The debate of the year: webinars versus podcasts

This year I attended the Content Marketing Institute webinar that presents their annual Webinar Benchmarks report, and while I learned some helpful tips about webinars (such as, the timeline for the most effective promotional cycle, the most used engagement tools, which days are the best to deliver webinars, etc. etc.), the thing that struck me the most was the very first slide, “webinars drive the buying cycle”.

According to Content Marketing Institute’s 2017 Webinar Benchmarks report, webinars “drive the buying cycle”. Apparently, of the companies analyzed, webinars/ webcasts were responsible for 51% of lead generation in 2016 and 45% of webinars were driving company awareness. These statistics are high. This must mean that webinars work and drive sales.

Now what wasn’t presented in this report was the webinar’s rival, the podcast.

In 2016, there was a flurry of articles written about the rise of and popularity of podcasts. Vanity Fair wrote the article, “So, Like, Why Are We So Obsessed with Podcasts Right Now?”, Forbes published “6 Reasons Why Podcasting is the Future of Storytelling”, and Business Insider said “Podcasts are becoming more popular among listeners and advertisers”- just to name a few.

It’s true podcasts have seemingly come from out of nowhere directly into our living room or office. Every celebrity A or D list has started a podcast and business owners are creating their own podcasts as content strategies.

So, if webinars drive the buying cycle, podcasts should drive the buying cycle too. Right?

Let’s look at the difference between webinars and podcasts.

Webinars can be interpreted as online workshops, or presentations requiring a pre-registered audience. For business owners, webinars are great as you can scale the promotional cycle and track attendance and registrants during or after the webinar. Webinars are great for selling or educating. But that’s about it.

Podcasts are a more intimate and traditional form of oral storytelling, often compared to traditional radio. Podcasts can present a number of different guests in one episode and range from a number of different topics, depending on the host. For buyers, podcasts are a great opportunity to get to know someone before they buy. Podcasts are not a form of direct selling but rather engaging and connecting with the audience based on a common theme or interest.

Therefore, I personally believe podcasts drive the buying cycle more than webinars and here’s why…

1. Podcasts create trust

Podcasts have an intimacy that webinars just simply cannot provide. The ability to listen to someone else’s story and gather lessons from their experience is completely different from a webinar that is presented as a lecture. Even if the listener doesn’t agree with the thoughts of the host or the guest, trust is still gained in this form of honest storytelling. You can immediately build a relationship with someone if they trust you are being honest. Podcasts have a way of feeling more one on one as opposed to the online classroom your buyer sits in with tens of other registrants in a webinar. Webinars come off as sales-pitchy and authoritative too often.

2. Podcasts are laid back

Podcasts give listeners the flexibility to listen anytime, anywhere they want. Webinars are not able to support on-the-go or commuting audiences. Webinars lock you down to one hour at your computer to pay attention and learn. Podcasts do not provide you with a link to register and block one specific hour of your day. Podcasts are meant to be an enjoying time, by yourself, in your head. While webinars most often feel like online learning in a classroom with others.

3. Podcasts are more valuable

The content discussed in podcasts are more valuable to a buyer. Webinars are often relaying facts and following a ‘how-to’ model of practiced presentation, while the content of podcasts is derived from the flow of conversation. Podcasts are almost never scripted or practiced before hand so while the content is unpredictable it is also more real, more plainly spoken and more relatable. Podcasts are more inspiring. Sometimes you come out of listening to a podcast with ten different trains of thought having learned a multitude of different things. Webinars on the other hand follow one straight track, created to teach you one lesson.

4. Podcasts build a following (and your list)

When someone finds a good podcast that they enjoy listening to every week, it becomes a part of their ritual. If people like you and like what you have to say they will join your community, they will start to follow what you’re doing in other aspects of your business and they will more likely reach out and connect with you. Webinars are different in that people show up to your webinar because they are interested in the topic you have promoted, not because they see value in you personally. Webinars are also tricky because even though people register, on average only about 46% of registrants actually attend. The way people consume webinars and podcasts are quite different, people choose to follow a podcast weekly and will in turn build longer term relationships as opposed to webinars which are sporadic and poorly attended.

All in all, webinars seem to follow the old-school sales model of “look at my features, look at my facts”, while podcasts create relationships and connections with their audience. So, business owners if you’re ready to revamp your content strategy, I suggest you look into podcasting because even though webinars drive the buying cycle, podcasts create a relationship between you and your best customer.

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