Fact or Fiction: Your Industry is Too Boring for a Podcast or Video Show
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.
When I was in college, streaming TV was a relatively new (and relatively bomb) phenomenon. During one three-week stretch in my freshman year, my sister could truly speak of nothing other than a new show she was watching after dinner, before bed, and in stolen minutes between classes. It was called The Office, and it was, apparently, incredible.
But when I asked her what it was about, her answer left me flummoxed. It was a mock documentary about regular people working at a paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania, she told me. And it was hilarious.
Initially, I didn’t believe her. A mock documentary? About a paper company? In Scranton? Uh, cool, Caitlin.
The show didn’t sound funny — it didn’t even sound interesting. I’ll never forgive myself for those weeks I spent (unnecessarily!) unaware of the comic genius of Dwight Schrute, Jim and Pam, and Michael Scott.
If I’d clung to my assumption that The Office’s “boring” subject matter meant it was a boring show, then I would have foregone literal hours of laughter. Because, like so many other pieces of content brilliance, the show is really not about any of the “boring” structural elements that set its stage. It’s not about paper, or a sleepy industrial city in Pennsylvania, at all. It’s about people, and relationships, and the slapstick exaggeration of details that are hilariously (sometimes terrifyingly) relatable for every working professional in America.
Look, I understand that you don’t have Steve Carrell on speed dial. But when you’re making the case for a show in an industry that’s as superficially dull as Dunder Mifflin’s, keep in mind that you’re not creating a show about that industry, per se. Rather, like the showrunners of The Office and myriad others, you’re creating a show about an industry’s subtext: what people truly care about within or because of that industry.
As you attempt to make the case for a show to your team, you may find yourself facing a frustrating challenge: colleagues who dissuade you because they believe your industry — their own industry — is “too boring” to sustain a show.
Those naysayers are wrong.
“Coke is sugar water. Nike makes shoes. There are no boring industries, just boring brands,” says Wistia CEO Chris Savage. “To create a brand, you need to live out values that mean something, that stand for or against something, and that tell stories that people can connect with.” As a showrunner, it’s your job to deflect the darts others in your organization would throw by codifying the values, stories, and pain points that are the reason your brand (and, indeed, your industry) exists.
So when facing one of the below arguments against creating a show, prepare to parry.
They Say: No one wants a show about our snoozeville industry
Why are they being so literal?
Or, in the words of Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute Founder, “Do you have no creative soul? This is what makes marketing exciting. Any person, anywhere, in any industry can be lifted up through storytelling if we truly understand the challenges of that person. ‘Boring’ industries are where most of the opportunity is.”
Andy Crestodina, co-founder of Orbit Media, agrees. “I’m jealous. If you’re in a boring niche, you’re lucky. Because standing out is easy. In a room full of wall flowers, it’s easy to be the charismatic guy…Boring niches are great because there are very few experts like you in them, dear marketer. Would you rather be a small fish in a big pond? I would not.”
Boring industries present unprecedented opportunities for marketers to flex their creative muscles. Like all successful forms of marketing, a good show taps into the emotional core of its customers and produces content that address their interests, fears, needs, or pain points. Those elements exist among customers in all industries — even the “boring” ones.
“There are always stories to be told,” says Ryan Estes, Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Frontline Education. “If my company sold widgets used to make airplane parts, I’d tell stories about travel, about bringing the world together, about what is possible when the power of flight enables people to bridge vast distances and cultures. Tell stories about the people who use your product — not how they use your product, but how they’re solving problems in their industry. Build connections between your current clients and your future clients.”
For example: Zendesk, a customer service and engagement platform, creates a must-listen podcast called Repeat Customer. There’s nothing at all salesy or dull in the show — no tips for using Zendesk’s software, nothing about literal, tactical customer service calls. Instead, the show dives into some of the world’s most recognizable and best-loved brands and explores how they create amazing customer experiences. In an episode about Flywheel, the hosts dig into why boutique fitness businesses are disrupting big box gyms, which don’t offer the same level of personal attention. In an episode that centers upon Chip and Joanna Gaines’ “Magnolia” brand, experts discuss how celebrities have increasingly become brands in and of themselves, and what that trend means for customer experiences.
The showrunners behind Repeat Customer understand that every prospective listener (i.e., every prospective customer) is striving to create exceptional experiences with their own customers. Demystifying how some of the best-loved brands do it — with or without mention of Zendesk’s product — is a topic of interest and value to Zendesk’s own target audience.
They Say: Our brand isn’t “entertaining”
You may face a particularly obstinate colleague who insists that a show is too “entertaining” a vehicle to represent a brand that has no interest in entertainment. They might argue that striving to entertain could steer potential customers away from the task at hand: making a practical purchase to solve a particular problem. What would you tell them?
ThriveHive CMO Dan Slagen would say, “The goal of your show isn’t entertainment, it’s value and interest. Focus on a niche audience for your show, understand what they’re interested in, and then give them value. Over time you’ll find your personality and tone of the show, but there are plenty of entertaining shows I’d never watch because they’re not valuable or interesting to me, and that’s how your audience feels.”
