|More than just the latest marketing buzzword, podcasting presents a
legitimate opportunity to share a message with a global, yet specific
audience. And, these potential customers are volunteering to hear your
message. They are a savvy audience — and growing.
According to a recent eMarketer report, podcast audiences in the
United States will reach 10 million in 2006, increase to 25 million by
2008 and 50 million by 2010.
Growth of this magnitude creates an opportunity for companies both
large and small to market with branded audio content while profiting
(directly or through increased exposure) from podcast advertising.
According to eMarketer’s analysis, advertising spending for podcasting
could reach $80 million in 2006 and $300 million by 2010. But the
successful podcaster must discover a balance between art (content) and
For those not in the Web loop, let’s start with a definition. Podcasting is
the process of creating audio (and increasingly video) files and distributing
that content on the Web, through RSS syndication or direct download. While
podcasting was named for Apple’s iPod, listeners do not need the popular device
or an MP3 player at all to consume a podcast — multimedia software works too. In
fact, according to a recent consumer survey conducted by Bridge Data, the
relevance of portability to podcast usage is overstated, in that more than 80%
of podcast downloads never make it to a portable player — they are consumed
directly from the Web desktop.
Is This the Cutting Edge?
Many consider podcasting a cutting-edge marketing and promotional technique
because of its ability to give creators and listeners more options and control
than traditional channels can provide. As Lester Smith, writer and technologist
at Upwrite Press plainly points out, “People who listen to a podcast subscribed
to that podcast.” So marketers can target a specific, voluntary audience. As in
most situations, finding a balance between what two disparate groups want is
Fortunately, website owners are finding creative ways to provide the media-rich
content that consumers are craving, while end-users are keen on the variety of specialty programming made available.
According to Smith, “… convenience, warmth, and personal control mean user
friendly.” It’s this control that is so appealing to marketers and consumers
alike. With a demonstrated interest and passion, Christopher Gee of
ThePreparedMind.com says, “If done correctly, marketers can use podcasts in order to really connect with small
niche audiences who might have a greater interest in their product than if they
would target a larger, broader audience.”
Kelly McCausey of WAHMtalkradio.com adds, “If you can provide your target market
with some great content on a regular basis, you’ve got their ear for your
We could even take that step further and say that if done correctly, podcasting
can help achieve a balance between marketing objectives and the bottom line.
Start Creating Podcasts
It seems that there are as many ways to create podcasts as there are podcasts
themselves. And this is an initial barrier for those interested in getting
started with podcasting. Without a formal, global standard for recording audio
(or video) presentations, it can be confusing.
Thankfully, there are several website resources to help future podcasters get
acquainted with the technology. Two sites, Odeo.com and Evoca.com, give users
the ability to record podcasts and make them available to the wider Web
community for free. These resources are terrific for those just getting started.
Basic and Expert Tools of DIY Podcasting
For those seeking greater creative and distribution control, developing audio
content requires quality hardware and software, as well as skills learned
primarily through practice.
The most recent versions of Windows, Mac OS X or Linux are important, along with
a reliable broadband connection. Aspiring podcasters will also find that a
quality microphone is immensely important. While many choose to use microphones
that come with their computer they are generally of poor quality, picking up
background noises and producing inferior sound quality. For optimal quality,
purchase an external mic that plugs into your computer. You’ll find computer
headsets (with microphones) available for about $20 to $30 at your local
computer store (Radio Shack, Best Buy, Circuit City, etc.).
Quality software is available through a number of free and paid programs.
Audacity, a free open-source software program (available at SourceForge.net for
both Windows and Mac) is hands down the most popular and arguably the most used
with the do-it-yourself crowd.
Podcasters also need MP3 encoders; software that converts raw audio into an MP3
format. The LAME MP3 encoder is popular and iTunes for Mac and PC can convert
recordings to MP3 for free.
If you need to record telephone interviews there are a few options available.
The first, proposed by Gee, is sort of a mash-up solution with Skype to initiate
the call and Audio Hijack Pro to record the session. McCausey uses JK Audio
Inline Patch to record interviews directly to her computer and a Plantronic DSP
microphone headset to record her voice — using Audacity to process the audio
files, then Audio Acrobat for listen lines.
