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What the Serial podcast can teach B2B marketers

OK, I admit it. I got on the Serial bandwagon a little late in the game, but thanks to a wicked stomach flu last week, I had plenty of time to get caught up before this week’s final episode. If you’re not already familiar, Serial is a podcast that premiered in October, the first spinoff of This American Life. It follows one story (this season, a murder case) over the course of a season (this season, a 12-episode thriller) and is hosted by Sarah Koenig, a former criminal justice reporter.

Anyone who has jumped on the Serial bandwagon “gets” it. The thrill of waiting for a new weekly episode to post. The ensuing excitement of discussing that week’s revelations with friends and strangers alike, through online forums, article recaps and plenty of water cooler banter. To call Serial a pop culture phenomenon is not a stretch. So it got me thinking – how can B2B marketers harness the “it factor” of what Serial has become? What can the Serial podcast teach B2B marketers? I have a few ideas…

Word-of-mouth carries weight. 

While I had heard several of my friends talking about Serial (both in person and via social media posts), it was a conversation with my sister that ultimately convinced me to start listening to the podcast. And where did my sister hear about it? From someone she occasionally chats with on Twitter – which started a chain reaction of others on Twitter urging her to start listening too. Certainly, Serial didn’t have some huge advertising budget. So how did it become the #1 podcast on iTunes? Word of mouth. People were really into the story – and they wanted to have other people to talk about it with. Imagine the power word-of-mouth could carry for your B2B organization. While the days of exorbitant trade show budgets and over-the-top customer trips may be a thing of a past, one thing will always hold true – your customers can be your biggest advocates. What are you doing to harness their collective influence factor? And how are you enabling them to tell your story for you? When a prospect is at a critical point in his or her decision-making process, what’s going to carry more weight – a sales deck stacked with way too many words, or a strong, emphatic story from a current customer? In 2015, what are your plans to leverage the power of word-of-mouth?

A powerful story – and storyteller – trumps all. 

Now, certainly there wouldn’t be any word-of-mouth buzz about Serial if the story itself wasn’t compelling. If you take away only one thing from this post, please remember this: A powerful story trumps all. Storytelling is a craft. It gets people engaged and involved. It doesn’t feel one-sided, even when it ultimately is. And in the case of Serial, I’d argue it wasn’t just the story but the storyteller (Koenig) that got people hooked. So what does this mean for B2B marketers? Well, first off – stop talking about yourself so much. Think about what your customers really need – and deliver that to them. In the age of content marketing, there’s no room for beating your own chest. Find the stories that provide answers your customers want – then deliver them in a way that’s interesting. This may mean using non-traditional storytellers within your organization to get that story told. Just because someone holds a certain title or has been with your company for 20+ years doesn’t mean he or she is a good storyteller. Unfortunately, those are often the folks who end up as company spokespeople, particularly in a B2B environment. But is that the right way to approach it? I’d suggest thinking about people who command attention in internal meetings. People who can make complex issues easy to understand. THOSE are the people you should be tapping as your organization’s storytellers. It’s no longer about title and seniority. It’s now about the ability to tell a compelling story. 

Podcasts can be highly effective. 

When I suggested to a friend that he start listening to Serial (see above: word-of-mouth), his reaction was, “I like that it’s like an old-time radio show.” Now, that was coming from an early 30s, generally hip guy who knows his way around the latest and greatest technology. In fact, I’ve been surprised at how many of my tech-obsessed friends have also been obsessed with Serial. Some of them had never listened to a podcast before. My point is – if you have compelling content (see above: a powerful story), people will react to it, no matter what form it takes. While I’m certainly not here to suggest every B2B organization should add a podcast to its list of tactics to employ in 2015, I am here to suggest you at least consider it. Podcasts can be a really inexpensive way to connect with customers, prospects – even your sales team – in a meaningful way. It’s unexpected. It can make you stand out. It can position you as a thought leader. It can do lots of things for your business, provided your story is strong.

Looking back over my posts this year, perhaps what 2014 has taught me most is that there’s always a lesson for B2B marketers from pop culture phenomenons and B2C trends. The question is – what are you going to do in 2015 to make the most of them?

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