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thoughtbot's Smashingly Successful Podcast Strategy with Lindsey Christensen

Podcasts aren't actually as new as we all tend to think. In fact, audioblogging has been around since the 1980s. But, podcasts as we know them, you know the one's we've been downloading and listening to on our digital devices over the years, have been around since the early 2000's.

And this might surprise you, but brands have actually been very successful at harnessing the power of podcasting for much longer than the past few years. Just ask our guest from today's episode, Lindsey Christensen, Chief Marketing Officer at thoughtbot and host of the show Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots, which has been alive and smashing for EIGHT years.

As a veteran brand of podcasting, thoughtbot has seen tremendous success with their efforts and used their podcasts in a variety of ways to create content, reach their audience, and even recruit new talent. Since starting Giant Robots, they've expanded their podcasting efforts into three shows that each serves a unique and powerful purpose for the overall brand. So what’s their secret to success?

Listen in to this episode, as Lindsey gives us a behind-the-scenes look at thoughtbot’s podcast strategy and shares how the shows have evolved, how and why she has prioritized podcasting since joining the company just a couple of years ago, and how it (you know… the robot one) got such an incredible name.

Digging into Key Takeaways

In each episode, we like to highlight the key takeaways from each show. Think of it as a podcast outline or live show notes. Here are just a few of the takeaways that really stood out to us in Lindsey's episode.

The fight for your audience's attention

In today’s climate, reaching an audience for your show is much more of a battle than it was in early podcasting stages. Your target audience is being bombarded with all forms of content distractions and other podcast competitors as well. Don’t let the fight get you down. Take what your audience’s demands for their content and center your show around those needs. You’ll come out on top rather than waving the flag of surrender.

Podcasts as a recruiting tool  

Podcasting can help attract talent in addition to brands and customers. By releasing targeted content you can assist in the recruitment of the workforce for your own brand. Establishing your brand as experts in a certain space can go a long way in being an attractive company to work for and in recruiting young - and more experienced - talent.

Making the goal to create valuable content

It can be hard not to have your eyes stuck on the goal of creating the crème de la crème podcast episode. Wanting to have every element of the show be perfect can become overwhelming to not only your stress levels but your audience when tuning in. Rather shift your goals to create a podcast that is engaging and valuable. Both your audience and doctor will appreciate it much more.

Advice for marketers thinking about brand podcasts

First, it’s important that you don’t attempt a brand podcast half-heartedly. Be prepared to allocate the resources necessary to help your budding podcast grow and succeed. Also, don't forget how important good hosts are! Podcasts are all about connecting with your audience - without compelling hosts, that won’t happen. Lastly, think about the types of stories and guests your podcast is sharing. Are you showcasing diverse perspectives from people with different backgrounds and experiences?

Interested in more from Lindsey Christensen?

Check out the Lindsey on Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots here and her speak on Startup Boston's Virtual Marketing Bootcamp on How to Make Podcasting Work For You, below.

Interested in skimming through the entire episode? Access the full transcript below.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Podcasting has been around for about 15 years now. Did you know that? Some of the brands that jumped into the podcasting game early are still publishing great shows today. The Salesforce Marketing Cloudcast is one example that we covered here early in this podcast in the past and HubSpot's Growth Show is another one that we'll dig into later in this season. But there's another brand podcast that you've got to know about if you don't already because it wins both for longevity and for show title. Are you curious? Well, that's good because you should be. I'm Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO and co- founder of Casted, the first and the only marketing platform built for branded podcasts and this is our podcast. Here in season for of the Casted podcast I'm talking to business and marketing leaders about their brand podcasts. Look beyond how they're publishing a great show, although that's great information, but we're zooming out to understand what that show really means for the businesses and the brands behind them and the roles they play in their branded marketing strategies all together. You are going to love today's conversation with Lindsey Christensen and not just because you're going to get a double dose of Lindsay's in podcasting, although you're welcome, but it's because Lindsey is CMO of thoughtbot and host of the show Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots, which has been alive and smashing for eight years. Lindsey shares how the show has evolved, how and why she has prioritized it since joining the company just a couple of years ago and how it got such an incredible name.

