Our special guest for episode 356 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast was John Wall, Partner at Trust Insights and the producer and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee podcast. Host Erin Sparks spoke with John about the rise of podcasts as well as other topics in machine learning and AI in digital marketing. Here’s what we learned:
John Wall: His Background and Experience
John Wall has been involved in the Marketing Over Coffee podcast for more than ten years. He’s had some incredible thought leaders as guests over the years. John became interested in podcasting all the way back in 2005 when it was just emerging. He realized no one wanted to listen to him trying to be a traditional deejay, so instead he decided to focus on the content on marketing ad tech since it was an area of expertise for him.
But John’s marketing tech podcast is not his day job, which is being a Partner at Trust Insights. This is something like the seventh marketing-tech related startup he’s worked with over the years. When Trust Insights got started as a marketing analytics service, the synergy was immediately apparent that many fans of the Marketing Over Coffee podcast were with companies interested in doing business with Trust Insights. So now the love of podcasting and the love of marketing tech work are perfectly combined.
The Marketing Over Coffee Podcast
John jokes that the podcast was originally just a scam to get free books. But in all seriousness, he realized early on that industry leader who wouldn’t normally give you the time of day would when they have a new book coming out. And then, once you’ve been on enough top ten lists of marketing podcasts, there’s enough momentum and recognition that high-powered guests are much easier to book.
Why is the podcast called Marketing Over Coffee? It’s the classic case of starting out with something as a lark not realizing you’ll be stuck with it for the next ten years. But it did make sense and it is a good name. The early episodes featured John and his co-host Christopher Penn sitting at a table in a Dunkin Donuts doing the show. And the show always ends with the tag line, Enjoy the coffee! It seems like a ridiculous thing to say, but it’s a tradition and people like it, so they have to stick with it.
The Challenges of a Weekly Podcast
Producing a show each and every week does have its challenges. The biggest challenge, of course, is coming up with fresh content to feed the beast. Setting up the podcast is easy enough to do these days, but coming up with the content is a whole different ball game. John and Christopher have settled into a routine where every other week features Christopher and all the insights he can offer up from his work in the industry. And then every other show will feature interviews with guests. And of course you need flexibility for when things don’t work out, like having a show on deck as well as a show in the can you can whip out if and when needed. John admits it would be nice to not have to do a show every single week, but the sponsors are there and the listeners are there, so you have to keep it going. And with that kind of frequency, you also have to make peace with the fact that not every single show is going to be a home run. In fact, probably half are going to be “less than average,” and that’s just the reality of the situation.
Another big challenge was just fighting through the early phases when people still didn’t really get what podcasting even was, as well as the lack of being able to effectively do contextual ads around show content.
Then there was the challenge of getting show sponsors who could see the value of the podcast. Marketing Over Coffee was fortunate to get some key sponsors early on such as email provider Blue Sky Factory where co-host Christopher was working. They would throw in like $1,000 per quarter, and HubSpot also jumped in early on with something like $5,000 grand a quarter because in the B2B environment, it doesn’t take many solid leads to make that kind of expenditure very much worth their while. For some companies like that, they literally treat it like a very niche-focused direct marketing campaign because of the leads they get. Nowadays there are more companies who do it just from the brand awareness point of view rather than doing it because of the monthly leads they get from it.
But the sponsorship challenge raises an issue from the perspective of the companies doing the ad buys. With so many different media types available where podcasts are just one choice among many, how do advertisers decide where to put their digital marketing dollars if trying to do them all would clearly be a total disaster? Spreading thin is always a bad idea, so John says the way to go is to experiment with what channel is going to get you results and then you get really good at mining that channel for all its worth. Only after you max out on that channel do you then add another if you have the resources to do so.
Do’s and Don’ts for Podcasting Newbies
For companies, brands, and entrepreneurial startups who do want to dive in and make audio content, there are definitely some things John hopes they avoid, even though these seem really obvious. Don’t make your initial audio content reading the company brochure or reading all your white papers. Those make for very painful listening, and yet it happens all the time, which is where there is no shortage of boring podcasts out there! But the key is to figure out what your unique niche is that will build an audience interested in that niche topic.
To be frank, not everyone is cut out to be a podcaster. Just because it’s free to set up and do is not a good enough reason to do it, which is another reason there are so many horribly boring podcasts out there. And time wasted listening to even just the first five minutes of a bad podcast is five minutes of life that listener will never get back. The low threshold of entry in terms of investment is unfortunate in this regard.
Another recipe for disaster is when a senior manager walks into a meeting and says, “Hey, we need a podcast for next week.” There’s a lot that needs to go into planning what a podcast is going to in terms of the big picture, and a forced sprint is never the way to get there. The better route to go is to actually find out what your company’s customers are interested in hearing about your product or service. You have to tap into your customer data to find out what’s going to work for them in terms of content. What can you build an audience on?
You also have to keep in mind the different timeframe happening with podcasts, especially in terms of advertising opportunities. You show drops on a particular date, but that’s not when the majority of people are going to consume it. It’s going to get downloaded and consumed for a period of time. So ads associated with that episode aren’t going to show anything for days and weeks or even a month or more. People consume it when they feel like it, not immediately. But the beauty of it as evergreen content is you can still get results from an episode two years later.
Machine Learning and AI in Digital Marketing
Machine learning is a big deal because we’ve never had so much computational power at our disposal to analyze huge amounts of data to discover patterns and connections the human brain simply wouldn’t be able to find. And it’s now affordable to do. It also allows for greater predictive capabilities than we’ve previously had available. You can predict what the hot topics are going to be over the next six months and get content ready and published to meet that need when it emerges. But in order to be able to do those things, you first have make sure your data is clean enough to work with, and that your integrations aren’t broken. But none of that matters if you don’t first understand what the user wants and unpack their search and buying intent.
How accurate is the predictive capability? John aims for 95%. But the shifts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have really wrecked all of that lately. For example, you used to be able to see a real distinction between behaviors on weekdays and weekends, but right now every day looks a lot like a weekend day because of everyone being at home all the time. You have to shift and move on the fly. Podcasting took a big hit in March and April, but now looks like it’s going to have a record month in May. Email lists have taken a big hit, so companies are struggling to get those tuned back up. Where it all goes from here will be interesting to see, and remains elusive in terms of knowing what to do.
Connect with John Wall, Trust Insights, and Marketing Over Coffee
Twitter: @johnjwall (https://twitter.com/johnjwall)
Trust Insights Twitter: @TrustInsights (https://twitter.com/trustinsights)
Marketing Over Coffee podcast: https://www.marketingovercoffee.com
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