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Clubhouse and the rise of Digital Audio

by Clark Boyd

Posted on Feb 19, 2021

Is the app Clubhouse worth the hype around it? How are podcasts evolving? When will voice search be fully functioning?

DMI Podcast host Will Francis chats with digital marketing expert and author Clark Boyd all about the rise of audio in the digital and social media landscape.


Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. This episode is a big Q&A where we explore an area of marketing through a leading industry expert. I'm your host, Will Francis. And today, I'll be talking to Clark Boyd, a digital marketing expert and author based in London, all about the rise of audio in the digital and social media landscape. From the recent explosion of Clubhouse to the ever-evolving world of podcasting, we'll explore how our primarily visual digital experience is becoming an auditory one too and what factors may be driving that. Clark has worked around the world, helping brands like Adidas and American Express shape their digital strategy. He trains digital marketers through a variety of institutions and programs, including Google, Cambridge University, Imperial College London, and Columbia University. Clark, welcome back to the podcast. It's great to see you again.


Clark: Thanks, Will. Yeah, it's good to be back. How are things?


Will: I'm good. Thanks, Clark. Very good. Since we last spoke, it's been an interesting year and the podcasts has gone from strength to strength. So, yeah, we're all good. And what we're interested in at the moment, we're seeing this boom in audio, I think is happening across the board in digital and social media. Podcasts have been riding a wave of popularity for a while. And now, we've got Clubhouse making a splash, and it's really the first breakout social media app success story from the United States for quite a long time when you think about it. And there's a lot of excitement about Clubhouse and we'll talk a bit more about what that is later, and we'll also try and get to the bottom of how marketers could use it. But just starting more broadly, is audio a channel that people in marketing should be looking into and taking seriously right now?


Clark: Yeah, I think it probably has been for quite some time already. I think we've seen a shift towards more audio content. We've seen a huge amount of more podcasts, a lot more podcasts listening. We need to separate out the longer-term trend from the short-term one, which is over the last year, a lot of us have been at home. Spotify reckons about 65% of podcasts are listened to at home at the minute. So that shapes what people listen to and how they listen to it. But brands have always been audio-visual. I think we need to take that back into account actually. If we think back to little jingles that brands would have for the radio, they've always understood this. They know that those are all ear warms really do keep us coming back and keep us reciting the brand messages. What has happened is that we've unlearned a little bit of that in the digital age, not because brands on audio wasn't important, but because technologically, we just couldn't do a huge amount with it. We have systems that are set up to understand text and to digest it and to serve it up to people. Then we started having images, and logically, the next step might be audio, but it brings with it a lot of challenges, which I'm sure we're going to touch on again today.


Will: Yes. So, you talk about sonic branding, which is a fascinating area of marketing. It's one that even lots of people in marketing don't really think about, isn't it? It goes back to famous pieces of sonic branding by brands like Coca-Cola or Intel, you know, come to mind, whether those, like you say, there's little jingles or sounds that are part of the...they're in every advert and become synonymous with and they trigger thoughts of that brand, whether we want that brand to pop into our head or not. It's actually a very clever way, isn't it? Sonic branding.


Clark: It is, but what we're thinking of there and the bit that needs to transition is that that's audio marketing for the broadcasting age. You have a captive audience, they're going to listen to your jingle, and you're going to make it really memorable. That has obviously changed nowadays with everyone having a lot more control over the content that they consume and the way that brands would connect with them in an audio way would change quite significantly. So, where we are today is that yes, podcast advertising is booming, but it's a little bit like radio advertising just with digital scheduling. It's not that sophisticated quite yet, but it will get much smarter. It will become more conversational. And if we put this in the broader context of thinking about people starting to use smart speakers a little bit more, we're seeing new ad formats. And Pandora in the U.S., kind of a Spotify rival, they have a more conversational ad format now where you can skip the ad if you want to. You can ask for more information sent to your mobile or to your email. And it puts people in control. I think when brands are looking at the audio side of things and when we don't have to listen to them, a lot of us pay subscription so that we don't have to listen to ads anymore. Think, what would make your brand sound like someone people want to listen to, want to have a conversation with, want to spend some time with ultimately? Because the power of branding remains in that if we could still get people to listen to jingles, they would go around whistling them for the rest of the day and they'd tell their friends and it would annoy them they couldn't get it out of their heads. We're not going to be able to do that anymore. So, how do we get people involved, collaborate with them, put them in control, and make them want to listen to what we're saying.


