Amidst all the hype around podcasting, some B2Bs are successfully harnessing audio as a marketing tool capable of accelerating new business.
As with most emerging marketing channels, however, the podcast space is characterised by the absence of an established playbook, and high volume of uninspiring and half-finished efforts. According to this 2018 analysis, most podcasts don’t make it past 14 episodes – whereas, as anyone who’s ever run a B2B blog knows, the payback from a content program really picks up after a couple of years’ sustained activity, in the best cases growing exponentially.
This article cuts through the hype and shines a light on evolving best practice on B2B podcasting. It examines some successful and intelligent ventures by B2Bs, explains how and when businesses should deploy audio as a marketing channel, and sets out what expectations should be in terms of business outcomes.
As with any form of content marketing, success in B2B podcasting will not derive from short-sighted attempts to hop onboard a trend, or to mirror your nearest competitor. Results will be achieved by creating useful and high-quality information for your target buyers as part of a commitment to a long-term business development strategy, and by methodically measuring and refining your approach as you go.
Businesses whose content marketing programs are already on that trajectory will find themselves best-placed to succeed; those who are not should find this article sets them on the right path.
Podcasting a below the line marketing tactic
Podcasting has been shown to have three primary applications in B2B business development:
- as a brand-building tool: reenforcing awareness during and beyond sales cycles
- as a way of cutting through to people don’t appreciate written content
- as a way to drive lead generation.
Curiously, whilst the publishers of successful B2B podcasts acknowledge a clear impact on lead generation, they are quick to differentiate it from direct marketing (which in B2B contexts would be advertising and data-capture campaigns).
Chris Le’Cand-Harwood is director of The Content Marketing Pod and host of the Employer Content Marketing Podcast. As the name suggests, it focuses on how businesses can attract candidates through content.
He attributes the growth of his brand to the added awareness his podcast has given him on key channels, which has in turn driven business and sales.
“My podcast has certainly helped raise awareness of my business on LinkedIn, traffic to my website and invites to other podcasts and conferences. It’s also helped generate leads. But it’s a long-term brand building and sales tool.”
Le’Cand-Harwood is echoed by Leo Harrison, founder of Chapter 2, a recruitment marketing agency which runs a popular podcast called Talent-Ed. Harrison says he sees the podcast’s primary utility as “heightening brand awareness of Chapter 2 as a disruptor.”
Marketers have long been accustomed to marketing efforts whose impact on sales was difficult to measure. Linear TV, radio and print continue to attract significant investment, despite imprecise conversion metrics. The difference with podcasting is its popularity amongst digitally-savvy businesses, who have in recent years become accustomed to the relatively precise reporting and analytics capabilities of modern marketing platforms.
Listeners mostly engage with podcasts outside of your website, making user journeys harder to track. Just 1.5% of plays on podcasts hosted by Buzzsprout come through its embedded player (meaning the player embedded in a page on your website on your blog). Market leading apps Spotify and Apple Podcast, meanwhile, account for 65% of listens.
While podcasting platforms do offer some native analytics, the data offered is scant compared to Google Analytics and other content marketing tools. There’s also no immediate ability to capture data. People who consume written content are accustomed to exchanging their data for a whitepaper or webinar, but most listeners would expect to access a podcast freely.
Despite these hurdles, evidence shows that the format has proven its worth in KPIs which can’t be tracked digitally. And if your wider arsenal of marketing analytics is up to scratch, it is possible to measure the benefits of a podcast with a high degree of accuracy, even if you can’t trace specific leads back to individual clicks.
Measuring the impact of a podcast on KPIs
There are two ways to effectiveness of a podcast:
- closing the feedback loop with a combination of commutation between sales and marketing
- making use of the analytics capabilities across your wider digital marketing ecosystem
Le’Cand-Harwood says that the primary purpose of a podcast should be to:
“…help listeners. It’s not a platform for sales messages. It’s to reassure and inspire clients.”
Sales teams are the first to know whether marketing has had this effect, because it comes up in their conversations. Certainly, in my experience, this kind of feedback is more likely to trickle back to your marketing operation when the content you’ve published is especially helpful.
This kind of emotional response to a piece of marketing is not easily plotted on a graph – but it can be cross-referenced with your analytics capabilities in order to demonstrate an impact on business growth.
Chapter 2’s Leo Harrison explains that the company tracks the success of the podcast through several KPIs.
“Our key metrics include social reach and engagement to heighten company and personal brands; traffic driven to each blog page on the site, and where the podcast has contributed to creating/solidifying relationships that has led to (or could lead to) business opportunities.”
It should be possible to plot correlations between these different KPIs – which are measurable – in order to calculate a marketing ROI for your podcast.
Navigate B2B undertakes a lot of marketing reporting for its clients, and found some surprising results from a small marketing agency which has invested significantly in podcasting over the past two years.
This chart compares two disparate metrics from the same company: the number of followers on its Soundcloud account and the number of people landing on its website content page, as measured by Google Analytics.
This looks like a clear correlation, but it’s important to be clear on what this data does and doesn’t show.
Unlike written blogs, which can earn audiences by ranking in Google search, publishers of podcasts remain dependent on hosting platforms, such as SoundCloud or Buzzsprout, to host their content. SoundCloud (with a $75/year subscription) will tell you how many people follow your podcast, and the total number of listeners across…
- SoundCloud itself
- the embedded content in your site
- …and the RSS feed.
