Audience research can be challenging. Surveys only reveal so much, and it can be difficult to get folks in your target audience to commit to interviews. Kathleen Booth, SVP of Marketing at Tradeswell has discovered that podcasts can be a goldmine of audience information if you know how to mine them. In this episode, we explore how she’s used podcasts to glean invaluable audience insights to guide her team.=
(2:54) Inviting your ideal customers to be guests on a podcast helps build relationships, but it also gives you valuable insight into who your audience is and what they need.
Initially, the podcast started as a way to build relationships with our ideal customers and get our brand in front of them very subtly. But quickly after embarking upon this project, I began to realize it was like audience research in disguise. I was asking those guests the same list of questions that we ask when we’re trying to do audience persona research.
(7:24) Let your guest drive the subject matter of the podcast interview with what they’re passionate about — even if it’s not necessarily related to their profession.
We all as marketers know that the more authentic our marketing is, the more people are going to gravitate to it. And podcasting as a format is a very unique medium that lends itself well to talking about things that otherwise you probably couldn’t talk about in your marketing.
(13:38) Cultivate a community involving your podcast guests that isn’t about selling to them.
Our guests became our biggest cheerleaders, because we didn’t try to sell to them. It was truly just a wonderful relationship where they felt loved. And I think that’s the kind of relationship that you want to cultivate with a project like this.
(19:07) Promotion and audience acquisition can be done in many different ways all at once. Reach out to the guests themselves, industry groups, and your existing subscribers with specific requests to listen and share the episodes.
I like to set the podcast up on its own page and give people the opportunity to subscribe just to the podcast. Often, if you try to blend it with other things, somebody will get overwhelmed, because they don’t really want all of your emails. And if you don’t give them the option to subscribe only to the podcast, it just increases the likelihood that they’ll unsubscribe from everything.
(22:11) Find ways to stay in touch with your guests over time.
That’s the real value: the relationship. The content’s great; the relationship’s even better.
(Laura 0:04) Marketing requires experimentation. But you need solid ideas to base your experiments on. I’m Laura McPherson, an on-demand content strategist and writer working with SaaS marketing teams across the US. In this podcast, I interview successful SaaS marketers who share the strategies and tactics that are working for them right now. We get specific and actionable, so you can get inspired and use their ideas in your own marketing. Here’s what’s working now.
Audience research can be challenging. Surveys only reveal so much. And it can be difficult to get folks in your target audience to commit to interviews. Kathleen Booth, SVP of Marketing at Tradeswell has discovered that podcasts can be a goldmine of audience information, if you know how to mine them. In this episode, we explore how she’s used podcasts to glean invaluable audience insights to guide her team. Let’s get started.
All right, Kathleen, thank you so much for coming on the show to talk about podcasts for audience research!
(Kathleen 1:29) Thank you for having me, Laura! I love this topic. I can’t wait to dig into it with you.
(Laura 1:33) Awesome. Yeah, I’ve been seeing what you’ve been posting on LinkedIn. You’ve got some really good insight, so I’m excited to hear what you have to share. So let’s start with just a little bit of background: can you tell our listeners a bit about yourself and your role as SVP of Marketing at Tradeswell?
(Kathleen 1:50) Sure. So I have been in marketing for longer than I care to admit. I owned a marketing agency for 11 years; we were HubSpot partners, very much focused on demand generation. I sold that in 2017, and since then, I’ve been in-house as Head of Marketing at a variety of companies, generally more early-stage, B2B, technology-driven kinds of companies. And now today, I’m at Tradeswell, where we’re building an operating system for real-time commerce, which is really just sort of solving the complexity for e-commerce practitioners of all the different platforms they operate on, and trying to centralize that in one place and give them insights and automation and a way to run their business.
(Laura 2:33) Awesome. Yeah, that’s desperately needed at this time. So, very cool.
(Kathleen 2:38) Right? I feel like we could all use a better way to centralize data and make sense of it all.
(Laura 2:42) Yes, absolutely. So I’d like to start with just exploring a little bit about, you know, how you have used the podcast format for audience research, just to kind of set the stage.