Will: Okay. So, it's less [vocalization] which is the McDonald's sonic branding, of course, and more about how can they start to actively kind of host a community of like-minded people in a podcast? So, serve them with really useful and valuable and interesting and entertaining content there or host a club and rooms in something like Clubhouse, I suppose. And for me that is completely in line with the shift that brands have had to make any way in the last sort of 10 years, because for me, I think a lot of brands came into social media treating that as a broadcast platform. And they still do. They come into social, they just spew their promotional rubbish all over the place whereas actually, what the smart brands are doing is setting up things like Facebook groups and hosting communities, setting up Reddit's open forums, places where people can actually get involved rather than just kind of Twitter accounts and Facebook accounts where people can engage with their very mildly amusing brand banter or promotional content, right? And I think that is the challenge for this next decade is going from essentially a creative take on broadcast content to genuinely interactive, genuinely valuable community-driven, I mean, I was going to say marketing, but it can't even look or smell like marketing anymore. Do you know what I mean? It's got to go beyond that if you've got any chance of cutting through the noise.


Clark: Well, if you mention a broader shift towards more intimate communications within smaller groups, then audio is the perfect fit. You know, that's one of the big benefits. It's what has drawn a lot of people into listening more over the last year or so because they're missing that level of connection with people. Now, go back a few years and it might not have felt very natural. The same brands that are just putting out sales promotions on Twitter, all of a sudden want to host a conversation with you. Well, you're not really going to turn up, but if you are already involved in Facebook group and the brand hosts that on it's about helping people with issues they have, say it's an insurance company, I've seen a lot of really interesting examples in that space where brands think a little more laterally about what their product means, what their services provide for people, what the challenges are people are going through, and you wouldn't have thought people would want to join a Facebook community with say an insurance company, but it starts talking about the other parts of their lives that are affected by this. What does insurance allow you to do? What does it enable you to do? And people do join and they get into the conversation. Now, it's a logical next step for a brand like that to start hosting audio groups and having people involved there. It just adds that level of intimacy on top of what they're getting already within Facebook. The tricky thing as always, and we'll say this every time on a podcast like this is brands who just see a line going up and see everyone's getting into audio, what's my audio strategy, let's get in there. It should, of course, be a facet of that broader strategy. How does this enable you to get across your message in a better way? Is it something you're passionate about actually? Is it a message that you're desperate to go and communicate? Because otherwise, you'll give up quite quickly. It takes time to build the audience. We see it already on Clubhouse. You have to be on there. You have to be engaged. You have to be genuine about it or else people will quite quickly leave. There's a little leave quietly button on there that I've been making use of, and I'm sure a lot of other people do too.


Will: Yeah. Okay. And let's just take a moment to unpack Clubhouse just for benefit of listeners. I know you wrote about it in some detail in your recent newsletter, so it's fresh in your head. Give us the basic facts of what it is and where it's come from. And then let's talk about how people are using it and why now, why it's come about now?


Clark: Yeah. So, Clubhouse is an audio-only app, and it kind of functions a bit like a social network. It feels a bit like a corporate conference, a little bit like a conference call. It's a little bit like a podcast. There are elements of Reddit in there because it's very niche communities, but it started in March, 2020. So, you couldn't imagine more fortuitous timing for an audio app to go live. Has a lot of VC money behind it, particularly from Andreessen Horowitz, and it's already valued at over $1 billion they're saying. But the idea is that you have a personalized newsfeed from Clubhouse. So, you put in all your interests, so mine could be, you know, philosophy, obviously, digital marketing, let's throw that in there, and then it'll show me which rooms I can join. And you can pop into those and it's just people having a conversation really. There are volunteer moderators who try and keep things flowing and they can take questions from the audience. And as I said, you can leave quietly. So, you can participate on your own terms. You can raise your hand to ask a question or you can listen in. The thing is once the conversation ends, it's deleted. So, if you miss it, it's gone. So, it gives you that incentive to join. It's quite immediate. And there are quite a lot of famous people, both what I would call real famous and then social media famous as well, who are on there supposedly speaking a little more freely than they would on say, Twitter, where a tweet can haunt you for the rest of your life if taken out of context. So, they go on and have conversations, you can join in, and it makes people feel a bit closer to celebrities and the like.


You can start your own room on just about anything and start building a following off of that too. But that's the main idea. You can go around, there's conversations constantly going on and you can yeah, essentially pop in if you feel like it. And the whole concept is built on the notion that if you look at Twitter or Facebook these days, there is very little conversation. It is actually broadcasting by famous people. They've built their audience and they don't want to engage with them. They just go in and post something and then they leave whereas Clubhouse is meant to be more about genuine conversations, genuine connections. And they would say that they're giving us something we've missed. If you think about how we interact in the real world, social networking is a poor fit for that at the moment. It covers some aspects of it, of course, but it doesn't give us everything that we get from genuine interaction and conversation is a big part of that.


