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Why should content marketers start a podcast? How are podcasts different from other content mediums? What does it take to make podcasts possible and sustain success?
Today’s guest is Craig Hewitt from Podcast Motor and Castos. From first-hand experience, Craig understands how painful podcasting can be. It takes time, skills, and effort. He helps others get started to understand the value of podcasts.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
Ben: Hi there and welcome to another episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Ben Sailer. On this week’s show, we have Craig Hewitt from Podcast Motor and Castos to tell us all about why content marketers should really consider starting a podcast and how to get yours off the ground even if you have no experience.
If you’re not familiar with Podcast Motor, they’re a fantastic podcast production company that Craig started several years back. They’ve been helping us produce this very show either from day one or very close to day one. We started this podcast not too long after Craig launched his business and I cannot overstate how valuable their services have been from making this podcast possible.
When I say that Craig knows an incredible amount about what it takes to launch a podcast and sustain success with it for the long haul, I’m speaking from personal experience here because that expertise has shone through and pretty much all of my interactions with his team. They’ve just been so gracious to work with even if we’re late with things or we’re not totally on the ball. We’ve always been able to count on Podcast Motor to help us get our shows out on time.
Whether you’ve been a listener of this show for a long while or this is the first episode you’re checking out, if running a show like the Actionable Marketing Podcast or running a show like any other podcast that you happen to find inspiring is something you’ve been wanting to do, something that you’ve aspired to do, or it’s something that you think your company should be doing but you’ve been held back by something—whether that’s anxiety, lack of resources or anything else—hopefully, this conversation will offer some clarity into how you can roll up your sleeves and get started. Now, here’s Craig.
Ben: How’s it going this morning, Craig?
Craig: Doing great, Ben. How about yourself?
Ben: Doing great, just doing my best to keep warm. Really glad to have you on the show this week. I guess the first question that I have for you is what initially inspired you to start Podcast Motor and Castos?
Craig: I guess a bit of a background about what Podcast Motor and Castos are. Podcast Motor is a done-for-you podcast editing and production service. We help companies like CoSchedule to edit and produce their podcast on a regular basis. We’ve been in business for about five years.
The thing that originally led me to start the business was starting my own podcast and realizing what a giant pain this whole process was. It’s a testament to how good of a content medium podcasting is that it’s so popular despite it actually being really difficult to do well, much less at all.
I started to podcast and really quickly saw that this is tough and it takes a lot of time, skill, and effort. I thought there are probably people out there that would pay money to have this taken off their plate. Pretty typical bootstrap night and weekends thing for a couple of years and went full time on it about 3½ years ago. It’s been a great ride.
Ben: To the best of my knowledge, for our podcast here at CoSchedule, we’ve been working with you from day one. It really has made this entire podcasting endeavor possible for us. I feel like we’ve managed to avoid running into maybe some of the biggest difficulties that brands encounter with podcasting because we’ve always had a partner to help us do a lot of the heavy lifting. What are some of the biggest challenges or the biggest difficulties that you think exist that make podcasting (maybe) a deceptively difficult medium to get into?
Craig: Even for companies that are really good at content like CoSchedule, it can be difficult for brands to figure out exactly what the angle on their podcast is going to be and how it’s going to be different from the rest of the content they put out there, and how to position themselves in the podcasting world.
We have really two arms of the business, one is the ongoing regular editing and production service that’s on a weekly or an episode basis. The other is we have these launch packages. We have several different kinds of levels of it where we walk through a lot of this more consultative brainstorming and positioning stuff with our clients because we have brands like CoSchedule. They come to us and say, “Hey, we want to start a podcast. We have the resources to put into this and invest in the success of it, but we’ve never podcasted before. We don’t know how to do this, and we want to do it right from the beginning.”
A question a lot of brands need to ask themselves is, you’re probably already blogging, you probably have some social media presence, you might have a Youtube channel where you’re putting out content and engaging with your audience. If you add podcasting to that, how’s it going to be different? How is the type of conversation you’re going to have be different in a podcast than you’re going to have on your blog or in social media? What types of content are you going to cover in your podcast?
