Want to Grow Your Podcast or Video Show? Start With This Overlooked, Transformative Tactic
Want to look smart in a meeting? Be sure to ask, “But will it scale?”
(Man, I wish comedian Sarah Cooper was practicing her comedy back when I worked for Google.)
BUT WILL IT SCALE pic.twitter.com/A1JLQKrdWA
— Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr) March 25, 2019
Sarah, ironically, worked at Google too (after me), then left to become a standup comedian and writer. Her first book, 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings, was inspired by a blog post listing 10 such tricks. When I heard the one above, about everything we do needing to “scale,” I pretty much died. At my first three corporate jobs, starting with a three-year stint at Google, I’d routinely watch others shoot down creative ideas with that phrase.
“Yeah … BUT WILL IT SCALE?”
Most of us deal with that phrase all the time in our work, whether our CMO asks us about a particular approach to content, or a peer seems to have taken Sarah Cooper’s comedy a bit too seriously and wants to appear smart in meetings. Either way, trying to plot out every step in a tactic’s evolution is like hesitating before you go scuba diving to try and draw out every single creature and rock you’ll encounter from the top to the bottom of the sea. Needing to justify our work with the theory of scaling often prevents us marketers from adopting some truly creative approaches to our work, and it’s created a mental hurdle to growing our podcasts and video shows specifically. That’s because the single most-transformative thing we can do doesn’t feel like it will scale:
We need to talk to our subscribers.
Yep! Like, human-to-human. Whether in-person or over a video chat, if we regularly spoke with those we claim we wish to serve, EVERYTHING would get easier. Just like when I wrote about new marketing mandate today, I’d point us to the software industry for inspiration. Great product managers and leaders in SaaS will regularly interact with their customers and users, simply to understand their work and their lives. They know that, contrary to popular belief, our jobs aren’t to provide solutions. Our jobs are to intimately understand their problems. That level of understanding equips both product managers and, I believe, marketers to go back inside our offices or Slack channels and begin to craft solutions the customer could never have imagined or asked for proactively.
When we talk to our audience, and do so regularly, we can transform everything, from the entire arc of a series of episodes, to tiny pockets of copywriting to promote the show.
I urge you: Talk to subscribers. It’s our unfair advantage over those who refuse. And why? Because they think it doesn’t scale.
Two years ago, I started scheduling six one-on-one video calls with my newsletter subscribers each month. It’s become the single-best decision I’ve ever made. Each time I enter a call, however, I’m stressed out. I think, “This is a waste of time. I should write more. I should create another episode. I should pitch some new sponsors, or close more consulting deals, or work on my speech. Why am I doing this? WILL THIS SCALE?!”
Each time, I’m reminded just how powerful it can be to simply hold a conversation with those you aim to serve. After all, how in the hell can we create content intended to be loved by others … if we don’t talk to the “others” in that equation?
I schedule those monthly calls for 30 minutes apiece. For the first 15, I ask them questions, which change call-to-call based on what I learned last time. It never focuses on my work. It always focuses on theirs. What’s hard? What’s easy? What are their goals, dreams, beliefs? What do they love or hate inside our industry? Outside it? The rare times I ask about Marketing Showrunners or the podcast, Unthinkable, I ask how they found it, or which episodes they like, or what made them cringe.
Then, for the second half of the call, I offer my time to discuss anything they’d like. I let them know I received tremendous value from them and that I’m happy to talk about anything they want (or merely catch up) with the remaining time.
Transformative. Utterly transformative. Sure, I love that I build real relationships with these individuals. But more so, I walk away with endless lists of ideas for episodes, questions I need to answer, and potential educational products or events I could create to address the community’s problems. I also have a clearer understanding of their journey to find the show or the newsletter or Marketing Showrunners more broadly, and I can reverse engineer our marketing accordingly. Most of all, I get inspired to work hard because I’m working to serve John and Judy and Justin and Justine — not “10,245 subscribers” or “1,578 views.”
BUT WILL IT SCALE?
Honestly? No. It will not. Conducting one-on-one video calls or meetings with listeners, viewers, and subscribers doesn’t scale at all. But you know what scales beautifully? The insights I take back to my team. The motivation I feel. The ideas I have. That stuff scales. Boy, does it scale…
If we want to grow our shows, we can read all kinds of advice for how to generate more podcast downloads or ratchet up our views on YouTube. Or we can do what every business is buzzing about today: Create a better experience that kickstarts a word-of-mouth flywheel. We can embrace that CX or UX or CX matters. (That second CX was “content experience,” because the first was “customer experience.” You got that, right? Let’s move on.) Don’t look for scalable ways to grow your show. Look for the first-principle of why we do this work at all: to serve our audiences, to resonate deeply in an era defined by commodity content and the arms race for empty traffic.
Inform everything you do, from the planning and production of your show to the marketing and measurement, on the strong foundation of first-hand conversations with your audience — a foundation others lack, as they try to build towers to the sky on top of a few flimsy planks called “assumptions.”
You’re the showrunner. Want to run the show? You need a cofounder, a cohost, a coproducer. It’s not a colleague. It’s your audience, your superfans, those you aim to serve in the end. Reach out to five subscribers right now and ask them to chat so you can better serve them.
Will it scale? That’s the wrong question. Is it valuable? Is it transformative? Will it help us help them? That’s the path to sustainable, lasting growth.
Founder of Marketing Showrunners, author of Break the Wheel, and host/producer of docuseries about creative work. 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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