Will: And is Clubhouse the first thing of its kind, I mean, was there anything like that before Clubhouse?


Clark: So, there have been a few other apps. There's one called Gather. Their URL is I quite like it actually. It's based on proximity chat technology, where you have a little avatar and you can walk around and you can overhear conversations that are going on at the same time. But there have been quite a few moves towards this in the last few years. You can be certain that Facebook and Twitter have seen this coming. The reason they haven't moved first is it is a little bit risky. How do you moderate live chat? Do their customers really want it? Is this going to move the needle for a $100 billion revenue company like Facebook? Maybe, maybe not. So, Clubhouse has been the first to take a plunge with it in a big way, but there have been, I suppose, some more experimental approaches to conversational apps. And I think Facebook and Twitter have been waiting in the wings to see how this goes.


Will: Yes. And they obviously look to be launching their own versions of it. Twitter are trying the spaces product and Facebook look to be working on something as well. Hello, a quick reminder from me that if you're enjoying our podcast series, why not become a member of the DMI so that you can enjoy loads more content from webinars and case studies to toolkits and more real-life insights from the world of digital marketing. Head to, sign up for free. Now, back to the podcast. Have any companies or brands used Clubhouse in an effective way so far that you've seen?


Clark: As always, it depends on what we mean by effective because a lot of people, when we start talking about these things, and actually, I say a lot of people, I'm projecting, it's probably what I would do is I might describe an instance where a brand has built some engagement on Clubhouse and then someone would say, "Well, yeah, but what's the value of that?" I mean, there was a conversation and it disappeared, what really happened afterwards and maybe not a huge amount, but what brands are doing so far is they are able to, I suppose, have a little bit of that halo effect of they can host events with influential people and they get some residual benefit off the back of it. So, they act as the facilitator. And I think, I mean, personally, in my working experience in different places, in different societies and different cultures, we have different ways of understanding the value of that, of facilitating rather than being the one on stage. You know, the one that's the headline act and rather being that mediator, someone that...I mean, personally, in my experience, it was where I thought people in New York professionally really understood the importance of that. If I can connect you with someone else, somewhere along the line, I'm going to look good. You're going to remember that I facilitated this, and brands that are doing this well are doing that. They aren't just trying to get on the panel so they can bombastically talk about their disruptive new app, new paradigm, or whatever way they want to put it, they're hosting it, they're bringing people together, and they're letting them get on with the conversation and then they can moderate and they can ask questions and that sort of thing. But it tends to be companies that already think about publishing in quite an enlightened way that have been involved on Clubhouse. Otherwise, it's people, and I've seen this on Twitter people discussing it, it's marketing teams trying to use it like a corporate conference. So, they're asking where can I get my CEO on a panel alongside Elon Musk? And that does, I mean, if it works great, you will get some value out of it, but it cheapens the whole thing. And I don't think it's what people are interested in. They don't want to drop into that room. They'll hit leave quietly pretty quickly.


Will: Yeah. But like you say, it's about niches, isn't it? So, I mean, yeah, if you kind of just try to hit the big rooms and just pimp out your CEO to those rooms, I can't see that being very successful whereas if you are, let's say a motorbike manufacturing brand, for instance, I think having your kind of head of product design just personally go and join motorbiking forums and talking about, you know, I don't know what the future of motorbike design, I mean, that seems to me to be quite an authentic or organic way to better engage with the community of the most passionate people around what you do. And I mean, I say this and as I'm saying I think, well, this is what we should have been doing and this is how we should have been using social media all along. We didn't. We just turned up and spewed out our promotional material thinking that that was what would move some, you know, numbers. But I think that that would be a good way for people to use it. I mean, if a listener is thinking now, okay, what is my Clubhouse strategy? You know, gun to your head, you know, you've got 10 seconds to think about it. What would be your generic off-the-shelf Clubhouse strategy for your average brand right now?


Clark: It's similar to what people do effectively when it comes to, even if you think about digital marketing events and the way that you get to meet people at those. Yes, of course, you can, you know, follow your passions and personally, that's obviously a good thing to do. On the professional side, if you can combine those two things in some way, it will help you go an awful lot further. You mentioned a good example there with something like, you know, motorbike manufacturer. The challenge is if you've got a CEO of the company who got into it because he saw a business opportunity and he's from a banking background and he's not interested, it's not going to come across as very authentic. And maybe you just don't go into these situations if you're passionate about it. I remember talking about this at SEO agencies, said, there's not much point in us turning up to events with just our salespeople because yeah, they're better at closing the deals, there's no doubt about that, but these things are about building long-term connections. Actually, most importantly, it's about respecting the intelligence of your audience enough to think they can join the dots themselves. If I turn up and I'm just having enlightened conversations with people, I'm interested, I'm listening to them, they're going to think, okay, this person's actually interested in this. And then later on, there might be a business opportunity off the back of it. We don't like that. We want to turn up with the salespeople in sharp suits with the business cards ready to close the deal. And people run a mile when they see it coming.