Answering those in pretty good detail is a really healthy exercise and that’s something we walk our clients through. This is not something you throw at the wall and hope you get it right. If you’re intentional and deliberate about how you approach this, your chances of success go up a lot. I think really framing out what the podcast is about, what are your first 10 episodes going to look like and a decent amount of detail to say, “This is the impression we’re going to give on our show (at least to begin with), then it evolves from there.” But being really intentional upfront about it helps people set themselves up for success.
Ben: Podcast as a medium, I really feel have this taken off over the last decade or so. Something that is really interesting is I don’t know that brands necessarily have really been succeeding with podcasting from the beginning of when the medium first started to take off. When did you first realize that podcasts could be viable for content marketers and brands?
Craig: We’re talking here at the beginning of 2020. Probably about two years ago we started seeing companies really getting into podcasting as a podcast-first content medium or approach if you will. That’s where you start seeing the difference from people having this as an adjunct to the other content they put out there but to people saying, especially branded content if you get into that with places like Wondery, where they’re coming forth and saying, “We’re going to create a podcast that is maybe the only piece of content somebody’s putting out there.” That’s the thing that they’re going to hang their head-on. When you start seeing that and those shows being successful, that’s the turning point that we saw.
Ben: What is it about a podcast that you feel makes some such an effective form of content for earning attention?
Craig: It’s the time that you’re spending with your audience. You’re literally in somebody’s ear for 30 or 45 minutes every week. They might be walking the dog or doing the dishes, they’re on the subway, but you’re spending a lot of time with somebody in a different way than reading a blog post or seeing a tweet, or something like that. Just the time difference, but also the audio medium lends itself to creating a really deep connection with people.
I go to conferences now and meet people that have listened to my podcast and say, “Oh, man. I feel like I know you. I feel like we’ve talked before. I can’t believe this is the first time we’re actually meeting in person.” I just don’t think you would ever get that from a blog. I’ve definitely heard other people say similar things about meeting their listeners in person and them saying, “Wow, I feel like I know you,” or, “I remember when you were going through this thing and I’m so glad you got through that okay,” or whatever the case is.
Use the term intimate, not in a sexual way or anything, but it really is just on a different level that you’re connecting with your listeners. These days with the attention span that we all have and our audience, certainly to be able to connect with somebody for such a long amount of time, is a huge asset.
Ben: I 100% agree with all of that. In your view, what separates successful branded podcasts or a podcast that is essentially a content marketing device from the rest? What separates the most successful companies out there from ones that seem to be struggling?
Craig: It’s important to differentiate branded content from content for a brand because those are different in my mind. Branded content, again like Wondery, is a good example of this. They create a podcast for Nike but it’s not like this show. It’s not Nike’s podcast but it’s a podcast that Nike puts out but it just has their brand on it. It’s not really about their business or even about what they do. Whereas the Actionable Marketing Podcast talks about marketing ties back into your brand and your tool to your audience directly. They’re a little bit different animals, but what makes them successful and what doesn’t is similar. Just being different gets you a long way these days and being different in a good way.
There are a ton of podcasts coming out. Some people will say we’re getting close to peak podcasting or something like that. I don’t know if that’s true but I certainly think that with the increased competition, the number of shows that are out there, if you’re creating just another interview show where you ask the same 10 questions of everybody that comes on, you’re going to get eaten alive and you’re going to just die in a sea of sameness.
Things like the folks at Gimlet or NPR do with their narrative style podcasts that are really interesting. A lot of different segments, effects, transitions, and make it from an auditory perspective, really engaging and interesting, are really good at setting them apart from all the other podcasts out there.
This is really hard to do from a skill, planning, and an execution perspective, it just takes a lot of time and effort. I think that people that do it well are rewarded with rabid listeners and shows that grow a lot quicker than just your standard podcast that some brands are putting out there these days.
Ben: One point that Craig made in our conversation, that is particularly important to take to heart, is that podcasting is hard. Just like any creative endeavor, it’s hard and that’s okay. If your first attempts aren’t great or if you find yourself feeling frustrated or stuck at any point, that’s fine. As long as you keep finding ways to solve problems and just commit to getting just a little bit better with each episode.
There’s no real shortcut to success other than just perseverance and the sheer force of will that is sometimes required to keep going. Without getting too clichéd, if you can learn to love that process and just learn to get comfortable with the sensation of being uncomfortable as you grow in your podcasting efforts, eventually you’ll be unstoppable. Now, back to Craig.
