This article is part of CMO.com’s September series on the state of media and entertainment. Click here for more.
Though podcasts account for a minority of the U.S. audio listening market, a growing number of Americans are tuning in, according to Edison Research. What’s the appeal? Who is listening? How long are people sticking around?
For insight, CMO.com turned to Jason Hoch, chief content officer at HowStuffWorks, which got its start at a kitchen table in 1998. With more than 35 million views a month, Atlanta-based HowStuffWorks is ranked the third-largest podcast publisher globally in terms of downloads. It also produces and publishes video content across a variety of platforms.
“Brands need to understand the context of how people are consuming content during their valued time, what that connection is, and tailor their message to those moments,” Hoch advised.
Read on for what that entails.
CMO.com: What has been your business journey to HowStuffWorks? What can you tell us about your current role as chief content officer?
Hoch: I’ve grown up as a digital native during my career, which has helped me adapt as the digital media landscape has evolved. I’ve been the SVP of digital operations at WWE, and VP of product and mobile for Discovery Communications. At HowStuffWorks, I have responsibility for the creation and growth of all original media, including text, video, and the brand’s 14 unique podcasts. Every day I think about how we can tell amazing stories across all of our podcasts, social media, and videos in a very authentic way, while delivering on our brand’s promise.
I’ve learned during my career that you need to listen to your audience to understand what platforms they want to use, and then invest resources to create and deliver content on those platforms. The most important thing I’ve brought to HowStuffWorks is that as we deliver informative and entertaining content, we always need to be authentic to build trust with our fans. It can take years to build that trust and two-way relationships with our fans, so we must treat it as sacred.
CMO.com: What does HowStuffWorks do, and how do you do it?
Hoch: We create content through podcasts, video, and digital platforms on tens of thousands of topics, with 500,000 pages of web content and 6,000 podcast episodes in our library. We start with our own curiosity and take a high-quality approach to research, fact checking, and editing. It is typical that for each episode of a show, our hosts will spend 15 to 20 hours to research the topic they’ll cover. We use Adobe Premiere, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Audition CC to finalize each piece of content.
CMO.com: The multimedia world has changed a lot during your two-decades-long career. What are the most significant changes and implications for brands?
Hoch: One of the trends we’ve seen is that even in a world of three-second Facebook videos, consumers have told us that they want a longer-form, 30-minute podcast experience a couple of times a week, and they will make this time investment. They want a deeper experience with our hosts on things they are interested in. This is important for brands to know because having short- and long-form content enables you to form long-term relationships and loyalty with your audience.
The second media change that is also important for brands is how important it is to be associated with authentic and real content, not just the campaign of the day.
The third media change is the need to be accessible on mobile as you disseminate information and entertainment. We hear over and over again from audiences that they want to access their content while they’re on the go, like on their commute. These moments are sacred, and they trust us to be with them at these times. We take this very seriously.
CMO.com: How does your team work with brands to engage their audiences and attract more interest?
Hoch: We’re not an ad agency. Our clients come to us because they’ve seen that we know how to create authentic content around big ideas. We talk about [their] goals, the people they’re trying to reach, and what their specific audience cares about. We take this information and do deep research on a range of relevant topics that are also informational and entertaining, and we develop potential titles around these. We have discussions with the brand to select the ones we believe will work best, and then the brands trust us to produce the stories on a platform right for this content. We’re also very transparent with our audiences. [We] tell them that the content is sponsored by the brand but [the brand] had no influence in the actual content.
CMO.com: What types of data and audience analytics does HowStuffWorks use? How do these insights guide content, production, and distribution decision making?
Hoch: We care very much about data, analytics, and trends. At our office, we have real-time dashboards to review program content and data daily. For each program, we have data on listening habits, buying behavior, where people live, and what they are passionate about.
CMO.com: Apple will start to provide comprehensive analytics about listener behavior to podcast publishers with its iOS 11 update this fall. What are your thoughts about that?
Hoch: Apple has about 60% to 70% of podcast listenership. As an industry, we’ve been asking for deeper analytics for years to understand downloads, streams, subscribers, and how people are actually listening. Having this new data will help us better show the value being provided for this premium content.
CMO.com: What has been the most adventurous thing you’ve done with any of your shows and personalities, and what did you learn?
Hoch: One of our longest-running podcasts is “Stuff You Should Know,” hosted by Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark, [with] nearly 1,000 episodes. We joined them on their West Coast Live Tour last year. We had a camera crew with us and did live shows in auditoriums in each city.
We knew that “Stuff You Should Know” had avid fans. But we were overwhelmed with the reception we got when Chuck and Josh met longtime fans in person for the first time and actually knew who they were. We could see real demonstrations of the authentic relationships the show had built over nine years. It gave me tangible evidence beyond analytics of how genuine the connection between the hosts and fans is. Interestingly, “Stuff You Should Know” just reached the No. 1 podcast ranking in Apple Podcasts in July.
CMO.com: Where do you see audio and video multimedia and podcasting going next?
Hoch: On-demand video will continue to grow as a preferred content consumption platform. Obviously, consumption on mobile will grow. But now think about all of the connectivity that is being built into cars, which will accelerate as we move into autonomous driving, where cars will have their own OS. We’ll also see more at-home content consumption as the penetration and usage of AI assistants like Alexa increases. Podcasting is a great platform for this.