Will: But again, to map that to how we behave in social, you know, when people turn up and they just genuinely want to discuss a passion and get really into the detail of that, it deepens people's passion around your products and generate more awareness. I mean, that's what we're all supposed to be doing, I think, in the social spaces.


Clark: But I mean, we are. I think the other side of this because we can, I suppose, be a little utopian about these things sometimes. The great unknown with Clubhouse and the really important thing that I'm keeping a close eye on is how it designs a platform that nurtures and grows these kinds of niche communities organically. The concern with this always is that it congeals into a similar hierarchy that already exists on Twitter and on Facebook and you allow the same biases to be entrenched and solidified. So, you get the same blokes talking about the same tech bro topics. And yes, there are people who want to hear about this hustle culture and so on, but you're losing a large part of the audience. And I think the concern with that from Clubhouse's perspective is it doesn't give it any real defensive moat, so to speak, against Facebook and Twitter just building the same product and taking people across, but they have to actively design for that kind of interaction. If they leave things to go just in their normal way, they will form back into those kinds of networks. Because when you go onto Clubhouse, it's reading your Twitter to see who you're connected to. It's already trying to build you back into that network and piggyback off that, which is entirely understandable. But unless it builds in incentives for people to interact in those kind of long-tail discussions, the way that someone like Spotify or Amazon has been able to do with their recommender system and bring a thriving ecosystem to life of smaller group discussions, what you'll find is those little discussions that you or I might go to, well, then, the CEO has a look at it and says, "Hold on. There were only three people in that room. Don't waste your time." And at some point, they do have a bit of a point there.


So, you don't need thousands and thousands of people in these discussions all the time, but you do need platform design that allows that to happen. If they're just shunted to the bottom because they're not as popular or they don't get as many likes immediately, I think you'll just see another version of Instagram happening on there. And it's one reason people love Tik Tok, anyone with just the right video can get millions of views because the algorithm looks for that kind of interaction and generation. If Clubhouse is looking for genuine interaction and if it looks at that as a metric, maybe it'll start building up more of that kind of ecosystem. So, that would be my concern with it.


Will: Yeah. True, good point. You know, Tik Tok did open those existing hierarchies, anybody can become famous overnight there, whereas it feels to me like Clubhouse is even more Twitter than Twitter in some ways, you know? It's certainly a crystallization of that audience. And unfortunately, they don't seem to make it very easy for you to find things that align with your broader personal interests. You can tell it specifically what you're into when you sign up or just in your settings, but it's quite hard I find to populate your feed with the stuff that you want. So, I don't think they've quite cracked discovery just yet.


Clark: Yeah. And I think one of the big challenges with it as well is obviously audio as a media format. I mentioned a little bit about how people like Twitter would always have known that conversations happen all the naughtier way in the real world. They're well aware of that. They spend a lot of time thinking about these things. But think of the challenges they already have policing people when it comes to text and images are nightmare. Videos are really difficult, but they're getting better tools over time and YouTube spending a fortune trying to get that right, but you're always going to be chasing your tail. Clubhouse has had some big issues already because a lot of conversations descend into the same old nonsense we see elsewhere. And quite often, those sensationalist things are popular. So, if you've got an algorithm that's looking for engagement, then you start promoting some of these as well. Conspiracy theories have been quite popular in some quarters on there. And there's a bit of a running joke going about, you know, any conversation, it could be about gardening, if it's on Clubhouse, it will descend into Bitcoin and Tesla millionaire boasting about their shares and you can't really avoid that. And it's very difficult for Clubhouse to police that level of content.


Will: It is audio and it's live, I mean, those two factors make it incredibly hard to moderate, don't they?


Clark: Yeah. And people have been asking me, actually, the question I've been asked more than any other, is what will they do with all of this data? What will Clubhouse do with it? Will they be able to process it live? Will they be able to create their own transcripts so they can see what trends are happening? You know, they say they delete them at the end of the conversation, but there's no way they would let a rich source of information like this go by the wayside. I mean, does that become the basis of an advertising model once they get to the stage where the pressure comes on? And even with these startups, with the VC runway they have, at some stage, they need to make some money and show that this can be profitable. And do they start looking at that user data as a way of doing that, of understanding what product development, but also advertising opportunities. What are people talking about? What are the hot button issues? Who would pay to have that data? And I don't know that people are opting into that when they go on to Clubhouse in a conscious way at the very least.


