3 Things Every CMO Needs to See to Invest in Branded Podcasts and Video Shows
November is Make the Case Month at MSR. Every week, we’ll load you up with the big-picture ideas and tactical tips you need to sell your branded show concept to the “powers that be” within your organization. We know that shows are the best vehicle to help grow brand affinity among your customers; this month, we’re helping ensure everyone else at your company understands that, too. If you’re as pumped as we are, catch up on the content we’ve already published and subscribe for exclusive bonus content and conversations here.
Let’s talk strategy for a second.*
*the actual unit of time most marketing teams are allowed to talk strategy — and therein lies the issue.
It’s an understandable question to ask: “How can we grow our show?” In our frantic race to generate results, we tend to leapfrog the parts where we focus on strategy and content creation, and instead focus on growing and generating results through content promotion. Whether due to our boss pushing on us, or that internal voice going, “You’re not moving fast enough,” we tend to underinvest in smarter planning.
I get it. I’m not blaming you, or anyone else in marketing. (Except you, Larry. This is all your fault.)
On Marketing Showrunners over the past few weeks, we’ve covered how to get buy-in for making shows. We talked to some top minds in marketing about how they gather audience intel and craft content people actually spend time with, adore, and share. We even launched the world’s biggest list of branded podcasts and video shows. And why? We want to help you make the case for better content, better shows, and better brand affinity for your company. (PS: We packaged a lot of that stuff into A CMO’s Business Case for Branded Shows: Data and Ideas to Get Buy-In.)
Just one problem.
Once you get the green light, there’s no guarantee it won’t someday turn red.
Yes, it can be tricky to get the go-ahead to launch, but it’s even harder to consistently improve and grow your show over time — but that’s the actual job. The entire point of creating a show is to equip your team with the ability to hold attention over time, not just grab it. Today, the best teams embrace: Great marketing isn’t about who arrives. It’s about who stays.
We only reap the rewards of a show if the show persists. So let’s set aside all the tactics we think we need to grow a show through promotion (and there are dozens), and first ensure that any tactic we try has a greater chance of succeeding.
The 3 Vectors of Success in Showrunning
1. Creative Reinvention
Sweeping generalization alert! When an approach to marketing doesn’t work, most marketers (and marketing executives) tend to blame the distribution of content rather than analyze the content itself. This is unfortunate, since it anchors our discussions and attempts to improve on the latter half of our work (the marketing of the thing) instead of the first half (the making of the thing).
Consider that today’s thriving brands have stopped trying to get audiences to spend time with mediocre stuff. Instead, they focus more energy on building stuff actually worthy of their audiences’ time. Less “click here to share,” and more doing stuff worth sharing.
So how do we hold attention over time? We have to avoid stagnation. Even if we succeed in grabbing attention, what brought people our way often isn’t enough to keep them around. So our first line of defense against our bosses growing sour and our shows sputtering out (or sunsetting per someone’s orders) is to have a plan to constantly exceed the expectations of our audiences.
We should be building a small but passionate audience of true believers and using their qualitative feedback to ensure we keep running our shows. (In my email inbox, I keep a “rainy day fund” of qualitative feedback from those who consume our content. As the founder of MSR, I may not have a “boss” to convince, but I still need to stay informed and agile by reacting to both constructive criticisms and positive sentiments. Both help me keep my finger on the pulse of a project or our editorial overall. Both help me understand when things are resonating or growing stale. I’d highly suggest setting up your own system for collecting quotes from customers, influencers, media, and industry experts, both to help you improve and to equip yourself with a form of data we often overlook, but which can lead to productive discussions internally: qualitative feedback.)
But again, to generate that level of audience response consistently, we need to constantly reinvent our shows in little ways — otherwise, audiences begin to lose interest. Stagnation is the enemy.
When we hear “creativity” and “innovation,” things can feel a bit too open-ended and ineffable to move forward in concrete, efficient ways. But consider there are just five ways to reinvent something and “get creative” in practical terms. If creativity can be defined as a refreshing upset of the status quo, then consistent creativity (i.e. reinvention) can be defined as making refreshing changes to the status quo, in little ways, all the time.
The Five Ways to Reinvent a Show
Reuse: Identify a trait, moment, or quality (let’s call those “anchors,” since they’re the traits audiences latch onto in order to shape their expectations over time). Then, reuse it. Increase the number of times others encounter it within the same project. (Example: Audiences love your host? Give her a monologue or a scripted episode every month.)
Repurpose: Increase the number of times others encounter an anchor in a different project. (Example: Audiences love your host? Have her appear as a guest elsewhere, or launch a short video or blog series promoting your podcast, or emcee your event.)
Replace: Substitute one anchor for another one. (Example: “Bad news, Sally. We’re replacing you as a host.” Or maybe, “Hey, we end with a lightning round of questions, but everybody does that now. Can we replace that segment with a new one?”)
Remix: Combine an existing anchor with refreshing new elements. (Example: A mini-series of episodes with a co-marketing partner, or a new format for one monthly episode.)
Refine: Remove unwanted parts of an anchor or the entire thing. (Example: “Let’s trim our lightning round down to 5 questions instead of 10,” or, “Let’s just remove the entire lightning round and end the regular episode more strongly.”)
For a deeper dive into the five changes we can make to reinvent our shows, read The Season 2 Problem: How to Reinvent Your Brand’s Show to Grow Audience.
