Earning Your Audience with Dan Misener
Lindsay Tjepkema: Serial, This American Life, Doctor Death, Homecoming, Dirty John, Lore. What do all these shows have in common? They're some of the most downloaded podcasts of all time. Why am I pointing these out? Because if you're a brand with a podcast you're actually competing for your audience's time with these shows, not just with other branded shows, your audience gets to choose how they spend their time. So if you're going to create a podcast, it can't just be any podcast. It has to be a great podcast. In a marketing world where your audience chooses how to spend their time, how do you make your show so good it earns you a place in their day? I'm Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO and co- founder of Casted, the first and only marketing platform built around branded podcasts and this is our podcast. Today we're sitting down with Dan Meisner, head of strategy and audience development at Pacific Content. I loved talking with Dan because Pacific Content is behind some of the best branded podcasts out there people and he was able to peel back the curtains of how their company helps these brands ideate, create and execute extremely successful podcasts. So what's their big secret? Well, they're helping their clients think and act more like media companies, not brands. Doing that allows them to genuinely make audience first shows while using the brand's superpowers to build an audience quickly. Dan discusses the opportunity brands have to earn their audiences time and attention and create loyal followers through podcasting. He also brings up an important point for anyone thinking about whether podcasting is worth the investment. As a brand when you focus on creating quality shows, you're also creating evergreen shows that you can revisit and repromote giving you more bang for every podcast buck.
Dan Misener: My name is Dan Misener. I work at a company called Pacific Content and I love podcasts.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Don't we all love podcasts? Well I'm so glad that you're here today Dan, because you and the team at Pacific Content are behind some of the biggest branded podcasts, which you actually call them original content made by brands, right? Which I love, I'd love to hear a little bit about that. What's the story there? How did you and Pacific Content get started and find this incredibly important niche that you're in?
Dan Misener: Well, Pacific Content is sort of a weird company in that the only thing we do is make original podcasts with brands and the fundamental insight, and really what kicked off the company was this realization that people can choose more than ever what they want to listen to when they want to listen to it and there's so much great stuff out there that if you're going to be a brand with a podcast, it's got to be great. That the competition is not other branded podcasts, the competition is not other content marketing. The competition is everything else that somebody could choose to spend their time and attention on. So when I say Pacific Content is a weird company, it is this sole focus on doing original podcasts with brands and Pacific Content is not a consumer facing brand, our name does not appear on any of the shows that we work on. We're largely a behind the scenes production partner, show development partner, audience development partner and we tend to sit quietly in the background on a lot of the shows that we work on. So we've worked with lots of different companies over the years but the common denominator is that all of the brands, all of the companies that we work with are increasingly thinking and acting like media companies and that is our role. Our role at Pacific Content is to help our clients and help the companies that we work with think can act more like media companies to make genuine audience first shows. And then of course, to use all of the super powers that brands can have in building audiences quickly.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Yeah, I love it. And you really are behind some of my favorite shows that are made by brands and I know that the same goes for a lot of our listeners. And since this whole season is about you, it's about the unheard voices behind the podcasts and the shows that we listen to and that we learned so much from. So I'm so interested to dig into the approach that you take when a big brand like that comes to you and says," Okay, we're ready. We want to do a podcast." Where do you even start?