Will: How are they going to make money? Have we got any sense of that at the moment? Because it's totally free. There's no ads at the moment, so there's no revenue currently.


Clark: I mean, they're testing a few things at the moment that look likely to go live in the near future. One of them is tipping people. So, if you enjoy their room, you can you know, buy them a coffee or whatever. The other one, and this is understandable, and I actually hosted a webinar about Clubhouse yesterday and we were talking about this sponsorship of rooms. Now, it's a little bit, well, like any area of business actually, but I often think about art galleries and the like. And think of how much as I enjoy them and I'll pay to go to them, you do think sometimes another Picasso Retrospective, what is it now? A Blue Period or is it going to be cubism? Because they're sponsored by huge companies and they want what's going to bring the punters in. And I think if you have big sponsorship of these rooms, say a big bank is sponsoring a room, they're going to have some topics they want discussed, some things they don't want discussed in there, and it starts to shape things as well, but it incentivizes Clubhouse to direct people towards those rooms. So then, the whole niche part of it I think dies a little bit. And the reason I'm so interested in that isn't just because, well, personally, I think it's important that these conversations happen and so on. Yeah. I mean, I do think that, but I also think for the survival prospects of Clubhouse, it's really, really important that retentive behavior of people coming back is dependent on having those little conversations, more niche topics, people being involved. So, if their monetization strategy so far is okay, tipping, yeah, you can do that pretty quickly. Take a better commission off that. It's not going to get back the $100 million they've already spent on development in tip commissions, unless people have changed markedly after the pandemic, you know, tips won't do it. Room sponsorships, short-term might work, but it could also kill off a lot of the ecosystem and the kind of free speech that people tend to have at the moment for all its positives and negatives.


So, then you do start looking at advertising as more of a thing that they could do. I mean, we know that having unique data is a massive source of fuel for that engine and audio data is not something people have monetized particularly well. The first two things I've mentioned are more concrete, this is a little more speculative, but it does bring us back to that point of people being privacy-conscious. I wouldn't trust Facebook with my audio data. I think we all, if someone said join a live conversation on Facebook and it's going to be hosted by a bank, I think not a chance because we're all quite wary of them. I don't think we're suspicious of someone like Clubhouse because they haven't given us reason to be yet but you do wonder a little bit further on how you opt in to a conversation.


Will: Indeed, indeed. Well, that's really interesting to think about Clubhouse and yeah, hopefully, our listeners get the chance to get stuck in there and see what they can make of it and get involved with things that might interest them and find interesting ways perhaps to, I don't know, market their business. I'd be interested to see how that develops. More broadly thinking about how, you know, the digital landscape is becoming more audio friendly, you talk about, you know, voice assistance, what are the kind of technology developments are driving this blossoming of audio in recent times?


Clark: The biggest thing from my point of view, it's a narrow point of view I'm aware and I'm sure broader minds will think of other things, but it's the fact that we are increasingly able to use computers to understand and serve audio content to people. It has all existed. It's always been there. What we've seen with someone like Spotify is that they've been able to develop systems to understand music and recommend new songs to you. So, it used to be the case that whatever was played on the radio, that's what we would listen to at home. It would be pumped out to us on the radios and then we'd go and buy the CD and then we'd play it at home. And there are some great studies that show the very direct correlation, let's say, between those two things. In the age of Spotify. Actually what we listen to at home is wildly different to what we hear when we're listening to the radio, whether we're out somewhere or in the car. And it's because they've been able to understand and recommend new music to us that we might be interested in. Now, Google has been starting to, I suppose, index audio content, it has been doing it for years. It's definitely been trialing it for at least five years. It's difficult though. That's the big challenge people have. They know this as an untapped source of potential digital wealth for them, but they're trying to serve up. You might see podcasts coming up in search results already. What they want to do is start cutting right down to the clips that might be interesting to you. So, you search for something quite specific, you want to know the horsepower of a certain car model, and it will find you the point of a podcast that discusses that exact thing and serve it to you in search.


Will: So, do we think they're transcribing and indexing the content of podcasts?


