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Podcasting call lures advertisers

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Is downloadable audio a viable channel for b-to-b marketers?

In just a few months, podcasting has replaced RSS feeds as the hottest thing in the fast-moving digital media realm. While many marketers and content providers are still tuning in to podcasting's potential, a few trailblazers are making noise with podcasting as a marketing channel.

Podcasting-creating audio files that can be downloaded through the Internet to a computer or MP3 player-was named among 24/7 Real Media's 10 predictions at ad:tech this month for online advertising trends that will have the greatest impact in 2006. Podcasting will become more attractive to advertisers, according to the company, in part because improved audio search tools will help increase traffic and usage.

Forrester Research, playing down the hype, called podcasting "just another type of Internet-based radio" in the latest issue of Forrester magazine and pointed out that, although Apple indexes podcasts in its iTunes Music store and Yahoo! has announced a podcast search tool, creating podcasts and finding audiences are still complex and time-consuming.

Podcasting is forecast to grow at a compound annual rate of 101% through 2010, according to Diffusion Group, a technology research consultant. Diffusion said podcast use in the U.S. will grow from fewer than 1 million listeners in 2004 to 4.5 million by the end of this year, and swell by 2010 to an estimated 56.8 million.

Jennifer Jones, founder of Jennifer Jones Consulting, a marketing consultancy, said no one was doing anything with podcasting in March. "I started talking to my clients," she said, "and not one of them knew anything about it, including the venture capital firms in the business of funding new technology."

While consumer interest in podcasting as an entertainment vehicle builds, b-to-b marketers are also discovering value in the medium.

In August, BearingPoint began a series of podcasts targeted at financial services executives. Paul Dunay, director, global field marketing at BearingPoint, said it is an effective prospecting tool "to reach brand new clients around concepts or themes we have in the marketplace, such as data security."

One advantage he said he sees is avoiding privacy snags. "It gets you over those privacy concerns [with e-mail]," he said. BearingPoing promoted the high-tech podcasts through low-tech means: direct mail.

Agency Ogilvy Interactive has produced podcasts on behalf of such clients as IBM Corp. It recently worked on an IBM "brought to you by" podcast about the U.S. Open, featuring an interview with tennis great Tracy Austin.

"Give me content"

"Podcasts, like RSS feeds, work because people are raising their hands and saying, `Give me content,' " said Eric Wheeler, senior partner-executive director, OgilvyInteractive N.A. His colleague Brandon Berger, senior strategist, digital innovation at OgilvyInteractive added, "For b-to-b, it's a great way to educate customers."

Wheeler said the easiest approach for marketers right now is-for those who have it-to provide their own content, but added he doesn't see why it won't evolve to advertising on others' podcasts with short audio spots.

"Like online, you are looking at somewhere between five and 15 seconds is what people will bear," Wheeler said. He suggested that sponsor content will most likely be broadcast upfront. That way, "the impression is more likely to be guaranteed," he said.

Targeting has become an important factor for advertisers, and podcasting can deliver what 24/7 calls "microcommunities" with specific interests. For that reason, it might prove effective for b-to-b marketers in particular, which tend to market to smaller, targeted groups of executives.

"Podcasting is not a broad-reaching vehicle," said Mary Kang, associate media director at Starlink, a media unit of Publicis. "It's very targeted. If the product or service is relevant to that target, it will be engaging and they will be attuned to that advertising message," she said.

The idea is to insert five- to 10-second audio ad messages before the podcast begins. Kang said average CPMs run $20 to $40. "You pay a bit of a premium versus terrestrial radio," she said. "You are hoping to get some return on it because they may be more engaged."

Ben Edwards, manager of strategic communications at IBM, agreed that targeting is paramount and that podcasts are a marketer's dream. "The real killer app here is marketing," Edwards said. "The ability to form microrelationships, and brand loyalty and audience is a dream for marketing," he said. "Our marketing organization is exploring this medium at the moment," he said.

One project he is working on involves a b-to-b podcast series in a particular segment of the business.

"It has terrific potential," Edwards said. IBM has a series of podcasts it created in August on the investor relations page targeting shareholders.

Podcasting in newsletters

Newsletter provider IMN Inc. announced this month it has added podcasting to its e-mail newsletters. Marketers will be able to add preproduced podcasts to e-mail newsletters and track audience behavior.

IMN is using the new feature in the October "Informed Marketer News," its own e-newsletter. In a literal case of "the medium is the message," it features a podcast about the benefits of podcasting. IMN's customer base is made up of b-to-b marketers that typically publish e-newsletters, blogs and RSS feeds.

"A number of our technology customers and prospects were starting to use podcasts," said David Fish, CEO at IMN. "We see this as a way to take that content and get it out to a broader audience, and do so in a way that is measurable."

Bob Hebeisen, director of marketing at IMN said podcasting via e-newsletters has a distinct edge over podcasts from a company's site. "You know which subscriber navigated to which space in the newsletter and listened to the podcast," Hebeisen said. In order to gain that information on a Web site, the user would have to register. "Otherwise, it's anonymous cookie information," he said.

IMN's analytics have shown a spike in response. "Podcasting content secured twice as much readership as the newsletter," Hebeisen said. "It breaks through the clutter."

General Motors Corp. has also dabbled in podcasting. Since January, Michael Wiley, director-new media at GM, has done 20 podcasts to consumers. "It's a low-to-no-cost way to distribute your message," Wiley said. "You can time shift it, like TiVo, and listen to it at your leisure."

B-to-b podcasts could be in GM's future. "It's something I see considerable value in doing," Wiley said. "How cool would it be to have a vehicle walk-around that the salesman could download to his iPod and get training on the interesting parts of the vehicle [to highlight to customers]. There are opportunities with suppliers, too."

There are plenty of advertisers not yet convinced or that don't even have podcasting on their radar. "We haven't been able to make a case for it yet," said Gayle Sweeney, director, Web presence at Sprint Nextel.

At a luncheon put on by the Advertising Club of New York and USA Today last month called "The Wave of Innovation" at which marketer panelists from America Online, IBM, Sharp Electronics Corp. and Xerox Corp. discussed marketing innovations and new media, not one mentioned podcasting.

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