to choose a hookline and put it up front that has a big impact that’s going to be that wow moment. Remember, you want to wake someone up. I’m driving from LA to Vegas. I’m listening to 8 or 10 podcasts back-to-back. What are you going to do to get my attention? Make your content exciting and get people in the right mood to listen to the whole thing. It serves them better. It serves you and your purposes. There you go.
I hope that was very helpful. If you have any thoughts or comments, you can reach out to us at Podetize.com. You can search for any titles, topics or subjects you’re interested in. Find an episode appropriate for that and hopefully, get some good value out of that. I hope you do that. We look forward to being back next time with another great episode. Until then.