Clark: Yeah, that's exactly what they're trying to do. And it's a little bit like when we saw up indexing a good few years ago where we just thought Google doesn't index apps, it doesn't really happen. And then eventually, they were able to do it and serve content up direct from apps and mobile search results. Now, it's starting to do that a little bit in search with audio. There's an app called Podz, P-O-D-Z, which is essentially doing that. We'll see if someone like a Google or Facebook ends up buying a sort of company like that or if it ends up just copying the technology. But the idea is to automatically break up podcasts into chapters and serve up just little bits of information that might be relevant to people. Because if you think about the audio discovery experience online at the moment, and however these intrepid people found this episode themselves will maybe know, it's not exactly as good as when you're searching for the answer to a specific question or even you're just looking for entertainment on social media. Go on Tik Tok, and it will pretty quickly understand you and serve you videos that you like. For me, animals and Simpsons stuff, it just serves me that over and over again on and it knows I'll keep coming back for it. But audio-wise, I have to know what I'm looking for to find it. There isn't that exploratory side to it. And it's because the technology struggles to understand, parse, serve up that content very quickly, but it's improving and it's tied directly to the boom that we're seeing at the moment.


Will: Yeah. Thanks for the recommendation of Podz. We talked about this in preparation for the podcast of the day inside. I installed Podz on my phone and I really like it actually. It was really nice because like you say, basically, what it does is it just serves up, so I think 30-second or minute-long very short bits of lots of different podcasts, like a real kind of buffet, a pick-and-mix. And when you hear something you like, you can just kind of click like, and then that kind of, you know, you can basically go back and subscribe to those podcasts. And it's a really nice way to discover them to dip into them. And it's actually made me discover...I've already discovered new podcasts and actually I've already discovered podcasts I knew existed, but I'd assumed I wasn't interested in as well. And just being sort of forced to listen to a bit of them. It was nice. It was like listening to, you know, BBC Radio or something like that, where you just turn it on Radio 4 and you actually do, you know, something like "In Our Time" will come on about, and it will be a kind of exploration of, you know, a Roman Emperor's lifetime and you think, "Oh, okay." But then you start listening and it's not really interesting because you're just forced to and you're in the car or something. And I think that, I mean, we've been banging on for years that we've been missing that kind of serendipity and discovery of just basically having things forced on us that we all fondly remember, as you know, in the pre-internet age. That's kind of a good thing.


Clark: Netflix now has a TV channel in France. People have missed that. They want someone to do the scheduling for them. My partner was saying to me yesterday, she'd been reading somewhere with someone saying they're frustrated that they've now become their own head of programming, that they have to fill their own TV channel every night of new content for themselves. And they just want to go back to someone else doing it for them. You know, even if it was AI-assisted and they know you and they create a schedule for you, that would be much better. And yeah, Netflix is now doing a proper TV channel in France, which we just wouldn't have seen coming in a couple of years ago. We think people just want this, there's choice and they want to go out and do it for themselves, well, they need a bit of assistance. I mean, you mentioned "In Our Time" podcast, it's funny I always end up listening to that one because I know it and whatever topic it's talking about, I know I'll be interested in. So, it frustrates me though, because I'll think at night, I just listened to something and I always go back to "In Our Time" because where do you start? If I just want to learn about a Roman Emperor's life, do I just search, and I do, do I just search on Spotify, Roman Emperor's life? What's that going to bring up? You know, it doesn't bring anything to me.


Will: You're right. And the discovery thing hasn't been cracked, and that is an issue. And, you know, I do a lot to do with podcasting and I've, you know, helped advise people on that and it's hard. And that's one of the big questions I get asked a lot is, "Okay, that's how to make a podcast, that's great, how do you get people listening to it?" And there's no kind of simple answer. It's a multifaceted answer and part of it is just about building and building over time. If you look at any popular podcast, it took them often years to get to where they were. Even if you look at breakout successes, like "Serial" was the first really big one, you know, but that didn't come out of nowhere, that came out of an existing, very successful podcast studio that produce "This American Life." And, you know, it's hard, behind every success is often years of graft. And I do think the discovery bit just isn't quite there yet. You're right. And so, it's interesting to hear what you say about Google indexing their content because Google has been doing that with YouTube videos for a while, hasn't it now? And similarly, when you search for answer to something, it can serve up a specific segment of a YouTube video because it's transcribed the video, so it's turned into text, it understands what's in it, and it's indexed it just like it does with written content and has done, you know, for a quarter of a century nearly. So, yeah, I think that's definitely the future, but I suppose, you know, if listeners are thinking, do I launch a podcast? I mean, it might sound like a silly question. Is it too late? Are we really behind the curve now?