Dan Misener: It depends, because people want to do shows for lots of different reasons but almost always we begin with what we call a strategy session and that usually looks like two days locked in a room together figuring this thing out. So for instance, if a brand comes to us and says," We're interested in doing a show, but we don't necessarily know what the show's about or who should be the host or how often we should release it or what it should be called, or any of those sorts of things." We say," That's great. Let's spend some time together." So very often we will go visit the client at their offices on their site and we will very often get a tour of the facilities and get to see the space that people operate in. And we get to really sit down and listen and understand the goals behind the motivation to do a podcast. And I believe very, very strongly that before you can make a show, you really need to understand the who, who are you trying to reach with this show? And the why, why are you making a podcast in the first place? What are the goals of the show and how are we going to measure those goals? You have to answer the who and the why before you can begin to answer the what and the what is the fun, creative challenge, right? It's what is the format of the show? What are the treatment's going to be, who is going to be the host, all of those sorts of fun, creative questions, but I think you really need to nail those fundamental questions of what is the audience that we're trying to serve, how can we offer them something that they can't already get? What is the show that only we can make and why are we doing it? What is the business imperative behind that? And that's the really tricky balance I think for anybody who works in audio for brands. It's nailing the balance between the business reality that underlies the funding of the show and the genuine need to create an audience first show that people are actually going to voluntarily listen to. And that goes back to what I was saying a minute ago where there's so much great stuff out there that people could choose to listen to and if you want to compete, it's got to be good. Nobody is going to voluntarily download and spend time with an infomercial. You might be able to trick somebody into listening to a few minutes of an infomercial once, but they're never going to come back and everything we know about podcasting suggests that the best shows, the strongest shows are built on a foundation of loyalty and how that's an ongoing opt- in relationship. So we try really hard to make shows that live those values.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Oh, my goodness. I just want to stop you there and then rewind and have everybody just go back and listen to it again, because I always say the same thing. I mean, anytime somebody comes and asks me or us here, so I want to do a podcast and how do I get started? It's like, well who's it for, and why are you doing it? So dig into it a little bit more as far as what you think the opportunity is in podcasting for brands. So taking what you're already saying and what's in it for brands and why should a brand get started with a show?
Dan Misener: I think podcasting is a pretty amazing opportunity to earn an audience's time and attention. I think all of the metrics that I care about tie back to engagement, right? And I think we live in a world where a lot of marketing is measured in clicks and impressions and a lot that is what I would call drive by. And I think podcasts are really an opportunity to drive deeper engagement, to tell stories, to explore ideas, to do that in a really engaging way. So I think the opportunity is that time spent listening, not just as a metric, not just as a measurement but the cumulative number of minutes of attention that you have earned by making something worth somebody's time. So I think engagement is a huge opportunity for brands. I think what I was talking about a minute ago around loyalty and habit and opting in to a relationship with the show is a huge opportunity and very different than a lot of other marketing activities. It's really fun to go and read email or read reviews in podcast apps, or read some of the commentary that happens on social and see how deeply engaged listeners are with the content. Not a lot of ads build community in the same way that a podcast can, not a lot of pieces of marketing collateral build rabid fan bases in the same way that a podcast can. So we see the opportunity for brands in podcasting as an opportunity for engagement, for huge amounts of time spent listening but also the ability to reach people in places and at times when you can't reach them through a screen. And I think a lot about the modes of listening and shows that are built specifically to be listened to where it would be really difficult to reach somebody otherwise. I think when we think about the funnel, our POV is that podcasts sit pretty close to the top, that they work best as a branding and an awareness play they're maybe less effective, or the style of show that we do is less effective. Maybe if you're farther down in the funnel and you're trying to drive short term ROI, or you're trying to drive sales directly, you're trying to sell widgets through coupon codes and vanity URLs, there are probably better ways to do that than a highly produced narrative podcast. So again, it's coming back to what is the medium good at? What are the affordances of audio and how can brands play to the strengths of the medium? And I think the other huge opportunity here for brands is to use their superpowers to grow audiences quickly and specifically to grow audiences of new listeners, right? If you look at any of the research, and I guess it depends on who you ask, but there's somewhere between a quarter and a third of the population that listens to podcasts regularly, that's a lot of room for growth in folks who are not regular listeners. And I think a lot of the brands that we work with have amazing channels, not just to introduce new listeners to their show, but to introduce new listeners to an entire medium and I think that is a huge opportunity as well.
