What Popular Podcasts Can Teach Us About Content Marketing

A little over a year ago when I purchased Carbonite, a program that creates an automatic, online backup of your computer, I made sure to use the Nerdist promo code. Not only did it earn me some kind of discount (I don’t remember the particulars), but I knew it was a way for a free podcast I like to get a little extra monetary support.

People appreciate free content. That’s not exactly a controversial statement. In fact, many have determined that members of my generation, and especially those a few years younger than me, don’t appreciate the value of content and just won’t pay for it. Period.

I don’t think that’s true. I know I’m not the only who’s made a point of thinking of a piece of free content I like when making an associated purchase. Popular podcasts like the Nerdist, WTF with Marc Maron, and Doug Loves Movies all thrive in part due to sponsors, and their listeners’ willingness to support those sponsors – with a nod to the podcast’s help in sending them there.

Notably, the comedians at the center of each of the podcasts mentioned have also seen their careers blow up due to the popularity of their free podcasts.

What still sounds counter-intuitive to some now feels like old news to many: providing something people value for free can be a good way to make money.

That’s pretty much the definition of content marketing, and there are a number of wildly popular podcasts out there that do a good job of demonstrating just how well content marketing can work.

I wrote this post not as a way to encourage businesses to make podcasts as a form of content marketing, although that may be a good move for your business, but rather to point out these two notable lessons that businesses can learn from popular podcasts:

1) People appreciate free content and, by extension, the businesses and brands that help make it free.

If you’re in the camp that thinks young people won’t pay for content they like – just look at the Veronica Mars kickstarter campaign. I’m betting the popular show about high schoolers didn’t raise all that dough exclusively from people in their 30’s and up. I don’t think people have lost their understanding that it takes money to produce the content they like. I think instead, they’ve become pickier about what content they feel is worth paying for and have different ideas of what paying for content looks like.

Many people, myself amongst them, have “cut the cord” when it comes to cable, and trust the internet to bring us all the tv that we think is worth our time. Most cord cutters are tolerant, perhaps more so than our cable-subscribing brethren, of the commercials that play during shows made available online. We recognize that this is the cost of free content – a few minutes of ads per episode. On the other hand, the cost of a monthly cable subscription, which would buy us more shows and channels than we care to watch, seems wasteful.

What does this have to do with your business and content marketing?

It speaks to the psychology behind how people view the things they liked. Not too many people will go out of their way to buy something just because they see it in association with content they find valuable — but if it’s something they already need (or might need sometime down the line), that product gains a serious edge against competitors. By associating your business with a brand they already like, or becoming that brand via quality content that you develop, you become the Carbonite that someone is happy to choose because it not only gains them a good product, but helps fuel the content they value.

2) Good, free content is a powerful tool to build up your reputation.

As previously mentioned, most of the comics behind popular podcasts have credited the podcast with career resurgences – from more people at their live shows to tv hosting gigs to sitcom and movie offers – much of which likely would have never happened without investing time in offering something entertaining for free. The podcasts made them more recognizable and built up a fan base that has ensured them revenue from a number of other means, besides the podcast sponsorships themselves.

By the same token, Copyblogger‘s extremely successful business model was to become the leading authority on creating valuable content…as a way to sell software.  The connection between point A and point B isn’t a simple, direct line, and building a reputation like the one they have takes a lot of time and a large investment in good writers. Nonetheless, they’ve built a fabulously successful business off a foundation of content that people love.

The moral of these various stories is: don’t be stingy! It can be hard to wrap your head around profiting off of giving something valuable away for free, but there are plenty of models out there that show, if done well, it works.

Google + and the “End of Search”

Who likes hyperbole! Well, people who like provocative headlines, for one. Wired has a current article on “The End of Web, Search, and Computer as We Know It.” The gist of the article is that the way we interact with the internet is changing, moving away from static pages and individual searches, and more towards streams of steady information. The author calls this the “lifestream.”

“This lifestream — a heterogeneous, content-searchable, real-time messaging stream — arrived in the form of blog posts and RSS feeds, Twitter and other chatstreams, and Facebook walls and timelines…All the information on the internet will soon be a time-based structure”

You may or may not find the article’s argument convincing, but it does seem to tie in to an issue I’ve been hearing and thinking about quite a bit about recently – the recent rise of Google +.

When Google + first surfaced, it seemed primarily designed to compete with Facebook. It aroused plenty of curiosity and a good number of people gave it a try, but when it came down to it, it couldn’t compete with the main thing Facebook had going for it as a social media platform: people. Everyone was already there, and failed to feel a mass compulsion to switch it out for something new.

Now Google + is embracing a new identity. By linking Google + usage with your authority in terms of how Google determines ranking, Google + is quickly becoming a content distribution platform, with a strong influence on SEO. Or, another way of seeing it, via Copyblogger:

“Google+ is less social media platform and more backplane social layer that transformed all Google products into features of Google+.”

In other words, Google is aiming to leverage Google + into the frame through which all our internet activity is experienced. Potentially moving people away from the traditional search experience, and into a more customized version of the web – perhaps in a way that resembles the “lifestreams” described above.

Who knows if internet usage will move in this direction as predicted, but it’s inevitable that time, the evolution of technology, and people’s ideas of how technology can be used mean our relationship to the internet is bound to change. It’s important that businesses and marketers keep an eye on those changes as they occur and adapt marketing efforts to accommodate consumer behavior.