Every day, in places like eastern South Dakota and southern Wisconsin and central Michigan, dairy farmers milk cows and think about their problems.

Weird way to start an article by a B2B industrial marketing agency, right?

Right. But despite our industrial and manufacturing marketing expertise, we’ll step into other sectors if a client’s goals and our skills align.

Our client, T.C. Jacoby & Co., is a major dairy product and ingredient trading firm. They also provide administrative support to dairy cooperatives in the U.S. And after a year or so of win-some, lose-some inbound marketing, we agreed we still weren’t effectively reaching a key audience segment: Dairy farmers.

Podcasting was new territory for us and the client alike. We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know if our show would be good.

But our client knew that farmers thinking about their problems needed regular, informed analysis of a changing industry. We had to try.

 

Today, 19 months later, episodes of The Milk Check have been downloaded almost 8,000 times. Its audience spans 48 U.S. states and territories. It’s reached 53 countries around the world.

This is how it happened.

Zeroing in on an underserved audience

While dairy farmers and cooperatives aren’t the only personas T.C. Jacoby & Co. serves, they’ve been the foundation of the business since it was founded in 1949. And after 70 years, the industry had changed.

Dairy farmers’ main goal is simple: Get the highest price possible for the milk they produce. T.C. Jacoby & Co. relies on its broad industry expertise to achieve that goal for its customers. But economic conditions, globalization and an imperfect patchwork of federal agricultural policies have helped push thousands of farmers out of business. Thousands more are on the brink.

Farmers are famously reluctant to discuss their paychecks with strangers. Many fear leaving their current cooperatives on a gamble. If you’re going to get anywhere with them, they must trust you. Building that trust can take years.

We agreed that there must be a way to widen the dialogue with farmers. Past marketing efforts showed that SEO-focused articles and downloadable guides weren’t the way. “Traditional” inbound marketing tactics had not addressed farmers’ need for accurate, timely market analysis.

Farmers are better positioned to thrive when they understand more intimately how their changing industry works. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Why not gather T.C. Jacoby & Co.’s industry experts to talk to farmers directly?

The Milk Check is anchored by T.C. Jacoby & Co.’s Chairman of the Board, its CEO and its Dairy Support Manager. With 90-odd years of collective industry experience among them, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more authoritative industry panel.

“What should we discuss?”

Almost every recording session since The Milk Check first went live in early 2018 has started this way. The panel asks the question even when they come prepared with topics they know they want to cover.

It’s their way of staying focused on the farmers they’re trying to engage.Will the conversation be worth listeners’ investment? Will they care?

Episodes tend to meander, with topics ranging from grain prices and rainfall totals to tariffs and quotas to the shapes and sizes of farms in Belgium or The Netherlands vs. those in Texas or Kansas.

But no matter how far afield the panel gets, they always make their way back to what matters most to farmers: Explaining the potential impacts of industry trends and events in the clearest and simplest terms—dollars and cents.

Distribution and data analysis: Is the podcast ‘good?’

Prior to launch, we believed dairy farmers would find the podcast valuable. But we couldn’t know for sure. It took a couple months before we had enough solid data to judge the answer to a simple but critical question: Is this podcast any good?

The answer began to emerge last spring.

Email and social distribution

If you’re starting a podcast from scratch that targets an audience never before targeted, building that audience is slow going. We’re not affiliated with a mainstream podcast production house. We couldn’t cross-promote our show on someone else’s. Our first step was announcing in one of T.C. Jacoby & Co.’s regular monthly emails that The Milk Check was on the air.

We knew that alone wouldn’t be enough.

While podcast subscribers who listen on smartphones are always notified when new episodes drop, we assumed not all target listeners would hear the show via directories like iTunes or Stitcher. We assumed some would be active only via desktop, and only if they were practically spoon-fed new episodes. To support that segment of our audience, we placed “subscribe” CTAs on the website inviting them to receive email updates every time an episode was published.

Our email marketing strategy has shifted somewhat since then, but it was a good call at the time: Those emails routinely saw open rates approaching 60% and click rates well over 20%.

On another front, we needed to grow our audience beyond T.C. Jacoby & Co.’s backyard, the St. Louis metro area. To do this, we encouraged company staff to send personalized email or LinkedIn messages to contacts in different regions if they believed a particular episode was relevant to them.

Here’s an example. Today, more listeners to The Milk Check are in California than any other state. It’s the biggest dairy state in the U.S., so that makes sense, but the podcast had to get there first.

 

It got there when someone on the T.C. Jacoby & Co. team sent a quick note and a link a relevant episode to their contacts out West. It hit a nerve and the California audience grew. In a similar fashion our audience has expanded in other dairy states like Wisconsin, New York, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio.

Our audience has grown beyond the U.S., too: Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, the U.K. and Ireland lead foreign nations with The Milk Check listeners. With no concerted international distribution strategy in place, we conclude the podcast is heard around the world due to word of mouth.

