Podcaster and Caspian Studios CEO Ian Faison on the Untapped Business Potential of Audio

Career paths can be remarkable journeys, and for Ian Faison, that has certainly been the case. Ian’s West Point background, his military service as an Army captain and HR leader, and his innate interest in leadership all paved the way to a new business launch at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Ian co-founded Caspian Studios, a fast-growing B2B podcast production company, where he is also the CEO.

Caspian Studios is named after the brave, seafaring adventurer Prince Caspian, a character from C.S. Lewis’ famed Narnia-set fantasy tales. Caspian pioneered the “Podcast-as-a-Service” model, which puts end-to-end production capabilities behind any corporate content idea. Caspian now has 43 shows in production, including fictional podcast series, which is new territory in the B2B marketing landscape. 

For this CEO, podcasting is more than just a day job, though. Ian grew up amazed by the power of radio and he still believes that audio is stronger than it has ever been: The medium uniquely resonates with listeners, including potential buyers, who can tune in at their convenience. In a recent interview, he told me that not only is serialized storytelling a rising marketing priority industry-wide, but it could truly help brands “break-through” the noise and stand out.

What follows is an edited version of our discussion:

After years in the U.S. military and working with veterans, what drove your interest in podcasts and ultimately in starting Caspian Studios?

First and foremost, growing up, our family listened to the radio. My dad’s family didn’t have television, so he loved radio. I think the radio was going in every corner of our house at any given time.

Then, from the beginning of podcasts, I listened to them. At one point when I was in my 20s, between my time in the Army and elsewhere, my podcast player said I’d consumed 14,000 hours of podcasts. I’m a huge fan of audio as a medium.

And later, in looking at the business landscape, I noticed that really few companies were doing audio right in their content marketing—they were treating it like a blog, and it’s not that. It’s a different type of medium, more intimate and driven by a variety of factors.

Podcasting is more like building a show—and that’s not a muscle many marketers have. They are used to building projects that are episodic and stand alone versus initiatives that are serialized. I started Caspian to help marketers make content through audio (and video) that can be remarkable.

<split-lines>"I noticed that really few companies were doing audio right in their content marketing—they were treating it like a blog."<split-lines>

When you describe Caspian as a ‘Podcast-as-a-Service’ provider, what do you mean?

It’s daunting for a B2B marketer to look at podcasting and ask, “What do we make?” It usually takes a marketing team six months just to decide what to make, let alone how to keep production rolling.

With our Podcast-as-a-Service, we’ve created this process that’s rigorous—effectively turning a blank Google Doc into a show in 60 days with producers, editors, designers, engineers, and everyone you need. So, we do everything—from ideation, creation, pre-production and production, to audio engineering, design, guest booking and marketing.

There are many different hands working on a project at once. We’re creating frameworks for shows, getting the show out the door, and creating something high-quality that’s consistent and repeatable. Within that process, we are also allowing space for idea creation and brainstorming to take place.

B2B marketers are often beholden to the next quarter—with targets that they have to hit or campaigns and events that must go live. Our approach understands these tight timelines.

What are some of the attributes of a successful podcast?

There’s no silver bullet to what makes a great show. The closest thing might be figuring out who you want the audience to be and understanding what those people are looking for, and then making that show. If it’s a small audience, that’s great, it could be 100 people.

The vast majority of people making podcasts are making pretty general interest stuff—sports, comedy, politics or pop culture. Many try to build massive audiences. But in B2B specifically, you’re talking to a comparatively small number of people. You want to have a deep understanding of an audience and a gut feeling of the type of stuff that works so you can build what they’re looking for and are interested in.

High quality is next. Oprah and Elon Musk could get on a call and talk into a tin can and we’d listen; for the rest of us, podcasts need a microphone and Logitech webcam that provides a level of quality and sounds good.

Beyond that, how is the show structured? There is a reason why “60 Minutes” has had the same format for 50-plus years—it’s familiar, repeatable and consistent. As listeners, we like structure and format and to know what we’re getting ourselves into.

It’s rare to see podcasts go the extra mile. But popular programs, like those on NPR, are all cut, recut, and stay very focused. With B2B, programs are often just recorded and chucked out there —that’s not the best approach.

<split-lines>"As listeners, we like structure and format and to know what we’re getting ourselves into."<split-lines>

You’ve worked with several Mission North clients, including Snowflake, Stord and Tenable. How have podcasts become a force multiplier for these businesses?

Snowflake has been an incredible partner. “The Data Cloud Podcast,” now in its third season, has a massive audience. If you look at the show, they have built a best-in-class asset in a short amount of time that any data professional can go and check in with.

With Stord, they’re a newer company doing amazing work. They wanted to show that there’s a ton of complexity around the supply chain which everyone is trying to figure out. So, “Supply Chain Therapy” addresses industry leaders to help collectively figure out what’s next.

Tenable did something completely different. Their show, “The Hacker Chronicles,” is a fictional series about a barista in New York City who’s driven to commit cybercrime. It’s super realistic, uses the core elements of hacking and cybersecurity, provides a cool look at the Dark Web and how to traverse it, and overall is a true-to-life approach to “edu-tainment.”

B2B companies have never had a clear way to create fictional series, and what Tenable did has never been done. We’re pushing more into fictional series like this and there’s a ton of interest.

You say there’s somewhere around two million podcasts currently out there. In such a saturated market, what does it take to break through and build loyalty?

There is no special formula, but the market is not as saturated as you might think. Two million is a big number, but are shows created to discuss the TV show “The Umbrella Academy” competing with an open source data podcast? No, that’s completely different.

You have to have really sharp guests. You need to have articles accompanying the podcast and graphics that you can share on social networks.

You need to build an audience. What people often get wrong is that they don’t focus effort on building an audience. For every single one of our shows, our growth marketing team builds an audience for the show.

This isn’t “Field of Dreams.” If you build it, they will not come. There’s no content out there that marketers create where they will just get lucky and people will find it. Either your SEO team is going to work super hard to make sure that the content is found or you have a growth marketing team running paid and organic ads to drive listeners and readers to your stuff.

The world of business is evolving so rapidly and insights from the cutting-edge will always be valuable. There are tons of secrets to be mined and explored, and audio is just one format.

<split-lines>"The world of business is evolving so rapidly and insights from the cutting-edge will always be valuable."<split-lines>

What’s your favorite podcast out there currently, and why?

It’s probably “Binge Mode,” a show from The Ringer that goes deep into “Game of Thrones,” “Harry Potter,” and the like. It’s a perfect show in many ways. Another consistently well-done show is the architecture and design podcast “99% Invisible.”

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