Where Do Podcasts Fit in the Marketing Funnel? The Same Place Relationships Do
Imagine two different brands, Brand A and Brand B. Both compete to earn the trust and dollars of the same audience.
Brand A is widely considered to be one of the best marketing teams in the world. They understand each stage of the funnel, have discrete strategies and tactics for each, and it all rolls up to one coherent brand story. They invest a ton of budget and even more time into their marketing, too, and they’re able to hire the best agencies to supplement their internal team’s efforts. As if that wasn’t enough to succeed, their executives also just “get it.”
Yes, when it comes to marketing, Brand A is world-class, award-winning, trend-setting, and internet-breaking.
Brand B … is not.
They don’t win any awards. They aren’t universally celebrated around the marketing community as an anything-class, led alone world-class. They’re also not anything-setting, anything-breaking, or apparently, much of anything at all. Or so it seems at first. Yes, when it comes to marketing, they don’t seem special whatsoever, what with their tiny budget, zero agencies, smaller team, and no broad market awareness.
Feels kinda lousy to be Brand B, doesn’t it?
Except Brand B has an unfair advantage, and for that reason, they’re thriving.
See, unlike Brand A, Brand B has an actual relationship with each and every person in their audience. I don’t mean they “know the customer.” I mean that, magically, somehow, they know their customers — and their prospects, and the people who influences them all. Yes! They’re old buddies, new pals, former classmates, community collaborators, distant cousins, and close relatives. As impossible as it sounds, every single individual in the world who could possibly buy from Brand A or Brand B already has a preexisting, personal relationship with Brand B.
Now here’s the multi-million dollar question: Which marketing team would you rather be? Brand A or Brand B?
I’m picking Brand B every. damn. time.
Developing Audience Relationships
Let’s step outside my wild example for a moment, because Brand B’s advantage is of course impossible. We’ll never have personal relationships with everyone in our audience. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make our content feel personal.
I don’t mean personalized, mind you. I mean that we can tap into the emotional reasons people are passionate about their work, their lives, or a specific topic we talk about publicly. If we did that, we may not have an actual one-to-one relationship with those who consume our work, but they would feel like it.
As marketers, we typically deal with what I call “low-probability events” — all the various marketing things we try which, let’s face it, return at such a low-percentage yield that numbers like 2% click-through seem absurdly high. But having a genuine relationship with someone turns a low-probability event into something much more likely to happen. But this all requires time spent with each other, and a powerful, personal type of time spent.
Just think: If I asked you to do something for me right now, you’d be more likely than before you read this. Readers who have followed my work for years are even more likely. It increases the deeper the relationship goes, i.e. the more personal the connection: if we met at an event, if we had a meal together as a group, if we had a one-on-one meal together, if we became colleagues, if we became friends.
As people, we know this. As marketers, we forget this. The more personal our relationship, the more we favor those people.
Our opportunity is to genuinely, honestly, and generously make our content feel personal. And that’s the power of a podcast, the most intimate, voice- and emotion-driven content at our disposal.
Podcasts help us push beyond the typical, casual relationships we have with people and, instead, go deeper in this world that keeps trending more shallow.
So what could possibly create the feeling in our audience that they somehow know us, as if we interacted offline? There’s only one thing that will do that: time. They have to spend a ton of time with us. Not seven impressions scattered across a few touchpoints. Not 30 seconds before the video they actually wanted to see begins playing. Not even a few blog posts that rank on the first page of Google. Nope! The only way to make others feel like they know us, and therefore trust and love us enough to take valuable actions, is for them to invest significant time with us.
This is a reality that marketers so often forget.
This is also why creating a show is so powerful. Shows are uniquely suited to hold hours of time investment from an audience. We may not be able to be Brand B and have actual relationships with those who might buy from us, but we can develop deeper relationships more effectively — not to mention, be more efficient than the usual approach to marketing (i.e. Brand A).
When we run a show (a podcast or video series, or a network of such series), others get this feeling that they know us. It happens in far deeper ways than any “pieces” of content or start-and-stop campaigns can achieve. Shows are built with the express goal of holding attention. Imagine what happens when others spend hours upon hours per month with us?
We’d all admit to ourselves that marketing to people who actually know us would be so much easier, so why aren’t we using the one approach to content marketing that can create a similar outcome? As we cover on this site, more and more brands are doing exactly that.
Now, inevitably, when we attack a new opportunity as marketers, we ask, “Where does it fit in the funnel?” For many new things, we bifurcate our answers: Either something must yield direct-response-style results right now (bottom-of-funnel), or it must be an “awareness” play (top-of-funnel). But this is a blunt instrument approach to marketing. It lacks the nuance needed to shape a coherent, successful strategy.
So how should we approach our shows in order to be successful? Let’s rip the band-aid right off, leaving only a red, hairless strip of truth behind:
Shows don’t address any one piece of the funnel. They straighten the entire damn thing.
Shows Are Trust Accelerants
Let’s back up a second: Why would personal, positive relationships with our audience make us more successful and efficient as marketers anyway? It’s all about trust. When an audience knows, likes, and trusts us, as with Brand B, we are less wasteful with our marketing.
Shows do that. When executed well, a show is constructed in such a way that they encourage continued, ever-deepening engagement from the audience. In this way, shows are trust accelerants. Drop one or several into you marketing, and it feels like all of your marketing can work harder for your brand.