(Kathleen 2:54) Yeah, this is something I kind of stumbled into, and now it’s probably going to be a part of every single marketing strategy I have. And it started, really, back when I owned my agency. In 2017, I was selling and marketing to marketers. And so I started my podcast, which to this day still exists. It’s something I do personally called The Inbound Success Podcast. We were an inbound marketing agency, and so it was all about interviewing marketers about inbound marketing. It sort of started with that, but it really took off when I went to my last company where I was head of marketing, a place called clean.io, where we were selling to people who lead ad operations teams at publishers. It was a very specific audience, kind of very niche. And, I would say, doing traditional content marketing wasn’t going to really do it for us. Because there was a lot of content out there, and I didn’t feel like we were going to really be able to add to the conversation through traditional content marketing.
And so what I came up with was a podcast called Ad Ops All Stars, where we literally just interviewed our ideal customer, leaders of ad ops teams, about their careers and about their day-to-day jobs. And initially, it really started as a way to build relationships with those people, to get our brand in front of them very subtly. But really quickly upon embarking upon this project, I began to realize, this is like audience research in disguise! Like, the questions I would ask them were, you know, how did you get into this job? What did you study in school? What are your big challenges in your day-to-day? And what kinds of tools are you using to solve those challenges? What do you think the biggest challenges are going to be in the next three years? How do you hire? How do you manage your team? Like, all the things that we ask when we’re trying to do audience persona research, and I was like, this is the same list of questions! I’m just posting the answers as content.
And it was fun to do. I learned so much. I also would always ask like, how do you learn and stay on top of your professional development? And that was a way of basically getting an answer to: what conferences do you go to? What blogs or newsletters do you read? You know, where are you getting your information? Because then, knowing that, it was like, well, here’s where I should be advertising and getting my content. And so, you know, that formula, I feel like, can work for any company, right? We all have somebody we’re targeting. And it works for a couple reasons. One is it, you know, gives you great information that helps you do your job better as a marketer. Two is, any marketing that is fundamentally based on the idea of making the customer the hero of the story is always going to be the best approach. And that’s what that is. You know, and three, it builds relationships for you within the industry. And so you become that, like, known, liked, and trusted brand. So, I could go on and on, but I’ll stop in case you have questions.
(Laura 5:50) Well, I love that strategy, because, you know, a lot of times, it’s hard to, you know, get prospects to just schedule a call with you to pick their brain and learn all of those questions that you just mentioned. But interviewing them on a podcast, like, they’re a lot more likely to agree to that. So that’s a great strategy to give yourself enough time to dive in. You know, a survey can only answer so many questions, so the ability to really dive in and ask those questions is super valuable.
(Kathleen 6:19) Yeah, not only are they more likely to take your call, but the beautiful thing about this format is, in every interview, I would say, “Who’s somebody else in this profession that you admire and think is doing great work?” And that is a wonderful way for them to shout out somebody in their professional circle who they admire. And then, you know, as soon as I would kind of stop recording, I would say to them, “Hey, could you make an intro to that person?” And they almost always said yes. And if they didn’t know the person, then I would just do cold outreach and say, “Hey, this person mentioned you on the podcast. I would love to have you on as the next guest.” And so it became a flywheel, not only for podcast guests, but for relationships. Like, it was very much a viral way to build relationships within the industry.
(Laura 7:06) Right, yeah. Very cool. So you know, you mentioned a few of the different insights that you can, you know, glean from these interviews. I would love to learn, you know, what other insights that you have found super valuable that you’ve just been able to come up with, even as you’re doing the podcast interviews.
(Kathleen 7:24) Yeah, so I had my kind of standard set of questions that I think anybody would use in this circumstance. And I mentioned some of them earlier, like, how did you get into this profession? What are your top day-to-day challenges? What do you look for when you hire? How do you run your team? How is your team structured? Where are you getting information and learning? What industry events do you like to go to?
But then, like, those were my fallback questions. But what I found interesting was, before I would do the interview, I would have a quick intro call with my guests, and I’d say, “Is there something that you’re personally passionate about?” And it could be something that has to do with the job, or it could be something very personal, because, again, the podcast is about them and their career. And so for some people, the thing that they’re passionate about has nothing to do with their profession. So some examples of this, these are things that made this podcast incredibly successful — and I’m really proud of it, actually. And I’m proud of it because these people trusted me to have these conversations — so like one of my guests talked about, you know, being gay, and the challenges he overcame growing up, and how that led him into his career, and what that’s meant for him as a gay man in the industry. Another person talked about being a woman and being discriminated against. Another person talked about being a black man. Like, we had a lot of these very kind of culturally relevant conversations that many times people don’t talk about. But it gave us a different way to have conversations about the industry that I think — these types of things aren’t happening in traditional marketing. Like, companies aren’t putting this in their content marketing or on their social. These are the things that can only be talked about one to one.