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: My name's Lindsey Christensen, I am the chief marketing officer at thoughtbot. We're a product design and development consultancy so we help people make great new software and apps or improve existing software they have. I'm the cohost of one of our podcasts called Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots and we actually have two other podcasts, as I mentioned right now. One called Tentative and one called The Bike Shed. We've had some others so a big culture of podcasting.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: That's great. Well that's, I mean, that's a beautiful place to start. Not new to podcasting, neither is your company. How and when did it start?

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: I'll tell you the myths I've heard because the podcasts predate my time at thoughtbot. thoughtbot's been around for 17 years or so and I would say they've been podcasting since before it was cool. I think the first one was started in 2012 and was Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots. So it's been around for eight years and had kind of different lives, definitely different hosts, different topics. But it starts because at thoughtbot our purpose is actually there's always a better way to work and our job is to find it and to share it with as many people as possible and our work being product development, product design. So we also have a really popular blog, we've had video series and podcasting was another channel and at the time an emerging channel to kind of live that out. Like what's another way we can be continuously sharing what we're learning with our audience?

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Yeah and that's interesting because depending on who you talk to a lot of people feel like podcasting, I think everyone kind of knows podcast is not new but that the whole idea of podcasting on behalf of your brand or podcasting in general, everybody has a podcast now that is new. It's this new movement.

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: Mm- hmm( affirmative).

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: I feel like what's happening now, it's a new wave and we're at the beginning of a whole lot of stuff that's happening but man, 2012 it was emerging then but obviously not new enough that it was some wild and crazy idea. It was something that was like, " Hey, we should do this thing." Tell me your perspective on kind of how things have changed and give me your vantage point.

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: Well I think things have certainly changed in terms of how easy it is to access the audience because there are so many podcasts around. I think back when the podcast was started, it certainly was probably one of the only product and development podcasts at the time so it was like, if you were interested in that and you liked the medium of podcasting then you were listening to our podcasts. So in a way it was simpler back then to reach a really large audience and things have gotten a lot more kind of competitive right now as podcast owners or hosts were very much in this fight for attention from our audience. And it's not just from other podcasts, right? It's like-


LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN:People have never been more distracted, whether it's blog posts or articles or books or podcasts or Tweets. We're in the age of now like micro content is where it's at because it's so hard to get people's attention. In a way it's really pushed good podcasts to become even better because the audience can just demand a lot more from you. Everything from audio quality to the actual content, the customer is king. I think right now folks are looking to jump into podcasts. There's a lot more to consider, like you have to make sure... This is an investment. That it's worth making for you. For me, so coming in two and a half years ago to thoughtbot, obviously I hadn't started the podcast but as the CMO I was definitely in a position to say, " This isn't something that makes sense for us anymore." But I didn't. The reason is one of the most important parts of our brand is not just that we make great products, really high quality, have really senior developers know their stuff, which we do all of that but they actually love the people. They love working with the individual thoughtbotters. And they like learning from them and being mentored and the fact that we are very inclusive and kind of fun and positive. It's a very personal thing. Thinking as a CMO about how do you actually bring that to life for people who haven't experienced it yet, podcasting is a great way to do that.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Absolutely. It's humanizing.

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: It's incredibly humanizing and it's not instead of, it's not either or because you mentioned all the other great content you're doing, too, which is really super important but it serves a different role, plays a different part. It appeals to people in different ways. One of the reasons I love podcasting is literally everyone who's listening to us right now, listening to our conversation, they're in on what we're talking about and they're able to kind of eavesdrop in on this talk that we're having and that's very, it's intimate, it's personal and it's very humanizing.

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: Mm- hmm( affirmative).

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA:From your perspective, why have you gone on to say, " Yep, this is continuing to be a priority," and where does it fit in y our priorities as a CMO?

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: I think for us there's two pretty clearcut ways that it fits in at the highest level of marketing strategy. One is the concept of bringing the brand to life and building brand affinity so creating these, what feel like to the audience, personal relationships. These are my friends, my podcast friends. I feel like anyone who really loves a podcast, you feel like they're your friends, right?


LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: Chuckling at the inside jokes and things like that.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: So that personal relationship and the ability, again thinking about that fight for attention in the marketplace, that is unbelievable the amount of kind of mind space that you're able to get with that.


LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: That's one and I think one bucket is around also clients and potential clients, like can we nurture an audience that's going to want to work with us who will use our services? Then the other big bucket, which actually the two podcasts that I don't host, Tentative and The Bike Shed kind of fall into are actually more around recruitment. So Tentative is focused on product designers and Bike Shed is for product developers so like a much more technical podcast. We, here in tech it's impossible to hire senior engineers.


LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: It's a very competitive market.


LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: One thing we've actually hit on is that these folks listen to our podcasts and we've gotten amazing people that we've added to the team and I mean, we go through like a year where we'll be looking to find one role and it'll turn out that they are real big fans of the podcast so that's a huge win. That's another really interesting aspect of it.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: You touched on different shows that serve different purposes for different audiences but talk more about that and how the strategic role that these shows play. There's kind of the content strategy side and how we're going to appeal to these audiences but what are you hoping to get out of the shows as a C- level executive at your company?

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: To put it really plainly, clients and new hires. If we were to boil it down to how are these podcasts paying it back to the business. That said, honestly we give the podcasts a lot of breathing room.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: I think some of this is the luxury of seeing how they perform over the years, which again, for someone new starting a new podcasts there's a lot of unknowns. You're going to have to give it a fair amount of time to understand if these things start to pay back. As having the luxury of seeing that, seeing that it does turn into clients, that it does turn into people joining the team we kind of just take the podcasts with those North Stars, if you will, and then kind of let them live and are like, " Let's create really good content, let's make it really valuable to the audience, let's try to engage the audience," and then as we have specific sub strategies and campaigns happening over in a different area we're then kind of reaching for the podcasts as channels that we can leverage. So for example, if I have a marketing strategy that is around like we're going to focus on specific industry this year, let's say. So we're going to create some content, we're going to go talk at some events, we're going to partner with some influencers and then we're like, " Okay how are the podcasts going to fit in?" It's like, well I think on the Bike Shed maybe we could do this technical deep dive around this industry. For Giant Robots, which is more about the business of software and entrepreneurship, we could actually... Let's invite on some people that we want to work with, so more of an account based marketing tactic. Then let's use those episodes and send them to other accounts that we're targeting or let's do a paid social campaign where we're promoting those specific audiences, those specific episodes to this target industry. It's kind of, they're operating on their own and then they're being kind of reached for, pulled into other strategic campaigns.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: I love that. I think far too often I see podcasts over here on their own little island and it's like, " Well here's our content strategy that's all about search engine optimization and writing and blog," but then over here on this island is the podcast and you don't ever see each other touch each other. It's two completely different things but I love that they're fueling each other. So you have your overall, " This is our big initiative, how do we loop in the podcast?" Then also, " How do we use the podcast to fuel that initiative?"


LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: I like how you're doing that. Is that something that you're doing for all your shows or do you find it's more for the Giant Robots?

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: I definitely, I think Giant Robots by the nature of the audience definitely gets pulled into that more but we do it with all the podcasts and again, for us it's a nice way of operating instead of being like, the podcasts are serving these goals and every week and every episode we're hyper focused on those goals. I think it would end up ruining the content to be honest but having the goal of just creating something valuable and engaging and then when there's opportunity, doing this crossover promo or content seems to work really well.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Podcasting, I've found, provides an interesting and really cool in my opinion ability to do that through content. So you, as a marketer can, in theory, go to engineers and product leaders and ask them questions as opposed to trying to write to them which is also a great, as we mentioned, blogging is a great channel, too but to just have a conversation-

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: You mean as far as like, interviewing?

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Yeah, exactly.

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: I have to say, one of the reasons I love hosting Giant Robots is because every episode is market research. I'm like, " What's important to you and what was your challenge and then what happened and what was holding you back and what got you excited about this?" It makes for an interesting episode and then it's also just like, fueling everything else I do in the day. I go back to my desk like, excited about all these new ideas.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Absolutely. I mean yes, it is firsthand knowledge that is research but it's also, you get the emotion behind it and you get the personality behind it and I'm there with you. I agree, it's incredible. Then you can share that with your audience.