It won’t, however, break it down between these different channels. For the listens directly initiated through Soundcloud’s platform, it will also tell you the user’s location, but not if it was listened to on your website or the RSS feed.
Much of the data marketing professionals rely on to build effective strategy, and demonstrate ROI just isn’t there. Furthermore, metrics such as listens, downloads, and chart positions are more likely to be appreciated by B2C marketers than B2B. The key factor for B2B lead generation – named, identified leads – is missing.
This underscores the maintaining ongoing dialogue between sales and marketing, as well as a rigorous approach to measuring what you can – and making informed judgements where you can’t.
The evidence is that podcasts can drive new business, but careful monitoring will be needed to ensure that yours is having the desired effect.
An optimal approach to a B2B podcasting
The most effective approach to B2B podcasting is to mix up different approaches to the format, and to build up a library of audio assets which can be recycled in future pods.
The most popular format in podcasting, particularly in B2B markets, is one-on-one interviews. With just a couple of speakers, you can produce an effective podcast at low cost. It is, however, a well-trodden path, and celebrity interviews do have a tendency to descend into sycophancy. Experience from other content formats indicates that creativity and variety is needed to stand out from the crowd and keep audiences engaged. In B2B publishing, that implies taking on editorial responsibilities to produce the most insightful messages for your audiences.
This doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. The Guardian Audio Long Read converts the paper’s essays and longform journalism into polished audio products, which are disseminated across all podcast platforms. Sites such as Forbes have long included audio versions at the top of its news articles.
There are also narrative format pods, which originated in entertainment podcasts such as Serial and S-Town, are also becoming popular in business settings. StartUp, a Spotify Original podcast that explores the ins and outs of starting a business, from raising seed capital to transitioning a founder out of the business, uses real life stories to bring the typical journey to life.
This table compares the three formats, in terms of the resources need to execute them and the benefits they confer.
|How?||A one-on-one or panel discussion, exploring a topic of interest to your business and its audience with an expert peer or guest||Re-purposing your written content as audio||A documentary-style program on a key topic in your field, drawing on your existing content and third party source materials|
|Hours to produce a single podcast||
Business should not be deterred by the higher investment needed to produce more creative audio content, since differentiation and quality are the benchmarks of success in any content format.
Furthermore, recurring benefits can be harnessed from these efforts. A hybrid approach, where content from conversational podcasts can feed into lengthier projects, will produce a workflow that can also become a source of ideas for new content pieces. You will also inevitably reach parts of your audience who like audio content, but who would never have read your blog, however well it was executed.
Recycling snippets from your podcast into video content can help you grab attention on social media. Tweaks in LinkedIn’s algorithm mean that video has taken precedence on the platform, with internal research showing the medium was three times more effective than written content.
This doesn’t mean breaking the bank on fancy studios and video editing. Every business has the capability to record a Zoom call; repurposing the best 2-3 snippets as promotional video content need only cost £100-300.
Whichever approach you take, you should treat the podcast as part of an ongoing process of building up assets across different formats, which can be used to enrich future content marketing efforts. It’s worth mentioning at this point that that includes repurposing audio as written content – which will be necessary to getting picked up by search engines, since they can only trawl the written word.
Metrics & Chill, a podcast in HubSpot’s podcast network hosted by marketing analytics company Databox, creates a text recap of each of their episodes, with insights, links, data and quotes discussed within each conversation.
Databox has also built a dedicated landing page for Metrics and Chill, which outranks the corresponding Spotify page on Google. This may cost a couple days of development time, but if you have the budget, it’s a worthwhile investment for capturing the traffic yourself in an environment where you can measure it, rather than allowing it to be captured by a third-party platform.
The unique value of podcasts as a marketing format
There are good reasons to run a B2B podcast which go beyond lead generation.
One of the reasons podcasting is such an effective awareness tool is the humanising effect it can have on a brand. With a voice and a personality on display, it can help establish the host – the CEO or other senior business leader – as a thought leader in their space. This can in turn engender greater trust and familiarity with the brand, crucial emotional factors that underpin success in all marketing.
There’s also the networking benefits – immediately helping to position both yourself and your guests as industry experts and bridging between each other’s networks.
“A podcast acts as a relationship builder with prospective business contacts,” says Harrison. “It can open up conversations with prospects where traditional sales methods might not be so successful.”
Whichever business goals you seek to fulfil through your own podcast, you’ll face the same success factors that apply to all content formats. That implies balancing your long-term commercial goals with the creation of value for your audience.
It also implies committing to the long haul – recognising that reputations are built over years, rather than months, and that many enterprise-level deals take just as long to close.
It also implies setting out with a reporting framework in place, measuring what you can, and making continual changes to refine your approach.
Podcasting may be a relatively novel marketing format for many, but the core principles of effective marketing still apply. Pushing the boundaries of quality, whilst continuing to observe the basics of best practice, is where success lies.
About Navigate B2B
Navigate B2B is a content marketing agency for clever businesses.
We produce the detailed, high-quality thought leadership that senior people actually want to read.
With first-hand experience of enterprise business development, we help sales teams translate their specialist sector knowledge into persuasive, broadsheet-quality journalism.
And with a full-service, distributed agency on hand, we provide the affordable, effective marketing support that every business leader needs.
Email B2B marketing consultant Paul Tomlinson to find out more.