Clark: I don't actually think so. I think the way a lot of people go into it is probably like I've gone into it in the past where you think, yeah, I'll actually do a podcast. I have some interesting chats. I could put those up. It's people or businesses that have a really clear idea of the structure of the podcast and what they would like it to convey that can do really well. And I think of an American insurance company I was working with, it must have been about 18 months ago and they were going to launch a podcast. I did think, "Who's going to listen to this?" I mean, I always understand within companies, people think this'll be great. And I knew the guy that was going to host it and he was an insurance guy, but you know, very charismatic, a good guy I thought. He has the potter for a podcast, but what they did was they had a very clear structure to it, and it was something like my 10-minute story. And what they talked about was people who had left a comfortable job and a business to go and start their own thing, whether it was as freelancer or start their own business doing whatever they were doing before. And it was about giving these people 10 minutes and he would do a bit of chat and ask them a few questions. And they went from just not being heard of at all and being a small insurance company to one of the top 10 business podcasts on Apple straight after launch. It just really struck a nerve with people that were really interested in it. And it was all branded and they talked about the business and they were often customers that they were dealing with and they were talking about how they'd been helped, but there were human stories that people were interested in.


And the structure of it was really clear. You knew what you were going to get. If it's just another podcast that is, you know, business are with so-and-so, there are so many of those out there. The hard thing is choosing what not to do as much as choosing what to do and just sticking to it. And they've kept that going for quite a while and it's been really popular, but the lesson from it was, yeah, of course, you know, having a good host and so on as you know, Will, but also being really clear with what you were going to give people, what can I expect? Why should I sign up to this? But there's still room for it. You know, people are listening to more and more podcasts, like we've been talking about, there are new discovery platforms to help people find new content. If you're striking the right nerve, I think there's still a good chance to get in front of people today.


Will: Yeah. I mean, that's a really good example you used there. And I think all you need is an angle, you know, it's like any editorial strategy, it's having a real distinct angle, a distinct flavor, and then, yeah, having people internally who are good speakers is obviously the other bit of the puzzle. And then you're pretty much there because the production is pretty easy, the syndication is really easy nowadays, far is than it certainly was a few years ago. You know, you can just sign up to a free platform like Anchor as this podcast is syndicated through Anchor, it's totally free, and it puts your podcasts in all the right places on all the platforms and apps. And particularly, in niches, people still haven't got enough good podcasts to listen to. I just think, yeah, you've gotta be realistic, you're never going to knock Joe Rogan off the top of the world podcast charts or something like that. You know, you're never going to compete with people like him and Louis LaRue and all the other people that are at top of those iTunes charts at the moment. But that's not the point, the point just like with Clubhouse and with anything I think is to really connect with the people that are the most into what you do. You know, if you're marketing to everyone, you're marketing to no one. So, it's all about finding your audience and having a meaningful conversation with them. And I don't see how that can go wrong. The other thing I also tell people as well, I think it's a really important bit of advice is do it in seasons. So, if it's a bit of a daunting prospect, then you don't have to just launch podcast and then you're, you know, pinned to the wall and you have to produce something every week. You can just do an initial season of five episodes, maybe around a theme or not, and then see how it goes. And then you can do season two, like a year later or six months later, you know, and it really takes the pressure off, but allow yourself the room to create something that's decent, that's worthwhile, that's worth listening to, and that really is for that niche audience that you, you know, should be a voice in.


Clark: And that you can, like you say, sustainably keep creating the same level of content. People need to know what to expect. Having that consistency is really, really important, and I think, especially with audio. We talk about tone of voice in brand copy. We have expectations and we talk about customer expectations being the same, you know, they don't see it as SEO versus PPC and so on. And you know, that's true. You do need that consistency, but brand voice in that sense is quite metaphorical. The brand voice is quite difficult to discern quite often. Yeah, you maybe know that it's Burberry talking versus TK Maxx or something, no offense to the latter, but you'd know it was a little bit different from the adjectives they use or whatever. But when someone speaks, they give away so much more, there's so much in it. You know, think about the people you know, and how much of their personality is in the way that they speak, the way they communicate with you verbally. And when you're listening to a brand, I think that's what needs to come across as well. So, if you're doing a podcast, you want it to be memorable. You know, if people are listening to this and they're not seeing your brand name, how are they going to know it's you? It doesn't have to be plastering or advertising, but it is that kind of tone of voice that comes through. Are they a brand that wants to be a trusted partner? I would imagine it's something along those lines. Well, do you get the right people involved in the podcast to convey that message? Same applies for brands. If they start thinking, our podcasts could show up in search results, people could search for our brand and bits of our podcasts could show up, we need to make sure that we're happy with what's going up there. You know, it's not just about being entertaining or whatever or getting audiences on Spotify, it's about brand presence everywhere. Audio could pop up in search, in social, it could be on Clubhouse, and you need to monitor all of that and make sure it's consistent as well.


