To Podcast or Video…or Both? The Factors Showrunners Should Consider
How one marketer is embracing both mediums by marketing to people
When you set out to create a show, you might be inherently drawn to one medium over the other. Maybe you have a USB microphone lying around, so podcasting seems easiest. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of creating a web series in which you cast all your beautiful marketing friends and now boom, here’s your chance.
Perhaps more likely, however, you know you want to create a show — but you don’t know what kind of show to create. So where do you start?
I spoke with Cara Hogan, who is running a successful podcast and video series at the same time, to help marketers determine which format is right for them.
The Impulse to Create New Media
Cara Hogan got into podcasting before podcasting was cool.
Well, okay, let’s be clear — podcasting was always cool. What I mean is that Cara was making podcasts before every other marketer under the sun jumped on that particular bandwagon.
“I ended up actually producing a podcast for [InsightSquared], called Ramp, which was great. I got to interview people and use journalistic interviewing skills. I taught myself how to do audio production, which was pretty fun,” said Cara.
But let’s back up a bit. Cara, like many content marketers, comes from a journalism background (hence her inherent interviewing skills). She worked as a journalist in Boston for five years after school at publications like the Boston Globe. But as Cara put it,
“Obviously journalism is a challenging industry, and I felt like there wasn’t a huge future in it for me, career growth-wise. So I started writing for a publication covering technology for a little bit, and then I ended up just transitioning over to content marketing at a startup in Boston.” That startup was InsightSquared. Thanks to her foray into the content marketing space, Cara was introduced to podcasting and the wild, wild world of multimedia marketing in March of 2015.
Interviewing for Audio: A Brave New World
Cara was already a skilled interviewer, but she soon learned that interviewing for audio came with a unique set of trials. “It was the challenge of making sure I phrased things well. That I was getting the right stories out of people that sounded interesting in audio. If you have something written, you can move quotes around really easily, and get different perspectives from an interview. It’s easy to just say, like, ‘oh, that was the most interesting thing they said, just pull that out.’” (Much like I’m doing right now, in fact. Meta.)
As Cara got deeper and deeper into realizing what did and didn’t work for audio (asking personal questions works; letting guests ramble for too long doesn’t), she took a job at her current company, Zaius, and began hosting its podcast. In “The Empowered Marketer,” Cara interviews other successful marketers to glean universal tips and techniques. For anyone in this field, it’s well worth checking out.
Back then, “It was a lot easier to start a podcast and get immediate traction, because there were so few people doing podcasts,” she disclosed. “Obviously the NPRs of the world and people who are really professional audio producers were doing amazing things. But you could kind of get away with having a podcast that was just conversations, and you could build a real audience around it. So I think it was significantly easier when I did my first podcast than when I did my second. And it’s just a lot harder [now] to build that audience and stand out. And so that’s been challenging.”
Challenges be damned, Cara has gathered a following of about 10,000 marketers with The Empowered Marketer. She even has an audio editor this go-round — no more YouTube editing tutorials required.
Why not both?
Creating an engaging, successful podcast would be plenty as far as achievements go for many people, but not for Cara. Together with fellow Zaius employee Tim Busa, she also creates and hosts a video series called “Marketing Unboxed.”
What drove Cara to create Marketing Unboxed (the excellent premise of which we’ll get to in a second, I promise)? In her case, it was driven by response and need.
“We were doing the podcast, and the podcast was going really well, and I was doing these really low-budget, very poorly produced, little short snippets of the podcast as videos, where it’s just side-by-side me talking to that person, and then I’d post them on LinkedIn and those videos were just getting lots of comments and views and a lot of attention,” Cara told me.
“And I thought, ‘Huh, clearly we should be doing more video content.’”
The need is one thing, but then there’s the matter of deciding what the overarching theme of your series should be. An obvious difference between video and podcast is the visual element. Even though people were viewing Cara’s clips of her just sitting and having conversations with podcast interviewees, she knew that wouldn’t be enough to sustain a whole series.
Creating a Video Concept
“My original idea was to take marketers to a mall and have them talk about eCommerce [there],” says Cara. “We’d come to the food court and get Orange Julius and talk about eCommerce strategy. But that’s just a really challenging thing to film — how do you get permission to film in a mall? How do you get that person to the mall? It was just a much more in-depth series than we had the budget and/or capabilities to do. So then I shifted to: people love unboxings, and eCommerce is huge into unboxings. What if we do what is essentially a mashup of a marketing tear down that many brands have done…before, but we do that plus an unboxing? So, hence Marketing Unboxed.”
If you’ve ever watched the rather bizarre phenomenon that is YouTube influencers “unboxing” gifts that brands send them, then you’re already ahead of me. If you haven’t, there’s no need to, unless you want to feel a confusing urge to go purchase a bunch of products you’d previously had no interest in.
On Marketing Unboxed, Cara and Tim take this “unboxing” concept and use it to unpack the marketing campaigns and tactics of B2C companies. They’re both very charming and quippy on camera, and the concept totally works.
And why does it work so well? They’ve taken a format familiar to some internet users and twisted it so it fits their particular expertise and speaks to their audience. If viewers know traditional unboxing videos, they’re likely to be surprised and charmed — if they don’t, they’re still likely to be surprised and charmed.
