Here’s a marketing mantra to consider: A great idea poorly executed is worse than a weak idea done well. In few places is that thought more apt than with corporate multimedia today.
Veteran marketers who would never think of naming a product without weeks of primary research seem to have no problem putting audio and video on a site with no regard for how the audience wants to absorb it.
Would a site visitor truly want to see a verbatim 40-minute video of a keynote speech? Or would that visitor rather see a list of the points made in that speech, with links to edited, one-minute segments that just elaborate on that one point? Multimedia is a way of communicating information to people and requires the same discipline as any other medium.
Have you ever had an e-mail exchange with a colleague and come to a point that was simply not being communicated? After several e-mails, you call the other person and the communication happens. He or she understands because of pauses, emphasis and vocal inflections. On the phone, you could communicate far more information than in e-mail because your voice communicated beyond what your words could.
The best way to communicate on a Web page is with straight text. If a reader misses a point or forgets a detail, text is instantly scannable. A reader can reread a sentence.
But with audio, the message must be received instantly. Granted, it is certainly possible for streaming audio to be paused and replayed, but today’s streaming audio controls are awkward and slow. Most site visitors are not inclined to even try. It’s the reason that audio on the Web must be sliced into digestible pieces, each one focused on a single message. Deleting "ums" and "y’knows" makes the source sound more intelligent and the comments easier to follow. That’s helpful in print but essential in audio.
If the information is best communicated by the words alone, don’t use audio just because you can. I’m reminded of a line in "Jurassic Park." Jeff Goldblum’s character, Ian Malcolm, argues with the park’s creator about whether dinosaurs should be recreated: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should." It’s a good lesson for any marketer thinking about multimedia.
Instead of showing footage of an executive at a podium, show charts, graphs and bulleted lists reinforcing the points being made in the voiceover. When transmitting audio, use the features of MediaPlayer and RealPlayer that allow you to have a line detailing who is speaking and what their position is. This is absolutely crucial when it’s a panel discussion.
Streaming audio can often be produced at a much lower cost than many marketers assume. Consider how the typical person will hear streaming audio. The very nature of streaming means that the audio file is severely compressed, which means there is a material loss of quality. Also, the sound is often heard on tiny PC speakers or even smaller laptop speakers. The truth is that interviews done in an expensive studio session can—when the compression and everything involved in streaming is finished—sound virtually the same as an interview done on the phone.
Bandwidth is key
Another factor is bandwidth. Even if 99% of your customers are corporate users working on T1s and T3s, don’t assume a speed greater than 35K or so, which is about what most 56K modems typically deliver under good conditions, give or take 10K. Why? Many of those corporate users travel and will listen from hotel, airport or train connections. Many browse from their homes at night.
The same rules apply for video. Is that the way your audience wants to receive data? Would audio suffice, coupled with some pictures? If video is indeed called for, such as to demonstrate a new surgical technique, keep it as short as possible. Show the essential item and then pull back to audio or text.
But the most critical weakness of many multimedia executions is they don’t think through the reason marketers started using multimedia in the first place. People get a feel for the speakers’ credibility when they hear them talk. Do they sound nervous or confident? Do they sound like they are reading what someone else wrote for them, or are they discussing something they personally care about?
Text won’t tell a reader that, but an audio cut will.
Evan Schuman, firstname.lastname@example.org, is VP-editor in chief of Triangle Publishing Services Co. Inc., a content creation company that specializes in multimedia and high-tech. A veteran journalist, he has reported for National Public Radio, CBS Radio, AP Radio, NBC Radio, Canadian Broadcasting Co. and CNN Radio.