 

We love when listeners do some of the distribution for us. It’s free and it’s incredibly effective.

Another metric we watch closely is audience engagement. The podcast is approaching 8,000 lifetime downloads, but so what? That doesn’t tell us much. It’s vital to know how listeners behave after they hit “play.”

We were in the dark for 14 months until two important things happened.

Partial plays metric from Blubrry

When our media host Blubrry unveiled its “partial listens” metric, we got our first glimpse of audience engagement. It’s a breakdown of an episode’s total downloads according to what percentage of the episode the listeners stuck around for.

For the three episodes that partial listen data are available, we earned 1,733 downloads. Of those, 1,016 (58.6%) were complete listens and 717 (41.4%) were partial listens. It may not seem so impressive when over one-third of the listeners over that span didn’t complete episodes. But let’s go deeper: Of those 717 partial listens, 637 of them heard between 75 and 99% of the episodes.

That means that 1,653 listeners (95.4%) heard 75% or more of the episodes; only 80 (4.6%) listened to less than three-quarters of the episodes.

This empirical evidence supported what we’d heard anecdotally from listeners: The Milk Check was good.

Audience engagement from Podcasts Connect

We also integrated Podcasts Connect, Apple’s podcast analytics tool. Its dashboard provides quick-hit information including listening devices, total time listened and average time listened per device. (Note, however, that this tool only collects data from newer-generation Apple devices.)

The tool also shows that information (plus a couple other metrics) broken out by episode.

I especially love episode line graphs. These help us visualize how audiences degrade over time by showing how many devices were listening moment by moment.

A specific example of why we cared about this is because we recently began inserting calls to action within episodes. Notice in the graph below the dip in listeners about eight and a half minutes into the episode.

Indeed, we’d stuck one of these CTAs in at that spot. At the moment the CTA began, 96 Apple devices were listening. At the low point of the dip, 85 were listening. What happened?

Well, the music bed I used under the CTA voiceover was a snippet of the song we also use as the podcast’s theme music. I accidentally led 11 people to believe the episode had ended.

Oops.

I remade the CTAs using a different song, and we’ve observed no similar dips resulting from CTA placement.

That’s a very specific example of how to use the line graph feature. But it can help you make much more general observations, too:

  • If engagement stays very high for the duration of episodes, you might consider lengthening episodes or publishing more frequently. If your audience is going to give you their attention, capitalize on it.
  • If engagement always drops off after a certain amount of time, your episodes might be too long. Consider editing them down to the essentials. Folks folding clothes or doing dishes at home might tolerate extraneous nonsense. But potential customers? No.
  • If engagement is sluggish from the beginning, you might need to adjust the structure of the show. It could also mean episodes don’t sound good. Don’t skimp on audio quality.

What were people saying?

Industry feedback matters to us, too. Of course, opinions are subjective. But it turns out some pretty important people across the industry (not just the dairy farmers whom we primarily targeted) were listening on a regular basis.

Among repeat listeners to The Milk Check are high-level regional USDA officials and professors at the University of Wisconsin, home of arguably the nation’s leading collegiate agricultural curriculum.

Can podcasting work for your business?

We don’t have millions of loyal listeners. No one’s getting rich by extolling comfortable mattresses or credit card debt consolidation.

You could characterize The Milk Check as much by what it is not as by what it is.

Here’s what it is: A way to regularly put our client’s brand and expertise in front of hundreds of stakeholders and potential customers. It fosters dialogue between an established company and its highly engaged but dispersed ideal customers who ordinarily are hard to reach en masse.

Here are the basic requirements if you’re considering launching a podcast of your own:

  • A team of true experts committed to recording episodes with relevant, useful information on a regular basis.
  • Decent recording equipment (you don’t need NPR-grade studio equipment to sound really good).
  • The ability (whether in-house or outsourced) to edit and mix high-quality episodes.
  • The ability to optimize your website infrastructure to support podcast episodes.
  • A sound distribution strategy based on the characteristics of your ideal audience.

Consult with us

Nineteen months ago, we didn’t know what to expect when we launched The Milk Check. All we knew was that dairy farmers were doing the best they could. And T.C. Jacoby & Co. had the right people in place to help them navigate a changing industry—and a changing way of life.

Have you considered starting a podcast targeting your ideal industrial buyers? Are you getting hung up on the logistics or having trouble deciding what to discuss?

Let’s talk it through. Podcast consulting from Gorilla 76 can help you:

  • Identify your listeners and the value your podcast can provide them.
  • Implement hardware, software and website infrastructure to optimize the show.
  • Develop a distribution strategy that grows your audience and keeps it engaged.

Contact us now to get started.

Consultations are free

Trying to widen the reach of your thought leadership? Need to target a hard-to-reach audience? We'll help you decide if launching a podcast is the answer.