Lindsay Tjepkema: All right. So all of that said, what kind of advice would you give to a marketer that their head is not in the right place or they're expecting it to be something that it's not? How do you redirect a brand or the market that you're talking with when they're expecting it to be something that it's not or that it's going to be some silver bullet or some quick fix that's going to open up floodgates to demand generation? How do you get your clients into the right frame of mind about what podcasting is to the brand and what it's not?
Dan Misener: Yeah, I mean, the good news is we don't deal with a lot of that in the day to day because when people come to us, they're fairly bought into the idea of a top of funnel, highly produced narrative, storytelling style podcast, or something in that family. But yes, absolutely we encounter people who are trying to do a job with a podcast where a podcast is maybe not the right tool. And I think openness, frankness, candor, being transparent about what the medium is good for and what it isn't necessarily good for and not being afraid to steer people towards other things, right? If you want to sell more widgets or sign up new subscriptions for your whatever in a box company, maybe I'm going to drive you to go buy some Facebook ads instead, maybe I'm going to drive you to buy some in podcast advertising with vanity URLs or coupon codes or some of the other sort of attribution technology that's coming online. I am a firm believer in use the right tool for the job and I think we've got a pretty strong point of view on what shows from brands are good at and what they're not good at. And I think we want to set ourselves and our clients up for success and if that means pointing them in a direction other than making a show with us, I'm perfectly happy for that because who wins if we end up making a show that doesn't deliver on the initial goals? Nobody wins.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Absolutely. Yeah, and that's one of the beautiful things about podcasting today is that there are lots. I mean, it's the wild west right now. There's a lot of interest and there's a lot of different ways to make it happen. There's a lot of people and a lot of brands and a lot of individuals even trying different things. And there's a little group of listeners and sometimes a really large group of listeners for every different thing that people are trying. And that said, I'm interested in your thoughts on investing in podcasting, that's another really, really wide open area, especially for brands that are understanding where it should fit literally into their budget. It's the kind of space that you can do on your own in your closet and duct tape it together, or it can be the center point of your budget and take up a huge chunk of it. So tell me a little bit about how you would advise listeners to think about creating a show and how it fits into their budget and how they should invest.
Dan Misener: In a lot of the projects we work on at Pacific Content, the styles of shows, the types of formats, the types of treatments that we do and the subject matter tends to be fairly evergreen, right? So we do a show with Charles Schwab, it's about cognitive biases and decision making. It's super interesting if you're into that Thinking Fast and Slow book, or if you're into Freakonomics, right? It's in that same territory. And the thing about evergreen content that I have seen is that it in itself is an investment and it is worth investing in the highest possible quality you can make because when done right, it will continue to pay dividends into the future. So I think as podcasters, we often have this very natural, very understandable inclination to focus on the latest thing, the newest thing, the shiniest thing, what's the latest episode that we put out, or what's the latest guest that we had on our show, or what is the newest season that we're thinking about and really excited about? And we often maybe don't spend as much time thinking about the back catalog. And what I've seen firsthand is that when you make really high quality shows designed to reach a specific audience and you make those shows in a storytelling way that has a shelf life that isn't going to expire quickly that when well marketed can continue to deliver very meaningful results. So we often look at the first 60 days after drop for an episode and that's all well and good, but if you look at 120 days or a thousand days after a well executed episode has been dropped, we often see the download numbers double, sometimes triple, we often see the engagement rates stay as high as they ever have been. So when you talk about investing in podcasting, I think about investing in very, very high quality for something that is going to have a long shelf life and investing in consistency over time, right? Continuing to show up, continuing to provide value and not forgetting about the content investment that you've already made, right? If you've got a back catalog, there's probably more you could do to shed some light on that back catalog. You're building up a content asset that when done well should continue to deliver results and deliver value to you as a brand well into the future and that's something I wish more people were thinking about. How do we activate our back catalog in a more meaningful way?