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: So speaking of like, iterations and life cycles of Giant Robots, we actually, we did a major change this year. I forgot, it might have kicked off in March but we started planning it in January. For the last two or so years we were doing interview based, one off interview every time, mostly with entrepreneur or another kind of products leader, community leader in an entrepreneurial space. Then the interviews started feeling a little bit, not repetitive because everyone's story was unique and interesting but because we had to start with foundational questions-


LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: We were starting to get, as hosts, a little frustrated that we weren't getting enough or there was no continuity and my cohosts and I were actually completely separated off, just like completely switching off episodes essentially. This year we sat down and thought about what can we do to iterate on some of the things we were viewing as challenges or potentially holding us back? So this year we've switched it up to do a startup series where we're following three founders, three groups of founders across the whole year. Each month we dig into, together, it's cohost, we'll have a one on one episode just us where we talk about our perspectives on startup topic and then we'll go and revisit that topic with each of the founders. That has been cool.


LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: And fulfilling evolution of the latest in the Giant Robots lifecycle.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: That is really, really interesting. As we wrap things up I think that's a really, really fantastic example of you've all been doing a show, in some version or another, for eight years, right? Giants have been smashing into other... Giant robots have been smashing into other giant robots for eight years. What advice would you have for others listening, whether they're marketing manager or they're in C- suite like you, they're thinking brand podcasts? What broad sweeping advice would you give?

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: I kind of touched on this before but number one I would say make sure this is important enough for you to make a genuine commitment to it. It's not worth half- ing, if I can say that. You want to be able to dedicate some time and resources to building the audience and seeing if there's interest in it. Also, make sure, pay close attention to the hosts are a huge part of it. That's kind of make or break. Will your audience connect with your hosts and what they're telling? It has to be compelling, original, valuable content that's way different than a blog post. As you were saying, this is about being personal and human and creating human relationships so who's going to do that for you? Are they on your team or maybe they're not even?


LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: You bring someone else in from outside the company. Then lastly I got to say think about how, if you're creating this medium, how it can also be a platform for other people is something we think about a lot in terms of the diversity of the guests and are we elevating important stories in the community? I think we've got some work to do on the diversity of our cohosts. It's something we're actively talking about but it is really important.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Mm- hmm(affirmative).

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: I think it's an important discussion to be having in the business podcast community is how we're getting more folks from different walks of life as hosts of these podcasts.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Mm- hmm(affirmative). Literally more voices from different perspectives, absolutely. Absolutely. Well thank you for this. This is exciting. I love what you're doing in podcasting. I love how you all have evolved and tried new things and how you entered in and kept it a priority. Thanks for sharing your story here and for telling us about Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots. Love that title. Where did that come from, by the way, before we go? Obviously thoughtbot, there's the robot thing, there's-

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: Yeah, there's the robot thing. I believe, I could be wrong, the origin story is someone being like, " What would be a really cool name?" And engineers were like, " Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots," would be very cool.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: And it's 2012 and podcasting-


LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Let's just do it.

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: Yeah, BattleBots was probably on at the time.

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Probably, yep. Oh my gosh, that's great. Well cool. Well thanks for sharing.


LINDSAY TJEPKEMA:I appreciate you being on our show.


LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Two Lindsay's talking about podcasting on a podcast. I don't know how much more meta-

LINDSEY CHRISTENSEN: Two Lindsay's do make a right?

LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: Exactly. Yes, let's just leave it there. I like that. Pretty much.


LINDSAY TJEPKEMA: All right. Well thanks so much. That's our show. Thanks for listening. For more from today's guest, visit casted. us to subscribe and to receive our show as it's published along with other exclusive content each and every week.

About Season 4 of The Casted Podcast

We're back with Season 4 of The Casted Podcast! This season, we’re talking to marketing leaders linked to the brand podcasts you love to understand the role those shows play in the brand’s overall marketing strategy. You’re getting a behind-the-mic look at why these brands are investing in podcasting, why these leaders support them, and how they are driving strategies forward.

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