If someone is listening to this show and they may be feeling intimidated by the idea of trying to produce something different from what they know, where would you recommend they start?
Craig: There are two ways I like to think about this for our podcast. We’ve just recently launched a podcast at Castos (which is my second podcasting company), where our podcast hosting platform, and we have a podcast called Audience.
Our idea there for the show as a whole is to have a real-time behind the scenes look at what’s it like to grow a podcast from zero to hopefully very successful. We haven’t seen this anywhere else in the podcasting world. There’s some podcast, like an entrepreneurial world that does this. The show follows us along as we grow our business but nobody’s talked about how you start a podcast, what it’s like to grow an audience and how to be successful. That’s our idea there.
Just generally, you can look at it on a podcast meta-level like that, like is there not a podcast about this, and if not, then that’s a good place to start because you’re instantly different.
If you want to enter a place where there are already other podcasts, you need to ask yourself two questions. I’ll say this about an interview-based show like this. If you’re entering a space where there are already other podcasts like talking about marketing, then it’s important to either find guests that you have never heard on a podcast before because instantly that’s just different, or if you’re going to have the same people on as all the other marketing podcasts or all the other true crime podcasts, then you need to find something that you have never heard them talk about before.
If you’re going to have Seth Godin on your podcast, you need to ask Seth Godin about his childhood or his biggest failures, or whatever. If you’ve done your homework, find something that will be super interesting and engaging for your audience that you have not heard this person talk about before. I think the shows that we see do this really well are the ones that stand out even in, I’ll say, an existing or a crowded market.
Ben: Let’s say that some marketers at a company may be listening to this show. They’ve gotten together, they determined that a podcast is the next thing that they think they should take on but maybe their boss—maybe it’s a CMO or a CEO—is skeptical that it’s worth the investment. If someone finds themself in that position, how would you recommend they go about trying to convince a skeptical boss that a podcast is worth the investment?
Craig: Depending on how skeptical this boss is, I would probably start and say this is just table stakes. We have to have a podcast because all of our competitors have them, they’re engaging with our audience and growing their brand through their podcast already, and if we don’t have one, it’s like us not having a Twitter account. It’s just we have to do it. If that doesn’t fly, then I would talk about the connection that we’re able to build with our audience. Even if it’s just branding that we’re able to do, it’s just a great asset to have in your marketing tool belt.
Somebody that’s classically difficult—a lot of marketing directors or CMOs—will ask, “How are you going to define the ROI and the attribution of your podcast?” You have to be honest with yourself and your marketing team to say, “It might be difficult. We’re going to have downloads, and we’re going to have page views on the post that have show notes for our podcast episodes. You can track some of the on-page stuff back to things like demo calls or trials, but just podcast downloads don’t directly translate into a business event as website visits do. It’s one level up from that.” You have to tell yourself, your team, and your boss (maybe), that, “Hey, this is abstracted one more layer from what we do on-site and on-page.” They have to be cool with that and set that expectation upfront.
Ben: Let’s say then that someone gets past that point. The boss is on board, they have the investment and the resources that they need to get started, but what they’re really missing is just basic knowledge of where to begin. If someone were starting totally from scratch, like they don’t even know what equipment they need, assume they know literally nothing of what they’re doing, where should they begin?
Craig: This is a long conversation, but we covered this in what I think is a really good blog post on the Castos site, so it’s just castos.com/how-to-start-a-podcast. It’s a 6000-word blog post or something with a bunch of videos and stuff. There’s a lot of pieces to it but I’ll cover the big chunks that you can create a checklist of things that you need to understand or be able to do.
The first and the most important, really, on a long-term basis, is having a good microphone and a good reliable way to record high-quality audio. You don’t need to sound like one of the Gimlet or NPR folks, but you can’t sound like you’re in your car driving down the interstate either. A microphone that we recommend is the Audio Technica ATR2100. It’s $70 on Amazon, it’s the microphone I’m using right now, and it’s certainly good enough. There are free tools you can download to use on either Windows or Mac to record either call or just yourself doing a monologue.
Getting that down and being really comfortable with the local gear is really important because that’s the big barrier and maybe the biggest difference between blogging and podcasting is you need to have a microphone. You have to record it, you have to edit it, and you have to know what the heck an RSS feed is and all this stuff that doesn’t exist in the blogging world. Getting comfortable with that from a technical and a technique perspective is really important because, after that, everything else just evolves.