Shows address that first, crucial, and giant section of a relationship with a brand — let’s call that brand affinity — rather than merely addressing the first touchpoint, or the passive understanding of a brand — let’s call that brand awareness. Unlike any other type of marketing, shows develop brand affinity through the hours upon hours of attention they hold from others.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a million times this year: Great marketing isn’t about who arrives. It’s about who stays.
But are we measuring who stays? Do we understand their true value? I’d argue, not very well.
In my days working for SaaS companies, we’d talk excitedly about the LTV (lifetime value) of our software’s users. Well, consider that this new way of marketing today is more similar to building a SaaS product than it is a traditional brand campaign. We may not talk about users, per se, but we should all care more about the LTV of our audience. Are they as productive as possible, and as valuable as possible, for our businesses? Are our results compounding over time, as we build on top of that initial, passionate base?
The more time an audience spends with us, the more trust they develop, and the more actions they’re willing to take: purchases, shares, subscribes, you name it! That increases their LTV. Additionally, a high-LTV audience helps us lower something that SaaS businesses also obsess over: customer acquisition costs, or CAC. Thanks to word-of-mouth, our loyal audience refers us new audience, and the flywheel continues to turn.
Higher LTV + lower CAC = the holy grail of content marketing. That’s the promise of making great shows — if only we’d approach them accordingly. They’re not broad awareness, top-of-funnel plays. They’re not direct-response campaigns. They are trust accelerants. They increase the LTV of our audience and lower our CAC.
To Execute Better, We Need to Think Better
Yes, there are distinct benefits at each stage of the funnel when we make shows, but that ignores the more foundational benefits to our brands. We might see a bottom-of-funnel use case to a show, like sales sending a specific episode to a prospect, which tips the scales in our favor. We might see something in the middle of the funnel, like a deepened relationship that forms with a prospect who appears as a guest on our shows. And, yes, we might see some top-of-funnel benefits too, as shows provide endless, shareable content (both through their episodes and the infinite tiny pieces or new ideas they spawn across other marketing channels). But the real value of a show requires a more holistic view.
Brand affinity, after all, affects every interaction a buyer has with our companies. Additionally, shows help us own a theme outright compared to the competition. Finally, a series of delicious content provides endless efficiencies for our entire marketing organization, which can mine the show for content and repurpose and repackage as they might any other large project. These are far more fundamental than any tactic applied to any one stage in the funnel. They affect all of marketing.
In the case of Brand B, because they literally know their audience, they’d probably see the insane amount of effort Brand A needs to yield a few results as wasteful. They don’t feel the need to panic-hop from trend to trend, nor launch a stress-induced series of brainstorms for new content, nor map a buyer’s journey more complicated than whatever whiteboards NASA probably uses. Instead, when Brand B wants their audience to do something, they’ve earned the right to just … ask.
Hey friends! Check this out? K, thanks.
And, crazy though it may seem to some … they DO!
Ask any video show host or podcaster who appears at a conference, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: They get a bizarrely warm, enthusiastic response from others. People who watch or listen to their shows approach them as if they’re old friends, even though they’ve never met in the real world. The thing is, to the viewer or listener, they feel like old friends. That’s the power of a show. That’s the power of brand affinity.
An original series may not create literal friendships between us and our audience (though I’m betting you’ll get a few), but shows can certainly accelerate the relationship between our audience and us. Marketers can trick people into turning their way, but only an experience that is genuinely worth others’ time will cause them to walk over to our brands, plop down beside us, and go on a lengthy journey together. There;’s no cheat or hack for that, and as a result, there’s only trust and love that can develop from such a commitment. They spend significant time with us because we earn it, then they ask others to join them in doing so.
Higher LTV. Lower CAC.
Shows straighten the funnel. They don’t broaden the top, nor convert the bottom. They straighten the entire. damn. thing. So now we need to ask ourselves: Are we approaching our shows accordingly? We know what they’re for. So how will we change our behavior to ensure we capitalize?
Surely, we can’t keep looking for broad “awareness.” That’s not what shows are for. That’s like buying the most premium sports car available today simply because you want to tell as many people as possible that you own it. But, um … should we drive this thing, or what? You should see what it can do!
Likewise, we shouldn’t merely seek conversions in the short-term. That ignores what a show is for, too. Trust is earned over time. Advocacy starts with ongoing commitment. Relationships require deeper engagement. Approaching our show with any belief to the contrary is like buying that powerful sports car simply to drive it 1 mile down the street to your office. Uh … are we sure it’s the right vehicle if that’s all we wanted?
There’s a better way to approach our shows. Don’t look for awareness. Create affinity. Don’t look to “reach” more people. Look to resonate with them. Look for time spent, and actions taken, engagement rates and velocity down the funnel, comparing show subscribers and consumers to the non-believers.
Instead of “more,” marketers can finally look for “better” — a better funnel, a better playbook, a better audience for our brands. Understanding that this show can make all our work work harder enables us to approach our showrunning like true pros, instead of shrug and claim it’s for “awareness” or, conversely, direct results right now.
I believe marketing can be better than we’ve experienced before, all thanks to the power of brand affinity, all thanks to the fact that our audience feels like they genuinely, authentically know us.
Don’t be like Brand A. Be like Brand B. Create a world where everyone you’re trying to reach feels like they actually know you. Build a more efficient funnel. Build brand affinity. That is what it really means to be world-class at this marketing stuff.
Need to make the case for shows internally? I suggest reading this post detailing the rise of the movement and the business case for creating original series.
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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