Transforming a Tech Podcast
How do you make a podcast about digital transformation relevant?
PROBLEM: Reestablish thought leadership. Smarbridge's current digital content doesn't quite reflect its cutting-edge digital transformation projects. Smartbridge wants to cut through industry static with engaging content that accurately showcases its ideas on this popular concept.
SOLUTION: Dynamic, credible content. The company's first-ever podcast - hosted, recorded, and edited in-house for optimal control of branding and assets.
DELIVERABLE(S): Listener (Buyer) Personas - Ongoing
ROLE: Producer, Sound/Audio Editor, Equipment Tech
SKILLS: Audio Editing, Sound Design, Content Strategy, Marketing Strategy, User & Market Research
TOOLS: Adobe Audition CC 2017, Xtensio Buyer Persona Tool
PROCESS: I was tapped first to assist with launching Smartbridge's first-ever podcast, due to my video editing experience and background in Adobe Audition and Audacity. The project was expected to completely and strictly in-house. Our goal was simple: record, edit, and produce weekly or bimonthly episodes of a podcast on business transformation. Business transformation is not a new, nor an easily understood, concept in the IT industry, but it is gaining popularity rapidly among Fortune 500 companies and similarly structured businesses hoping to become more efficient and in-tune with the changing landscape around them. In the preceding months, Smartbridge’s recent efforts to encourage its clients to integrate business transformation strategy into their services had proven rather difficult: either client did not understand it, or did not consider it necessary at the moment. There were specific points of resistance as well: some found that the idea of shifting processes or technology to be too expensive or overwhelming to their staff.
In actuality, business transformation – while admittedly difficult to embrace or understand – can be beneficial to a company that is willing to upend entrenched habits that no longer serve them. Smartbridge's business transformation strategy & projects were already being showcased on its website and blog, but the company was eager to provide its expertise in a way that would speak directly to its thought leadership on the subject.
But there was an immediate issue: what of digital transformation?
While business transformation is not a relatively new concept, its' "subgenre," digital transformation, is. Though Smartbridge prefers to use the former in its official branding (its tagline, for example), the latter is what accurately encapsulates the bulk of its projects and current digital content. It is also common for clients and peers to use the two interchangeably, which our team wanted to avoid from the jump. Eventually, and with keyword research, our team decided that digital transformation would give us the better ROI, as it costs very little time or money to invest into (for future marketing), and there are virtually no podcasts or other immediate competitors dedicated to this sole topic. (While we did not find any business transformation podcasts, we did note that there was sufficient marketing content.) Additionally, the term accurately described the bulk of the concepts we set to address with the podcast: understanding digital transformation, implementing it in your own company, potential obstacles, et cetera. We wanted to concretely define what our content and competition would look like under this keyword.
From there, I tasked myself with conducting competitor and market research; I wanted to understand who would be our peers in this new media landscape. Podcasts are a fairly new medium/media, and has yet to be embraced by tech companies and brands. Most tech podcasts are run by individuals with a tech background or interest; we found very little podcast (or audio media) owned by companies or brands. For example, we only found one podcast by another enterprise services firm that had since stopped updating years ago.
This is partially because podcasts are, despite their growing popularity, considered secondary to video media in content marketing; after all, what can you do with audio that you can’t do with video? Indeed, this was the first of many questions posed to us when our team initially pitched the podcast to our leadership. Our response was simple:
- 72% of content downloads are made on mobile (people achieve more with and on their smartphones now more than ever)
- There are (or were) over 325,000 podcasts in iTunes, in comparison of millions of blogs (podcasts are easier to find)
- Podcasts are very easy to consume; you can listen to one as you multitask (drive, eat, run, etc)
- Podcast listenership is growing steadily (it’s more likely that people have heard a podcast than the opposite)
- Podcast platforms significantly outnumber relevant video platforms (iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, Lybsyn, Podbean, etc versus essentially Youtube & Vimeo)
We also anticipated some personal obstacles: a video-based podcast show would require a dedicated room with equpiment, and our potential hosts could possibly object to being recorded on camera. Our leadership eventually agreed and we were given the green light to purchase necessary equipment and brainstorm possible content.