And, you know, I think we all as marketers know that the more authentic our marketing is, the more people are going to gravitate to it. And podcasting as a format is just a very unique medium that lends itself well to talking about things that otherwise you probably couldn’t talk about in your marketing. And I had another person who talked about being on the spectrum. You know, it was those conversations that I got the best feedback about, and that people said, “I love that you did this!”
And to this day, the people that I did interviews on those topics with are people that I count as friends, not just podcast guests. Like, we’ve stayed in touch even since I’ve left the industry. So that I think speaks to the quality of relationship that you’re able to build. Now, we also talked about everything from, like, robotic process automation to expanding internationally. And that gave me a forum for taking deeper dives into really niche aspects of things that my audience was thinking about, like, how do you hire an international team? How do you use software to automate things your team is doing? All of these are things that can be turned into pieces of content that are interesting and educational, and super niche, and so probably weren’t covered as much by some of our competitors. So there’s a lot that you can mine there and a lot of different directions you can take it. My only advice, if somebody’s thinking about using this approach, is let your guest kind of be the person who drives the subject matter. Because if they’re passionate about something, it’s going to make for a great conversation.
(Laura 10:37) Yeah, that’s a great point. It’s interesting, too, you know, with the types of questions that you’re asking, it seems like it would really give you an opportunity to hone your company’s points of view, and align them really closely with what your prospects are most passionate about. Because there is probably some overlap there, and you can learn that and, you know, really make sure that you’re connecting from a brand standpoint. So it can inform so many different things: content, brand, all of these different aspects.
(Kathleen 11:08) Yeah, absolutely. And like I said, many of these are topics that a lot of companies shy away from touching. And so I think there’s — you know, it’s not for everybody, but if you’re a brand that’s willing to go there — there’s such an opportunity to take the conversation that you’re having within the industry to a level that is so much more meaningful to the people who are a part of that conversation.
(Laura 11:28) Right. Yeah, I love that. So I’m curious, too, you know, you’re gathering all this data, you’re learning all of this information. Do you have a particular way that you recommend organizing that data? Is it just, you know, you’re kind of taking the notes from the conversations and entering them into a spreadsheet? Like, what’s the nuts and bolts of how that works?
(Kathleen 11:49) Yeah, and I wouldn’t say I have a perfect solution quite yet for this. I think, you know, the good thing about podcasts is everything’s recorded. And so making those recordings available to your team, I think, is a good first step. And you don’t have to wait until the podcast is published; you can certainly have a repository of recordings for them to listen to. But I do think having a more digestible format for key learnings is important.
And so there are a couple of ways to tackle this. One is actually in your persona documents. Those should be living, breathing documents, and you should be updating them over time as you learn new things. But I think what happens the more you do these types of interviews is you start to see trends. Like, okay, this topic has been mentioned several times. And so having a way to call out those trends, whether it’s in like a wiki, or what have you, or in your CRM. You know, it’s going to be different for everyone, and it’s going to depend on how your team is set up and likes to consume information, but I think that’s really important.
At the very least, the easiest thing to do is I always like having a channel for my marketing and sales team to be in together to trade feedback. And if all you did was write a quick summary of key learnings from that interview and just pop it into Slack, I think that that’s great. You know, that gets the visibility on it.
(Laura 13:05) Yeah, those are some great ideas. And I love your point that it really depends on the team and what works for them. A lot of times I think we get so attracted to, oh, this person is doing it this way, this person is doing it that way; I have to do it this way or that way, too. So I like that flexibility.
So I’m curious what your advice would be to marketing teams who, maybe they have a podcast, they’ve been doing a podcast, but they want to get more intentional about the audience insights piece. What are your tips and tricks for them?
(Kathleen 13:38) Yeah, I mean, it depends on what they’re already doing. I think some formats you can easily adapt to accommodate an approach like this. But I think in other cases, it’s, you know, some podcasts are just focused on something very, very different. This works particularly well if the subject matter is the person and their story. That’s really at the heart of it.