2. Deepening Audience Relationships
The second of three “success vectors” in running a show over time is to deepen audience relationships. Think of running a show like running a restaurant. At first, every patron is effectively the same: a warm body eating your food. Over time, however, you start to notice some regulars, so you buy them back a bit — a free cocktail here, a free appetizer there. You give them some extra stuff. Then, as they move from regulars to downright evangelists, you might invite them to bigger things: private parties, tastings, holiday events, and more.
A show operates the same way. At first, we just want some people to listen or watch. Over time, though, we need to turn passive consumers into passionate fans. We covered one way to do that in #1 above: create a show that routinely exceeds expectations over time. More time spent equals deeper relationships and trust. But we can get more proactive about that with our marketing, too.
Inside the show, we can add little inside jokes that returning audiences understand: actual jokes between a host and the audience or two co-hosts, recurring mini-segments, or just recurring running tropes that appear every so often, like a nickname you give yourself or others, or a pithy phrase you repeat to cement an idea. (In my own podcast, recurring listeners get used to me talking a lot about feelings, using lots of bad dad jokes, using similar phrases to sum up ideas whenever they appear, and more. I opened this very article making fun of a fictional guy named Larry. I could reuse that. I also repeated the phrase, “Great marketing isn’t about who arrives. It’s about who stays.” Loyal readers ofMSR will know that phrase.)
Outside the show, we can also deepen relationships with our audience. We can create an exclusive newsletter just for listeners/viewers, hold 1:1 calls or group chats, or offer access to ideas or materials they can’t get elsewhere. The idea is to continually “upgrade” the value for your show’s regular audience. They don’t just receive show content — their regularity makes them special, which awards them better access and privileges.
To be successful showrunners, we have to oversee a strategic plan of moving show audiences from general consumers to passionate fans to VIPs to evangelists. Otherwise, we’re just shrugging and driving “traffic” that does nothing for our brand affinity marketing.
3. Measuring Subscription Value
The third vector of success to grow a show over time is to ensure we’re tracking appropriately. First, a caveat: subscriber growth isn’t the goal. Nope. It’s the measure of the goal.
The actual goal is to be more helpful. What are all our ideas for doing so?
The actual goal is to be more entertaining. What are all our ideas for doing that, too?
The actual goal is to create an irresistible show, a refreshingly different experience — a truly original series. Are we doing that?
Subscribers? Those are crucial to measure, because they tell us if we’re on the path to achieving our actual goal.
The key to measuring our efficacy in achieving our goal is equal parts qualitative feedback collection and quantitative measurement.
When it comes to collecting qualitative data, I already mentioned keeping that “rainy day fund” of comments in your inbox or elsewhere — anything from emails to social to press. Additionally, we can also use good old-fashioned surveys to gather qualitative responses and measure sentiment. Big brands have been using brand lift surveys and other forms of questionnaires for decades, while companies of all shapes and sizes (particularly the startups I’ve worked with or for) often use the Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey.
One of my favorite questions to gauge “content/market fit” (a version of product/market fit) is simply, “If we ended this project, how disappointed would you be?” The options are “Very Disappointed,” “Somewhat Disappointed, and “Not Disappointed (It isn’t that interesting or helpful).” To gauge content/market fit, look for 40% or more respondents answering “Very Disappointed” — this according to author and entrepreneur Sean Ellis, founder of GrowthHackers and previously a growth leader and advisor at companies like LogMeIn and Dropbox.
In my experience, we tend to undervalue the information we glean from surveys in marketing today. We want to use technologies that can track and gather data for us, spitting out charts and graphs automatically. But we can run a survey such as the above, or even ask simpler questions we genuinely want to know, like:
- Did you know us before listening or watching?
- How did you feel about our brand before you watched our show versus after?
- Are you more likely to recommend us because of our show?
- If we killed the show, how disappointed would you be on the following scale?
- NPS: How likely are you to recommend our show to a friend or colleague? (Scale of 0-10; calculate final score via the link above.)
- Content/Market Fit: If we ended this project, how disappointed would you be? (3 options mentioned above; goal of 40%)
Just because it doesn’t have a tracking pixel doesn’t mean it’s not able to be measured or worth our time to do so.
I also mentioned quant, and so inevitably, you’re thinking about technology now. The trick to gather better quantitative data through technology is to move at least some of your audience off third party apps (Apple Podcasts, YouTube, etc.) in order to encourage subscription to a show-specific email list. In addition, we should be tagging our existing email lists (via a simple survey question) to separate those who do listen/watch from those who do not. Then, we should be tracking all these subscribers and comparing their activities and respective value to our brands.
The thesis here:If we can think strategically about our listener or viewership up front, we’ll equip ourselves to prove to others in our organizations the ONE thing that will ensure our shows persist: People who consume our show are more valuable to our brand than people who do not.
Move at least some audience to email, then look at actions taken, engagement rates, and velocity down the funnel compared to the other cohort(s). Again, don’t measure subscription growth. Measure subscription value.
Green Lights Are Temporary;
Shows Can’t Be
We dedicate so much time to making the initial case for shows, whether we’re the head of marketing or a practitioner trying to sell the idea up the chain. Whatever our position, we face the same reality: it’s hard to get started. But a funny thing happens once we finally get to start.
We have to keep going.
As marketers, we want the trust, love, actions, and dollars of an audience. Put plainly, we want to succeed. When it comes to building brand affinity through shows, there’s only one way to succeed: We have to keep going. So let’s plan accordingly.
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Founder of Marketing Showrunners, host of 3 Clips and other podcasts and docuseries about creativity, and author of Break the Wheel. I’m trying to create a world where people feel intrinsically motivated by their work. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.
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