If you know how to do a show, how to structure it, theming, asking good questions, creating a narrative to your podcast as a whole, and creating a story arc for each episode, those are all things you can learn as you go. We’re big fans of just starting and knowing that you’re going to laugh or maybe cry at your first episode two years from now but you’re never going to get there if you don’t just do it. Put it out there, realize it’s probably not going to be your best podcast episode ever and that’s okay but just get started.
I would say don’t get started with bad gear because there is this bar above which your podcast has to exist from an audio perspective and getting a mic like I recommended or just anything that sounds good and you’re able to record high-quality audio, just takes that whole question out of the equation. You can move on to, honestly, bigger and more important things but you got to get that first.
Ben: It’s like anything you just have to pick somewhere to start and not worry about it being perfect right away. This is also a point that you’ve touched on a little bit just with regard to measurement and reporting on ROI. Which metrics should marketers monitor to prove the value of their podcasts? This might be a difficult question to answer but there’s got to be something that we can measure to show that we’re delivering some value through podcasting. I’m just curious to get your thoughts on that.
Craig: It’s like my accountant says, it depends. It depends on your situation as a brand and what you’re podcasting for. I think you have to answer that question for yourself, it’s different for everybody. You could be in a niche where having a podcast with a hundred listeners would be game-changing in terms of your marketing and your business performance. If you’re Joe Rogan, obviously, that’s really horrible.
I think it depends on the style of show and the world you’re playing in, in terms of how big your addressable market is and what would constitute a successful podcast. For a lot of really mainstream online business, the marketing podcast, you have to be thinking about a podcast certainly in the thousands of downloads per episode. If you have a podcast talking about countertop installation management software, then a podcast with a hundred downloads per episode is wonderful because you’re reaching probably a large percentage of your addressable market. That’s one thing to think about, just what does your world look like in terms of scope.
When it comes down to the metric, one important thing is that it’s getting better all the time. The metric is total downloads for an episode in the first month after it’s released. I’m sure you look at your graph when you release an episode, there’s this big spike because everybody that’s subscribed gets it on the first day and you know that’s your core listenership. It’s something like the first 48 hours, how many people have downloaded my episode, you know they’re probably subscribed and then there’s this really long tail of people that find it on the website or it’s suggested to them over time.
We typically see that in the first month. A lot of the advertisers that you talk to want to see your numbers at either a month or six weeks after an episode has been out, and they pretty much consider that that’s your active listenership. That’s the number I really look at, is what’s the total downloads soon after an episode has gone out? You can make that number whatever you want, 48, 72 hours after an episode has gone out. That’s something that your subscriber count is across all the platforms.
The other one is once you consider the podcast to be fully out there in the wild a month or six weeks after it’s gone out, what is the total listenership for that number, for that episode? Then that number getting bigger with every episode is really the goal. It’s just like page views. We want our page views to go up every month for the site as a whole. We want our listenership for the podcast to go up with every episode that we release. That’s our North Star.
Ben: Before I let you go, is there anything else that you really feel would be important to leave our listeners with that you weren’t asked about?
Craig: If you don’t have a podcast already or you have a podcast that you’re not happy with, really ask yourself, and be deliberate. Get a Google Doc out and write down your responses to these questions, like why am I podcasting? Why would I be podcasting? Who would I be podcasting for? Then get really specific about the answers to some of those questions. “I’m podcasting to reach online marketers that have B2B SaaS applications that are doing between $10 and $50 million,” or whatever it is.
When you get really specific about those things, you’re able to answer a lot of the other questions about like, “Hey, should I have this person on my show as a guest?” or, “Hey, should I switch up the content format and have a different style of podcast and not do interviews anymore but just me and have it be a narrative podcast?” When you’re really, really specific about why you’re podcasting, what purpose it serves for your brand and in your marketing efforts, it will really make the whole effort a lot more cohesive. It’ll be a lot more successful in really furthering your brand and being an effective marketing tool.
Ben: Sure, love it. Well, that’s all I’ve got for you Craig but I really appreciate your taking the time to come on this show. Of course, everybody here at CoSchedule really appreciates the work that your team puts in to make this podcast possible, so thank you for that as well.
Craig: Awesome, my pleasure.
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