And the only other piece of advice I would give around that is, honestly, make it more than just the podcast. Like, what worked well for me was kind of branding Ad Ops All Stars as a group of people. And after we did our podcast, I would send my guest a box of swag. And it would have a T-shirt that didn’t have our company logo, it just had a logo I created for Ad Ops All Stars, and it was a baseball tee. And so giving them something they could wear, where it was like, “I was a part of this.” And certainly we would then send them some other company swag, but celebrating their involvement in the podcast with a thank you note, you know, saying, “We truly do feel like you are an All Star.”
And then that became kind of the entrée into almost the start of an informal community. So when we would do events, like we would have these kind of small group virtual wine tastings that we did for prospects, we would always invite at least one if not two of our prior podcast guests to come to them. Not to sell to them. I mean, that would be great, because I certainly invited on a lot of people that I wanted to sell to. But I made a point of telling the sales team, like, “If somebody comes on our podcast, you cannot turn around and pitch them. It has to be organic, and they have to want to have that conversation.” And so, involving them in those events. Like we would do in-person dinners in conjunction with conferences that we were sponsoring, and we always had some of our guests there. And they became our biggest cheerleaders, because we didn’t try to sell to them. It was truly just a wonderful relationship where they felt loved. And they would bring guests to our dinners and introduce us to other people within the industry. And I think that’s the kind of relationship that you want to cultivate with a project like this.
(Laura 15:38) Yeah, I love that. Yeah. Especially, I mean, community is so effective, for all the reasons you mentioned and more. So that’s a great idea to, you know, form it around the podcast.
This might be a little bit of a rabbit trail, but something you mentioned earlier caught my attention. You know, you mentioned that you’re primarily working with early-stage companies. And you mentioned something that I have heard many times, which is, you know, we don’t have the resources to create this entire content engine. So focusing on those few things that can have the highest impact. Are there other things besides podcasts that you have found to be really effective for those early-stage companies?
(Kathleen 16:17) Sure. Well, I will say just on the topic of podcasts, don’t let resource constraints be the reason you don’t do it. Because I have been super resource-constrained, and you can be scrappy. Like, I don’t like when people try to say that a podcast needs to be, like, super highly produced. Like, I’d record on Zoom. I would send it off to somebody on Upwork to edit it, you know. I would publish on Libsyn, which is easy and inexpensive. And the whole thing, like, all-in from an expense standpoint, probably cost me $100-250 an episode to produce. And it was my time, right? And if you’re a good marketer, you’re doing that audience research anyway, so it’s a good use of your time. So that’s one thing to say.
But outside of that, in terms of being scrappy at the Series A stage — that’s really where I’ve kind of focused — there’s a couple things. One that also does have to do with podcasting is: at almost every company I’ve worked at, I’ve hired a podcast guest booking agent, who gets me on other people’s podcasts. Now, that’s not how you and I met. But, like, particularly the company I’m at now, we’re selling into e-commerce. And I don’t have as many contacts in the e-commerce world. So I have a booking agent, and I spend a little bit of money, and every month she gets me on four podcasts as a guest. It’s a great investment, and it’s so inexpensive. You know, and you could do it yourself, but honestly, the time you’d spend would make it not worth it. So that’s one.
And then from a content standpoint, I’m a big fan of, like, crowdsourced or roundup content. So at Tradeswell, where I am now, yesterday was International Women’s Day, so we actually published — it was the first blog that my new content manager published — and it was a roundup of top female founders in the direct-to-consumer space. And we just put together a quick Google form and asked them to share their advice and insights. And we sent it out to a bunch of people and worked our network.
And, you know, that’s great, because they put their answers in the form, and then your content is just, “Here’s what these people had to say.” And you don’t have to do a bunch of original writing. You know, and you could do that for a good percentage of your content. And it’s also great, not only does it save time in creating content, but in terms of promotion, you then have this army of people who — again, you’ve shone the spotlight on the audience, you’ve made them the hero. So it’s the same idea. They’re incented, then, to share the content. Which is the same thing that happens with the podcasts: the people who are the guests are incented to share it.
