We thought we’d mix it up on the blog this week. To celebrate the joy of patterns emerging from randomness, the editorial team took a suggested prompt, had a conversation, and tried to glean insights — marketing or otherwise. We all like podcasts, and we like our company, so our co-founder James Clark had the idea that as Room 214, we listen to podcasts’ 214th episodes to see what we thought. We’ve got artists using science to explain life, and scientists using art to explain life, and some knitting.
The Tim Ferriss Show
Erika: So Tim says this will be for some people the most important podcast they’ll ever hear and I was absolutely 1. Not expecting that to be true and 2. Absolutely floored by this podcast. Debbie is a successful artist, and she talks about design in ways that are very easy to visualize. Since it’s a visual medium, design is hard to describe, but Debbie does an amazing job. I particularly love the wonderful detail of drawing a picture as a young girl and how she’s sort of living inside that picture as an adult now.
James: And then she floored you.
Erika: She did. She suddenly opens up about the terrible abuse she suffered as a child and at first I was thinking: Oh no, I don’t know if I’m in an emotional place to hear this right now, because I was here to hear about design. But she was so open about it and relentlessly positive. Turned something really dark into something that was hopeful for people who have gone through that kind of horror.
She also speaks to people who have never been victims, and offers this really optimistic picture: She wants everyone to imagine themselves five years from now and visualize their best life, and she says it will manifest. I loved this quote: “Dream big and dream without any fear.”
James: I love this idea of fearlessness here. For marketing creatives, it’s easy to create things based on the past: what has performed well, and what hasn’t. But looking back at what’s already been done is a bit too cozy an environment to create great work. When I get that little inkling of fear or excitement when staring at a blank page or beginning a project, that’s when I know it’s time to pay attention.
The James Altucher Show
James: This podcast talks about how things get popular, and jibed with something I’ve thought a lot about: how things that are popular get more popular by virtue of being popular. This is everything in digital marketing: search rankings, for example. The most popular sites are shown at the top of the rankings, which leads to more clicks. YouTube views and Spotify plays are similar cases, where popularity leads to more popularity. But the other thread of the conversation is that to endure, the content needs to be actually good. And there’s this interesting dynamic by where being good in and of itself isn’t enough to ensure popularity, and popularity isn’t enough to ensure it’s good.
Erika: So many of us are familiar with Sunstein’s work from university econ classes, but this Star Wars book is way more cool because he takes social science principles and applies them to popular culture. The “why” of stories going viral is certainly important for any marketer to know about. The funny thing is that right in the middle of it, I stopped the podcast so I could order the book from the library.
James: So obviously it was good content about good content, and even inspired action.
Erika: I think what struck me the most was how tender and fragile she sounded. She had just sort of pulled herself off the floor following the election of Donald Trump, which I think a lot of people could understand but it’s not the nature of her podcast at all. She just sounded really vulnerable and shaken, and as a mom I kind of wanted to reach out and hug her.
She knows her audience, which is people who craft with yarn, and sew and knit as hobbies. She uses the language of the craft, and quickly pivots from her sadness to this chipper-cheerful podcast that connects with her fans. I think it’s great niche marketing — she also gives a shout-out to other crafters, who I assume do the same thing for her, so it was basically an interesting exercise into the type of influencer marketing a lot of brands are really into.
James: I like this one, but felt a little like the whole thing was a lead up to itself. It felt like it was all talking about the podcast without actually podcasting anything. With that said, I imagine that if I were a knitter, I might glean more from the discussion, especially around specifics of the craft.
Erika: Yeah, we’re not the target audience for her. I think if I were crafty I might have enjoyed the topic more, but I definitely enjoyed her as a speaker. She sounds adorable and likable to me.
James: This one’s about some nostalgic technology: cassette tapes. Specifically that they’re actually still being manufactured. Primarily for prisoners. Crazy right? It’s like it’s not enough to be locked up in prison, you’ve got to use cassettes. And what do you do if your Walkman breaks? The thing that struck me about this episode is how petty and mean our prison system can be: for example, prisoners in some prisons can’t listen to music that has a parental advisory. In one guy’s case, he’d been tried as an adult but couldn’t listen to music unsuitable for teenagers. I just imagine someone saying, “I robbed a store at gunpoint. I think I can handle some rough language.”
Erika: I love this. It was educational but also really entertaining. It’s a great lesson in packaging content in a way that’s exciting to listen to. A tough, and sometimes sad, topic could be a turnoff for a general listener, but by breaking it up with quotes from prisoners and a colorful description of the prison culture made it interesting.
This American Life
James: I love the whole premise of this episode, because they start by talking about how scientists hate when artists co-opt their terminology and make it into bad art. The show’s response? We’re doing it anyway. And why not — so many of these concepts aren’t just fascinating intellectually, they’re also poetic and beautiful. This podcast made me want to pull a bunch of scientific principles and draw marketing wisdom from them just to upset the scientists.
Erika: The examples they used for all the principles were all really funny though. The guy whose dad thinks every place is “lousy” moves his family to New York City because he think’s it’s the only non-lousy place. Of course once the family gets there, it turns out to be just as lousy as every other town. There’s a mixed-race child who grows up thinking he’s white, and finds out he has a black father only after he’s grown. Then, of course, there the Stadium Pal created so that people can go to bathroom and not leave their seats during sports events. There’s no way that’s not going to be gross and funny.
James: Yeah, I encounter the mediocrity principle in my personal life all the time, but maybe that’s TMI for this blog!
Erika: To be honest, I feel like we sort of cheated ourselves out of an opportunity to explore some really out-there topics, but since we asked for the team’s “favorites” we wound up with all this great, stellar content. Or maybe by the time a podcast gets to Episode 214, its game is pretty strong.
I did get me thinking, though, what kind of podcast would you have? Like what would be your topic, and who would you invite?
James: I have this book I keep by my bed called “Songwriters on Songwriting.” The author is a songwriter, and the book is 100 percent interviews with great songwriters about their craft: Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, etc. I would love a podcast that gave me unfiltered access to the greatest musical minds of our time, where I would ask them about their process and techniques and it would be really wonky and in the weeds and technical. I particularly love songwriting as a topic because it’s obviously creative, but it combines language, music, and so many other technical skills together in an infinitely varied way. Endlessly fascinating (at least for nerds like me).