The idea of format is highly important when creating any show, whether podcast or video. The fact is: the video format makes a video series much harder to produce than a podcast. It takes way more time, resources, and budget, whereas you can create a good podcast with just yourself, a mic, and some audio editing ability (or at least I hope you can, because that’s what I’m doing!).
For a video series, you need a nice camera, lighting, lavalier mics or a boom, and probably some props that complement your concept, at the very least. You may need a co-host, camera person, and editor. And, as with any content, you’d better have a good idea that will cut through the mountains and mountains of other stuff that exists.
Format-wise, Cara and Tim have nailed it. Though their concept may be slightly tongue-in-cheek (read: ragging on famous YouTubers), we can’t discredit the reasons behind the concept’s popularity. Cara and Tim get it: the comfort and trust created by familiar people you feel like you know talking to you on camera. And they capitalize on that well in Marketing Unboxed.
“I definitely did not want it to be really formal. I knew that. I wanted it to be just like the way we would normally talk. Even though we do scripts for series — we write out a whole script for every episode, and certainly, you could probably tell from the high number of puns that I use that it’s been scripted. But yeah, it was, the goal was to make it something that was fun and interesting and that didn’t take itself too seriously. Because I feel like that’s the case for a lot of B2B content — we’re trying so hard to be professional that we forget we’re talking to people.”
Creating Marketing Content for Humans
What Cara nailed so well in the above quote and what she nails so well in her shows is that very concept: marketers can (and often do) easily forget that even when they’re marketing to other businesses, those businesses are run by actual humans.
It can be tough to get marketers — or anyone, really — to open up in any public forum. To allow for moments of vulnerability or less-than-perfection when trying to present your best self to an audience, which plenty of podcast guests understandably are.
“It’s always my challenge to try to get somebody to share something different, to share something that’s a little maybe less polished, a little more open about what they’re going through, what they’re experiencing. And not everyone’s open to that. Not everyone wants to share those kinds of things.
I ask everyone that comes on the show about their biggest failure, and what they learned from it. And you can just tell some people love that question and can’t wait to tell me all about these terrible things that they’ve done and what they learned and how important it was to them that they did fail, and tell me this detailed story. And other people don’t feel comfortable sharing as much. So, that’s kind of my job, to get people to be comfortable to share that information. And I’m often able to do it, but not always.”
Just as Cara asks for honesty from her guests, she and Tim keep the Marketing Unboxed reviews open and truthful. How could their audience trust them otherwise?
Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?
But a platform based on honesty means that Cara and Tim can’t please everyone. When they give less than glowing reviews, which they have in the past, they often face backlash from the brands they’re profiling.
“That was something that was really important to me for Marketing Unboxed; we’re not just going to be nice. We have given some pretty bad reviews to brands, including brands that are really big, and we could sell software to, and were not particularly pleased with our videos. It wasn’t great, but I thought the value of being honest was more important. We did have one brand in particular who was not happy and sent us an email asking us to take down the video. It’s just our opinion, but it certainly did not make them love us.
That hasn’t been everyone’s reaction. I think more people are interested or flattered or will take the slight criticism that we offer as an opportunity to change something, because it’s an objective opinion from somebody outside your company. And I think as a marketer you don’t get that feedback a lot.”
Keeping the Audience Engaged
When it comes to keeping her shows engaging and dynamic for human audiences, Cara has learned that she has to switch things up a bit almost every time. She sticks to her foundational anchors but looks to little wrinkles that she can implement to make sure her audience doesn’t get bored. (In case you missed it: in a previous post, Jay discussed this concept that’s fascinating all of us these days: In order to reinvent something, don’t think of pulling off a groundbreaking, massive stunt. The most impressive, lasting reinvention happens gradually over time, through a series of small changes that look a lot more like wrinkles on the fabric of your company or project’s surface.)
“Every single episode I feel like is a little bit different, and I just constantly tweak things, down to something as silly as we realized the backdrop in the video looked kind of crappy. So we invested in a nice backdrop. We [mixed up] the format of how we analyze the different brands. We’ll always analyze retargeting ads, always analyze emails, and I was like, why are we limiting ourselves? Why don’t we analyze all different things? Why don’t we look at the packaging? Why don’t we look at the website experience? There’s no reason for us to not include those if those are done really well. So we changed the format. We changed the backdrop, we changed all kinds of things. Even down to like a thumbnail on YouTube, the thumbnails for the videos. I started customizing them, and our designer made them look beautiful, and just all these little things that I feel like just slowly upped the quality and the look and the branding and the content over time.”
I asked Cara if she got any audience backlash from the wrinkles she implements.
“You know, it’s funny. No one’s really commented on those little things.”
When easing your audience into the little changes you know will enhance their experience, chances are you’ll face very little backlash. So decide what story you need to tell and select the format in which to tell it — is it an audio interview segment with room for excellent sound design? Or is it a video series that requires lots of quick cuts and quippy remarks?
Whatever format you choose, be prepared to play around. And at the end of the day, remember this: you’re talking to real humans. If you’re excited about what you have to say, there’s a good chance your audience will be, too.