I miss conferences…a lot.
Specifically, I miss the networking and socializing that are as much a business conference draw as the sales and education. I miss my friends, and I miss hearing from the front-line people on what they need.
As we enter our second pandemic year (shakes head), I see what 13 months of being disconnected from in-person contact has done to us – how much harder it is to share about what works and what doesn’t, especially for those of us who had to rewrite our playbooks in 2020 thanks to unexpected challenges.
It hasn’t been easy. Many of us are stressed, burned out, exhausted and lacking the inspiration that has driven digital marketing forward. Much of this comes from the disconnect that cannot be solved via Zoom.
Networking goes on, but it’s different now
As an example, our email industry was built on the work of people like my colleagues and me. We work for different companies – often fierce competitors – but in the pre-COVID era, we shared our knowledge and experiences at keynote speeches, breakout sessions and post-event happy hours. This pooled knowledge lifted everyone up and made everyone smarter.
When live events went away in 2020, virtual conferences rose to take their place. The technology has become less buggy, although the lack of informal networking makes them less compelling for me.
But even more than virtual conferences, online audio has taken off, whether as podcasts, webinars or vidcasts or even emerging platforms like Clubhouse. We are constantly surrounded by content to fill the void left by the loss of in-person events.
Brand marketers who had no other live-conversation ways to connect with prospects and customers doubled down on live audio with branded podcasts, webinar series or vidcasts (including yours truly).
These are low-barrier access points to community connection. They put faces to names that were just boldface entries in blog posts or tweets, and they provide access to influencers. They also build brand voice equity when done right – and that’s what you need to think about, because they can go wrong in so many ways.
So you want to start a podcast…
…or a webinar series? If you want to do it because everybody else is doing it, you can stop right now.
I said earlier that podcasting and webinars are low-barrier entries to live events, but they aren’t Field of Dreams. You can build it, but the people won’t come unless you give them something in exchange for their time. Building a listener-worthy program takes time, budget, discipline, and connections.
Should you jump in?
That’s the billion-dollar question.
These five questions can help you decide whether a show of your own is the way to go.
1. Where does this fit in my strategy?
As with everything you do, strategy has to come before tactics. A podcast or webinar series is a tactic, not a strategy. If your objective is to acquire or retain more customers, one strategy to achieve that is to build credibility as a helpful resource. A show is one tactic to carry out that strategy.
It’s also a discussion on the allocation of resources. Is this the best use of your time to get the most benefit? We face that every day as business leaders. Is there something else that could produce greater value and return?
2. Can I add value with a show?
This is the other major consideration. Your show must cut through the noise with insights and takeaways that help your audience do their jobs – in this case, email – better. What can you offer that’s worth 30 minutes of their time?
I often have to pose this question in many of my strategies: “Why will people care?”
You have to be able to answer that honestly without the BS detector pegging all the way to the right. Let’s be honest. There’s so much content out there right now. Can you really add value? Really? Take off your brand-advocate glasses and think through your answer. I am not trying to talk you out of it, but you have to be really honest in your assessment.
In most cases, a veiled sales pitch doesn’t add value. Subject experts who work for brands must understand that they’re not on your show to pitch products. The old B2B quid pro quo works here: offer education now so you’re top of mind when they need you later.
3. Do I have a content marketing strategy to plan this show?
Anybody can do a one-off webinar. But to get the most benefit, you need a plan that ties shows to your company’s strategic initiatives, like coordinating a show to a product release, conference topic or marketplace issue. Many shows fail to gain traction because nobody did the unglamorous work of mapping out a strategy and linking in matching topics.
This is the strategic effort that many miss. This is not “Hey, let’s have [insert smart person here] on the show.” It’s a strategic planning path to a goal that you must do to have traction.
4. Do I have the resources to devote to this show?
You’ll need more than a Zoom room and a webcam to produce a show that can compete for and win attention. You don’t have to set up a studio, but having a good-quality microphone, a stable conference platform and a comfortable set-up will give you a more polished product, which enhances your credibility.
Beyond that, you need dedication and discipline. You have to make the time for this effort, not just find it in and among your other priorities. I know from experience that putting a series together that people will subscribe to on YouTube or share with friends is a lot of work, and you still have your day job to do.
When this other work comes into play, you must be able to still make time. Producing this content takes dedication and must be a priority.
5. Can I bring in quality guests?
Your webinar discussion will be only as good as your guests. Use the same rules for choosing guests as you would for populating an in-person panel discussion.
Brand evangelists, whose natural habitat is the panel discussion and whose stock in trade is name recognition, can be good “gets,” but sometimes it’s more important to have lower-profile experts with the specific knowledge your audience needs. (See Rule 2 above.)
You don’t need a contact list with hundreds of names, just the folks with credibility. Your vendors, in-house experts and successful customers also make excellent guests.
Three examples to follow
One of the best webinar series for email marketers is Email & More, hosted by Kath Pay and Adeola Sole of Holistic Email Marketing. (Disclosure: My company, RPEOrigin, became a sponsor after the inaugural 2020 series because we were so impressed by the show and its results.)
The show is a model for others aiming to break into webinar business because it offers an international menu of in-the-trenches marketers and covers hot-button issues and practical industry topics. It also applies discipline to show mechanics, from keeping guests on topic to planning out an entire series instead of scrambling for topics episode to episode.
Netcore’s For the Love of Emails takes a similarly disciplined approach. VP for Deliverability Matthew Vernhout interviews a wide range of email experts, many on the tech side of marketing with impressive success records.
While I’m thinking of it, I also recommend the weekly Thursday meetups, sponsored by Only Influencers. Although you have to be a member to attend most sessions, these no-pitch conversations, guided by OI General Manager Jeanne Jennings, feature respected subject-matter experts and allow plenty of time for Q&A.
It’s a wrap
I’ve talked a great deal about brand equity. Everything we do as an individual or business either adds to or subtracts from brand equity. That’s why starting an endeavor like a podcast or vidcast is a double-edged sword. If you succeed, fantastic! If you fail, could that harm your brand?
Many times in my career, I have challenged big companies to prove to me that an action they’re contemplating is the right thing to do. Having a strong argument and dedication to their strategic goals is usually what convinces me they’ve got the right idea and plan. Many times, the argument comes down to “Well, so-and-so is doing it.”
As the saying goes, “Just because you have something to say, that does not mean you have to say it.” In this age of disconnection from what we know to be normal, we need to take care not to over-extend ourselves but to serve a common goal.
To do no harm and make people smarter through our shared experience.
This story first appeared on MarTech Today.