Lindsay Tjepkema: Absolutely. I think that there is an approach to podcasting that I see all too often that is just ship it, ship it, ship it, get it out the door, record it, drop it. I don't even edit my shows, we just get them out there and we, we go, go, go, go, go, which, okay, but how much are you leaving on the table, right? If you had taken a little bit more time up front to make that show even a little bit better and a little bit more polished, and then also to take a pause and say," What else can we do with it? How else can we use the show? How else can we use this content?" Tell me a little bit about what you are seeing done really well. Some of the brands that you're working with or even not, that you're admiring or that you're excited about in the podcasting space.
Dan Misener: I've been thinking about this a lot lately in light of the show we do with Red Hat, it's a show called Command Line Heroes. It is designed to reach a very specific, fairly nerdy audience of pretty technical people. So the core target audience is software developers and CIS admins and IT architects and people who are interested in and operating at the command line. So a pretty niche audience and what I think Red Hat does really, really, really well is work to understand their audience and the needs and desires of their audience. And so, when I say that, I mean that Red Hat, the human beings who work on Command Line Heroes, they are at developer conferences. They are at user groups, they are at meetups and they're there to listen. In fact, the entire story of Command Line Heroes and how it came to be came out of sitting and listening to, and spending time with the audience that they wanted to serve. And I think more brands and more podcasters in general could and should be doing that, really trying to deeply understand the job that somebody could hire their podcast to do, the role that it could play in their life. So I love it when I see brands really connecting the content of their show back to the needs of the audience. And this may sound a little silly, but my job title has the word audience development in it and a very, very frequent question that I get is how do I build an audience for my podcast? And I think that is a very natural question. I understand that question, how do I build an audience for my podcast? But in some ways I think the brands who are doing it best have flipped that on its head. And they're asking, how do I build a podcast for my audience rather than how do I build an audience for my podcast? And that's a fundamental shift and I think it's a shift in the right direction and it's a question I wish more brands were asking. Who is the audience that we want to serve and how can we build a show for them in a way that only we could do? What are the stories that only we can tell? What is the perspective or point of view that we have, that we own, that nobody else owns? Who are the guests that we have access to, that nobody else could get access to, or would be difficult to access? And what do we know about our audience and what they want and how they're already currently served such that we can create something that is highly differentiated. Just to talk a little bit more about Red Hat, there are a lot of technology podcasts out there, and there are a lot of dreadfully dull, two people in a room talking about this week in technology developments or current affairs, current news. And when we were developing Command Line Heroes, we looked at that and we said," What is the current state of popular technology podcasts? And how can we offer something different?" And the answer was, we're going to tell in a pretty epic storytelling way, the history of certain technologies, opensource technology, software, hardware, feature some of the personalities, the unsung heroes behind the scenes of the technology that we use every single day, and really take a big epic storytelling approach, right? The very first two episodes of Command Line Heroes told the story of Linux from the beginning using roughly a Star Wars like framing device, right? Making it a battle between open and closed of epic proportions, not unlike the dark side of the force and the light side of the force. And so, I think looking at what's out there, understanding how your audience is currently served and then offering something different that nobody else could, that is what I want to hear more of. That's the approach that I want to see more of.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Yes. You and me both. I really love how you put that, that the audiences are already there. They already exist. You don't have to build it, that you just have to identify it and understand to your point, what they're looking for and how you can fill that gap, how you can uniquely give them what they're interested in.
Dan Misener: Yeah, and understanding that podcasting does not have a monopoly on certain categories or subject areas or verticals, right? If I'm interested in the history of technology, I could certainly listen to Command Line Heroes and I think that would be a very good experience for me. I could also read a book. I could also watch a Ted talk. I could also go to the Computer History Museum in California.
Lindsay Tjepkema: You could do nothing, you could just not.