Many podcasters, including TheMarketersPodcast.com’s Alan Stewart, approach
podcasting in a minimalist fashion, opting to create their podcasts (admittedly
of reasonable standard) with a basic minidisk recorder and Audacity. John Wall
of MShow.com uses Goldwave to record and edit and Castblaster to record. When it
comes to hardware, Wall uses either a $30 Radio Shack lapel microphone or the
heftier Shure SM58, plugged into his laptop or an iRiver.
Clearly, there are many ways to create podcasts. You’ll also find that a great
deal of practice is important when creating audio content that not only you
appreciate, but that others like well enough to share with friends, colleagues
or potential advertisers.
Publishing & Distributing Podcasts
When you have successfully created an audio file, you need to make it accessible
from the Web (upload it to your own server or host it on a third-party site).
When your podcast is available from a server, you need to help Web users find
it. This can be done in three ways; direct download from your site, listing your
podcast on third-party sites or through an RSS feed.
Providing a direct link from your website is by far the easiest way to access
potential listeners. Best practice might be to create a separate section of your
website so that you are able to archive podcasts and provide transcripts as well
as offer an RSS feed specifically for your podcasting project (see below).
Since distribution is vital to podcasting, those with established user bases and
massive amounts of traffic will have larger listening audiences immediately
available. This does not mean, however, that there is not room for those getting
started. In fact, there are hundreds of opportunities to list details of your
podcast directories such as Yahoo! Podcasts, Odeo, iTunes, and Podcast Alley
(Website Services has an exhaustive list of such directories on its website.)
Right after you submit your podcast, make sure you describe it by identifying
categories (such as “political,” “music” or “marketing”) where your podcast
fits. This helps listeners find your content and, in some cases, motivates them
Publishing a syndicated feed (RSS — Real Simple Syndication) which people can
subscribe to through an RSS reader helps extend the potential reach of your
content. Subscribers of your feed will receive updates when a new file has been
published and is ready for download. What makes your new audio file accessible
through an RSS feed is the ability
to include a direct link of that file which is contained in the ‘enclosure’ tag.
Enclosure tags are not limited to audio files. They can include any type of
file; video, pdf, etc.
The following is an example of an enclosure tag for an X(HTML) document:
<a rel= enclosure href= http://domain.info/podcast/1234.mp3
> Play or Download Podcast</a>
The “enclosure” tag is not new to RSS feeds, but has been included in the RSS
v2.0 specification for several years. RSS 2.0, however, only allows one
enclosure per entry. Many popular blogging tools such as WordPress, FeedBurner
and Moveable Type can automatically create enclosure elements.
Website Services has created a guide to creating and optimizing an RSS feed for
a podcast. You can find it within the Weblog. Just visit www.websiteservices.com,
select “Blog” from the main menu and search for “RSS PODCAST FEED”.
Podcast for Profit
When it comes to placing value on a listener audience, we asked several
successful podcasters which was more valuable — 100 loyal listeners or ten
thousand one-timers. The consensus was that while 10,000 onetimers might be
nice, one hundred loyal podcast listeners would be more appealing. Gee says,
“With loyal listeners, you have the opportunity to understand behavior patterns,
preferences and do follow-up.” Stewart leans to the loyalty side as well. “Loyal
listeners are more likely to become advocates of your products or services,” he
The emergence of several podcast-dedicated advertising companies such as
FruitCast, Podtrac and Radio Tail is evidence that advertisers are indeed
placing value on this burgeoning audience. What remains to be seen is when,
where, and how people listen. There is also a staggering lack of demographic
information on who is actually listening to podcasts. A survey of that sort
could help point out how best to meet the desires of end users — what podcasting
is supposed to be all about.
Deciding whether or not to podcast is a difficult decision. While there is a
great deal of potential, more research and hard statistics are needed. One thing
is for sure — marketing professionals will keep a close eye on this developing
trend. For marketers, the impetus should be on development and accessibility.
Engaging the user with quality, informational podcasts that are easy to find
will develop a following — and hopefully a new customer base. ■