From there, our team collaborated on a simple organizational document for the podcast, comprising of possible topics, guests, an episode format, and a project timeline. Of these elements, our future guests were the most critical: since the podcast was to focus primarily on Smartbridge’s thought leadership, we found it especially important to engage with industry leaders that our audience consider knowledgeable and interesting. With help from our VP of Enterprise Systems, our team was able to narrow down and confirm our first “big-name” guests (two guests work for one of the largest tech corporations in the world.)
We gleaned possible topics in conjunctions with leadership of each of our practices: Strategy, Enterprise Systems, Business Intelligence & Analytics and Enterprise Mobility. Each practice manager was encouraged to conceptualize ideas they could speak on at length; we also generated ideas of our own and presented them for approval. Each practice manager was also prompted to provide names for a possible “guest host” they could contribute to the podcast. Given that each practice varies wildly in subject matter, strategy, and expertise, we needed a supplementary host from each practice to accompany two main hosts on a practice-specific topic per episode.
Lastly, we needed to define our audience: who did we hope to reach with our podcast? Digital transformation can interest and benefit listeners of every corporate level – from C-level to VPs to executives to managers. How could we hope to understand and deliver the kind of content they needed, and where would they have to be in the user (or buyer) journey to better connect with a podcast about the trials, tribulations, and importance of digital transformation?
Enter my favorite part of developing content strategy: buyer personas. I personally love creating buyer personas because they meld two of my favorite skills: research and creative writing. They serve a specific purpose, sure, but they also function as a creative outlet and really appeal to a writer like me who enjoys discovering what makes people tick. I knew that buyer personas would be crucial for us in our content brainstorming phase, so I pitched the concept to our leadership and tasked myself with creating four central buyer personas to start.
I wanted to develop a persona for each experience level of our potential audience (C-level, executive, manager, et cetera) but these personas needed to represent the range of feelings about digital transformation that currently exist in the IT landscape. Our messaging would ultimately depend on what people knew about digital transformation and how useful they found it to them, but also whether or not our audience could see themselves adapting digital transformation strategy in the future. For example, a chief information officer (CIO) might listen to our podcast and realize that she too needs digital transformation. How would she pitch it to her staff? Her CEO? Or what could be done about the IT manager who has heard of digital transformation, but doesn't consider it relevant or beneficial to his staff? How would we reach him? Which of his motivations and desires could we tap into? What could trigger him into listening or refraining from our podcast? I needed to know.
My preferred tool for presenting buyer personas is currently Xtensio's User Persona Template. I'm a huge fan of Xtensio's templates: they're free, easy-to-follow, and well-constructed. Using their fields (and anticipating some of my own,) I constructed four in-depth "listener personas" to reflect the goals, backgrounds, personalities, industries, triggers, problems, and motivations of four ideal audience members: a CEO, a CIO, a VP (of Marketing), and an IT director. I wrote about how their issues may impact their department or business, how they found and consumed their content, what types of content they enjoyed the most, and how our podcast messaging should be tailored to appeal to them. I presented the user personas to my team and received good feedback. They were pleased with the results and found the personas to be useful and appropriately detailed. I was ultimately asked to produce more personas at later date.
As of now, the project is currently ongoing and is expected to launch in the late summer or early fall.
CURRENT THOUGHTS: As the project progresses, I have overcome some surprising challenges to develop a dedicated work flow. For one thing, my "work flow" now includes everything from pre- to post-production, and sometimes involves caring for elements that are, by design, left on the cutting room floor. The length, feel, and subject of a recording session impacts, on some level, how easily I am able to edit an episode. I've since noticed that conversation flows smoothly and requires less takes when my hosts feel comfortable, so I've started to "open" them up with simple conversation starters and banters. Most of this does not make it into the finished product, (though we have joked about creating a blooper reel!)
Additionally, I've allowed new space in my outlook on "podcast editing," which is vastly different than that of editing video content. Podcasting obviously lacks a visual aid, and so emotion and context - two things that, in my opinion, make or break good content - are dependent solely on the weight and feel of our hosts' voices.
In that regard, I've had to really change how I edit. "Editing" a podcast is not a lazy synonym for snipping audio here and there; it's actually understanding when, where, and why to cut to create an enjoyable listening experience. I've since learned not to edit out the personality of our hosts: jokes and quips really cement the quality of an episode.
We've since altered the recording process since the launch of the project, and I expect my work flow to change many times in the future. We are currently still in the recording stage and amassing episodes bi-weekly in anticipation of our launch.