Dan Misener: Yeah, there are lots of other things I could do. And I think a lot about the job that a podcast has to do and the role that it plays in somebody's life and if the goal is, I want to learn about the history of technology, a podcast is not the only answer to that question. So I think for brands and for brands who create original podcasts, the question is how are we going to advantage of the affordances of the medium? How are we going to do something in audio that is different from, and maybe better than reading about this in a book or reading an article about it in Fast Company or Wired, or reading a blog post, or reading a newsletter or watching a documentary on Netflix, or et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So it's understanding the needs of the audience, the desires of the audience and then playing to the strengths of the medium and taking those two things together, I think that feels like a recipe for success.
Lindsay Tjepkema: What are some takeaways that you want our listeners today, individuals who represent a brand who either already have a podcast or who are thinking about one, if there was just one or two or three things that you want them to come away with, what would those things be?
Dan Misener: Have you ever been to a party and you're stuck in a conversation with somebody who only seems to want to talk about themselves?
Lindsay Tjepkema: I think we all have.
Dan Misener: A lot of podcasts from brands feel like that to me. I think a huge takeaway is don't be that. So I'm not saying don't include your company's executives, I'm not saying don't talk about your products and services, but I'm saying, if you only talk about yourself, you are not going to be a particularly interesting person at the party. And I think the challenge for brands is to get out of this mindset that we have to talk exclusively about ourselves or about our products or about our services or about how great our leadership is or we have to put the boss in the host chair because they're the boss. We almost always advocate a very, very light brand touch and we have seen that work time and time and time again. Podcast audiences are smart, they are savvy and they know what an infomercial smells like. They know what a piece of marketing collateral sounds like and the bar is higher for shows from brands. The bar is necessarily higher for brands because there's this built in perception that if I download a show or I hit play on a show that was produced or sponsored by a brand that it's going to be an infomercial, but it's going to be an ad. Like I said, I think you can trick people into listening to an ad once, I think it's really hard to get people to come back week after week, episode after episode, season, after season if it's not providing genuine value and if it is only your executives talking to your SMEs about your products and your services. So number one takeaway, don't be the person at the party who only talks about themselves and I think investing in quality, whatever that means for you, whether that's production values, whether that's travel budgets, whether that's buying nicer microphones, whether that's engaging the services of a bunch of audio experts. If you don't have that expertise in house, whether that's making very thoughtful decisions about where you host your show, where you promote your show, which tools you use to distribute your show, aiming for the highest possible quality, not just in the content but in the packaging and the distribution, it's hard to go wrong that way. I think a lot about the affordances of audio or the affordances of podcasts, what do they allow for and what are they really good at and what are they maybe not so good at and when I think about what audio is great at it's narrative, it's story, it's emotion and what audio is not always so great at is information, right? There are certain things that belong in a podcast and there are certain things that belong in a spreadsheet or a white paper. And I want to make shows that really take advantage of the affordances of audio and I want to make shows that are playing to the strengths of the medium and often you asked about how do you begin. A pretty big part of it is sort of doing some client education and making sure that everybody understands what is audio good at? What is podcasting good at? And how is that different than say, a blog post or a video or a white paper or an email nurture campaign, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And I think until everybody understands what audio is great at, it's hard to make a really good show.
Lindsay Tjepkema: That's it for today's show. Thank you so much to today's guest and to learn more about them and see Casted in action with clips of today's show and related content visit casted. us. Thanks so much for listening.
Today, we’re sitting down with Dan Misener, Head of Strategy and Audience Development at Pacific Content. We loved talking with Dan because Pacific Content is behind some of the BEST branded podcasts out there. And he was able to peel back the curtains of how their company helps these brands ideate, create, and execute extremely successful podcasts.
So what’s their big secret? Well, they’re helping their clients think and act more like media companies, not brands. Doing that allows them to genuinely make audience-first shows, while using the brand’s superpowers to build an audience quickly.
Dan discusses the opportunity brands have to earn their audience’s time and attention and create loyal followers through podcasting. He also brings up an important point for anyone thinking about whether podcasting is worth the investment... as a brand when you focus on creating quality shows, you’re also creating evergreen shows that you can revisit and repromote - giving you more bang for every podcast buck.