(Laura 18:40) Yeah, that’s really interesting. One other question, then. This is, you know, more podcasts in general, not necessarily specifically related to the audience insights. But as far as growing your podcast audience, I’d love to hear a little bit about, you know, how you did that? Were you mainly relying on the guests, who obviously are super passionate, because, you know, you’ve connected with them, you’ve built this community? Or did you have other strategies that you used as well?
(Kathleen 19:07) Yeah, that’s a very good question. So there’s a couple of different things. One is definitely the guests themselves. And so it’s really important when you promote your episodes that you tag those people, those individuals and their companies. I always email the guest in advance and I say, “Your episode is going live tomorrow, or today, or whatever it is. And here’s the link.” And I have a whole email that says like, “Now’s the time to really make this successful for you and for me. And so here are” — and I get very concrete — “here are some things you can do to help promote this.” Like, “You can share it on social, and here’s the artwork. You can go and leave a review on the podcast, because the more reviews we have, the more visible it is. You know, share it with your co-workers and ask them to listen to it, like it, leave a review.”
So I try to get really specific with what I’m asking. And not everybody does it, and that’s fine. But I think, many cases, they are excited to share it. So that’s one. The second is then really kind of trying to figure out, within the industry, are there people who’d be willing to help you share it? And so, like with my last company, where I had Ad Ops All Stars, there were some industry groups that a lot of the people I was interviewing were members of. And those industry groups actually, very kindly, would share the podcast episodes, because it was their way of saying, “Hey, here’s one of our members who was spotlighted.” And so I would get free coverage in these industry newsletters.
You can take on sponsors, potentially, from within the industry, and they might also be interested in sharing it. But then, you know, there’s email, sending it out to your whole email database, and sharing, like, why this episode might be relevant. There’s obviously organic social.
And then there’s paid. I think podcasts lend themselves well to being promoted through paid social, because most of the time the content is evergreen. And so, you know, if you’re willing to put some paid ad dollars behind it, that can really snowball over time in terms of audience acquisition.
(Laura 20:54) Yeah, that’s a great point. And then you can, you know, re-target those audiences with additional later on. So yeah, that’s a great point. Build out your investment; make it go further.
(Kathleen 21:04) Yeah, and I would say the other little thing that I’ve learned is, you know, a lot of us when we — in marketing, we have websites where we have the ability for our visitors to subscribe to our blog or to subscribe to our newsletter. I like to set the podcast up on its own page and give people the opportunity to subscribe just to the podcast. Because, oftentimes, if you try to blend it with other things, what will happen is somebody will get overwhelmed, because they don’t really want all of your emails — they just want the podcast. And if you don’t give them the option to subscribe only to that, it just increases the likelihood that they’ll unsubscribe from everything. And so giving them that choice is important. But then it also gives you the opportunity to then, for each episode, send a dedicated email with context, again, like, “Here’s why this episode is so interesting, and we think you should watch it.” And they’ve opted in, and so that will just increase the chances that they’ll listen.
(Laura 21:57) Awesome. Well, this has been fantastic! You have shared some amazing insights, and some great ideas. The only other question I have would be, you know, is there anything that I should have asked that I didn’t? Anything that, you know, you would like to share?
(Kathleen 22:11) Yeah, I think the big thing is — there’s a couple big things. One is, like I said, make sure your sales team knows not to turn around and just pitch these people, unless there’s some other signal they’ve sent that that’s what they want. That’s number one. You know, number two is truly do look at it as a relationship. And so, not only should you have, I think, the pre-call — to me that’s very important; I do that with all the podcasts I do — but reach out, connect with those people on LinkedIn. Follow them on, you know, social. Like, I always have a Twitter list for my podcast, and I add every guest to that Twitter list, so that I’m looking and seeing their updates and interacting with them.
Like, find other ways to stay in touch with those people over time, because that’s the real value, is the relationship. The content’s great; the relationship’s even better.
(Laura 22:54) Yes, yes. Great advice. Well, thank you again; this has been fabulous. I know that the listeners will get a lot out of this episode, so I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your insights and advice!
(Kathleen 23:08) Well, thanks for asking me! This was a ton of fun.
(Laura 23:11) Thanks for listening! This is the final episode of Season 2, and I’m incredibly excited about what I’ve got planned for Season 3. We will have a completely new format: I’m bringing on a co-host, who is an in-house marketer. Actually, a guest who has been on the show! So stay tuned, and until then, happy marketing!