Camille Ricketts, Head of Marketing at Notion, gives similar advice. “There is always an emotional center of the work to be found,” she says, regardless of how unemotional or unentertaining that work seems. “Let’s say you build a dull piece of software, but it saves someone’s time. That’s time they can put into other things — their family, building other skills, etc. That’s inherently emotional. What is that real, fundamental human output that results from your work — something that is precious on that very relatable basis we all share? Tell stories that touch on that. “
For example: Think of the most riveting, entertaining product you can. Does accounting software for small businesses come to mind? No? Shocking.
If Freshbooks, which creates accounting and invoicing solutions for small businesses, had admitted defeat and decided it had nothing entertaining or interesting to share with prospective customers, it might never have created its inspiring I Make a Living podcast. The podcast barely addresses Freshbooks’ “boring” but necessary software. Instead, it shares small business owners’ stories: how they work, how they stay productive, how they balance work and life obligations, how they advocate for themselves financially, etc. Without discussing its software at all, Freshbooks gently nudges the listener to draw an inference: that its product empowers small business owners to spend their time on the other all-consuming aspects of entrepreneurship. Freshbooks indicates its ability to help them make a living and while valuing their efforts to make a life.
They Say: Not enough people care about our industry/product/service
You may face a naysayer who fears the niche your product or service fills is too small to justify an investment in a show. The brand might have some ardent followers, but no mass appeal.
“I’d rather have a small group of rabid fans than a large volume of neutral listeners,” opines Maggie Crowley, Director of Product at Drift. “Think about how amazing the conversations will be when the people who really care, the people in that niche, finally have their own show.”
By the very fact of its existence, every industry and every brand has people who care about it, who need it. With a show, your brand can provide something that might not exist anywhere else for those fans. And by infusing creativity into the process, your show can make a longer-lasting relationship with superfans by addressing adjacent issues that matter most to them. Think about how your relationship with your customers could surge if you suddenly became more than a commodity: you became a resource and a partner that truly understood them.
“If your industry/category exists, then someone cares about it,” says Robert Rose, author and Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory. “And, without exception, there are people who care about it passionately. I know of examples of companies in the electronics assembly industry, the banking industry, the metro rail business, and a company that creates safety policy for heavy industry workers. All of these are creating interesting, trustworthy and (on occasion) highly entertaining content.”
Moreover, it’s likely that your colleagues — including your objectors — are uniquely positioned to dive into the psyches of your superfans. “Ask them why they work in that industry or at that brand,” advises Tamsen Webster, Founder and Chief Message Strategist at Find the Red Thread. “There’s usually something fascinating that drew them to the company or brand in the first place…and that’s true for the vast majority of others in the same position. So, explore what those pulls are, because that’s what will draw others to you, too.”
They Say: Our ideal customer doesn’t watch shows or videos, anyway
Sometimes, when a colleague suggests that a show isn’t right for your industry or brand, they mean there’s a mismatch between the show medium and your target customer’s preferred method of consuming media. Particularly if you work for a B2B company, you may have encountered similar arguments when advocating for the creation of a blog or social media accounts.
“Our target customer isn’t hanging out on Twitter,” your colleague might have said. (Sound familiar?) Or: “Our target customer doesn’t listen to podcasts.”
To which you might say: wanna bet?
There’s a tendency among B2B companies to think of customer as business: looming, cold, impersonal, pragmatic. But truly: people are always the ones buying your services, whether those services are billed as B2B or B2C. To convey the worth of your business-serving product, you need to make an argument that will resonate with another human being. And human beings are primed for emotional responses — even if they’re purchasing something to benefit their business.
When you think about your target customer, think about the person who needs to trust and advocate for your brand. Where is that person spending their time? If your colleague thinks they’re spending 40 hours per week at their desk, answering emails and occasionally breaking just to read trade publications, they’re wrong.
Today, the majority of Americans — including your target B2B consumer — have listened to podcasts. One in four Americans listen to a podcast every week. A whopping 87% of people would like to see more video content from brands in 2019. Odds are, your ideal customer already listens to podcasts and already watches video series. Give them what they want: content that reflects their interests and needs in work and in life. Give them a show.
When you’re making the case for your brand’s show, I almost hope someone dares to stipulate that your industry is too boring. Boring is a challenge; boring is an opportunity. Boring is the possibility for true creativity. Boring is the prospect of making a real difference for a customer. Boring is the ability to turn a dispassionate consumer into a rabid fan. Boring is a blessing.
Go take your boring industry and turn it into a can’t-miss show.
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A somewhat accidental marketer, I’m first and foremost a writer. I’ve spent a decade working with global brands to craft on-target content and streamline complex ideas into clear (and even…exciting?!) language. Now, I get to spend every day immersed in content and strategy here, as Managing Editor of Marketing Showrunners, at my company, Molly Donovan Content & Communications. I’m thrilled to be a part of this community of eager next-generation marketers and marketing showrunners.
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