Will: Yeah, absolutely. You're right. You know, and I think, within your marketing mix, it's a unique opportunity for people to actually hear from the people in your brand. There's nothing more intimate than, you know, a lot of people listen to podcast. I mean, personally, I mostly listen to podcasts in bed. So, if you're in my feed, if your podcast is in my feed, I'm listening to you at quite an intimate time. You know, I'm lying there in my bed, all cozy, you know, ready to go to sleep and you're in my head, you're actually in my headphones. You know, that's incomparable to be in a newsletter or in an inbox or a social post on LinkedIn in my view. I think the main thing, the main takeaway for anyone listening to this is what do you know about, what value can you impart on people outside of your four walls they might not know about, you know, the thing that you do know about. Like, there's one another example I use from a provider of SaaS, software-as-a-service, provider called ProfitWell, and basically, they help you run subscriptions. It's a piece of software you can put on your website and you can sell subscriptions and things. And their podcast is about how to grow subscription-based businesses. And that's all they talk about because they know loads about it. They don't try and be a cool, you know, sexy, interested in kind of, I don't know, general podcast about commerce or about money or anything, and in those kind of bigger, more mainstream topics, they talk about the ins and outs of like recurring revenue. Do you know what I mean? But to the right people, that is pure catnip. It's perfect and it brings them in. It alienates most people, it excludes most people, and that's totally fine. That is its job. Because to the people that are right, they're just drawn to it like a moth to a flame. And the ones that aren't already customers are increasingly likely to become customers. Those that are our customers are kept more loyal and made to feel more like part of the family. So, yeah, I'm obviously, I'm a podcast host, so I'm a huge proponent of podcasts, but I think that, you know, how can that strategy not work?


Clark: Yeah. I think, we do speak a lot know, I just speak a lot I'm sure, people are starting to think at this stage of the podcast, but we do speak a lot about speaking and what we need to say and how we need to communicate ourselves. And although it's a bit of a blithe and cliche thing to say, I would say we undervalue actually listening. So, as a company, first of all, when you're researching, obviously, listening to people and what's popular out there and so on, but I also mean turning your audio experiences is maybe the point of something like Clubhouse and why it exists is to try and bring people into the fore a little bit, bring your audience onto the stage, they call it in Clubhouse. You know, who wants to come onto the stage? And that's meant to be the idea behind it. And there is a bit more of a shift towards that where people want to not just ask questions, but be involved in a conversation with brands, and brands that know how to encourage that, but also listen to what they hear and change things and adapt going forward will do an awful lot better. And I think that's an untapped part of all of this. You know, the idea with the podcast is often, what can I say? What can I get out there? And that needs to be a big part of it, of course. But if we're listening a little bit more closely, I would say my Clubhouse experience has been the people that are popular on there right now, maybe it's why they're popular, but they're not doing a whole lot of listening. They are doing lot of talking. A lot of people who, and again, people at this stage of the podcast will think, a bit rich coming from you, sir, but a lot of people in love with the sound of their own voice who just want to get their opinions out there and they want to broadcast. And I would like to think there's a future for brands and people, you know, more generally, I suppose the two are the same thing, listening a little bit more and getting people involved and having people build the brand, so to speak, using their content, not just making it about what can our brand say to everyone, how can we, I suppose, have a conversation with people?


Will: Indeed, indeed. I think that is the way to think about all of this stuff, is very much try and keep it as a conversation with your audience, with your flock, you know? Well, thanks, Clark. That's all we've got time for really. That's a really interesting look at the explosion of audio, and digital, and social media spaces. And it will be interesting to see how that develops. And who knows? It may be something that we talk about again in the future, because I think there's a lot of change yet to emerge and erupt in this space for sure. Just remind our listeners where they can find you online if they want to seek you out and gain even more of your fabulous insights.


Clark: You can find me pretty easily on Twitter if you just look for Clark Boyd. I think I'm the only one on there. Same applies for LinkedIn. But my newsletter, hi, tech., H-I-T-E-C-H, is on Substack and you'll see links on all my social media profiles going there as well. I write a Will was saying, I've pinned myself to the wall with a weekly newsletter. Now, on edition 75, so you can have a look on there as well.


Will: Thanks very much, Clark.


Clark: Thanks, Will.


Will: See you.


Clark: Bye.


Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to Thanks for listening.

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Clark Boyd
Clark Boyd

Clark Boyd is CEO and founder of marketing simulations company Novela. He is also a digital strategy consultant, author, and trainer. Over the last 12 years, he has devised and implemented international marketing strategies for brands including American Express, Adidas, and General Motors.

Today, Clark works with business schools at the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, and Columbia University to design and deliver their executive-education courses on data analytics and digital marketing. 

Clark is a certified Google trainer and runs Google workshops across Europe and the Middle East. This year, he has delivered keynote speeches at leadership events in Latin America, Europe, and the US. You can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Slideshare. He writes regularly on Medium and you can subscribe to his email newsletter, hi, tech.

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