Using podcasts to build brands

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Trini Amador, senior VP-marketing at EMM Group, a company that targets CMOs and other senior-level marketing managers, recently launched a podcast campaign. EMM Group sent out Apple iPod Shuffle digital audio players to more than 1,000 marketing executives. The iPods were preloaded with an audio message about the company. To date, the company has received a 13% response rate.

While EMM Group's campaign didn't fit into the exact definition of a podcast—a serialized, regularly updated, subscription-based audio or video message delivered to a computer or audio file player—it shows the promise of what marketers can achieve with the technology. Most important, it provides a personal touch and the start of a long-term relationship, said Robert Arena, VP-interactive at Carton Donofrio Partners, the advertising agency that handled EMM Group's campaign.

`TiVo for radio'

"Top level, this is TiVo for radio," he said. "It's a unique way of using modern technology to communicate with clients one-to-one."

It also lets busy customers and prospects digest your information when and where they want to, said Patrick Moorhead, emerging technologies specialist with interactive agency Avenue A/Razorfish. "You're dealing with executives who are time-crunched, so your ability to provide sales and marketing data or metrics that a customer can review on their own time definitely increases the penetration of those data," he said. "Hopefully, that also improves overall retention as well."

Podcasting has been around only a few years but is gaining in popularity quickly. More than 42 million people have purchased an Apple iPod since they were introduced in 2004. Of those, 29% have downloaded a podcast, according to a recent Forrester Research report. Even those who haven't purchased an iPod are interested in the technology. More than 27% of people polled by Forrester had heard of or were interested in podcasting, while 11% said they are going to try podcasting within the next three months. It's a technology that's definitely worth exploring, said Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li.

"Our recommendation is that marketers use podcasting to make streaming video and audio downloadable. You might create webinars or educational materials," she said. "The market is still so small I wouldn't recommend investing too much yet, but if you have content available, you might as well put it out there. Just don't get carried away by the hype."

The best way to get started podcasting, Li suggested, is to use existing audio content. The next best thing is to ask your executives to record a marketing message targeted at a specific market.

The trick either way, Moorhead said, is to keep things relevant and focus on bringing direct benefits to your listener. "Part of the culture of what podcasting is about is the possibility of hearing about a product from someone who got their hands dirty building it," he said. "A podcast offers the marketer the ability to put some of their own people out there, to take one of the senior engineers and have him be the person selling the product. That's tremendous."

Of course, there are costs associated with creating broadcast-quality audio. You can spend several thousand dollars each time you go into a recording studio, or you can create one for between $2,000 and $5,000 in-house. Commercial music, video, and professional actors or announcers all cost extra.

Creating a Story

Since podcasting is a multimedia experience, it allows marketers to break up their messages into digestible chunks. They can create chapters, so listeners can jump to the sections that are most relevant. They can also create an enhanced podcast that contains links and images.

It's not surprising that one expert said marketers should go into the podcast-creation process thinking about not only the podcast they're creating today but also what will come after it.

"There's a misconception about podcasting, that it's a one-time thing," said Scott Burkette, director of content development at Lathian Systems, a medical marketing company. "It's a mistake to put out one simple podcast. You want someone to subscribe to your podcast and listen for a while. To have an effective podcast, you should develop at least six at once or a year's worth of monthly podcasts."

Podcast delivery is the easy part. Li suggested marketers make their podcast available on their Web site so search engines can find it, and possibly place it on the iTune's Web site. Sending a link via e-mail is another option.

But be forewarned, Moorhead said: "One of the issues we're all wrestling with is security. Once someone can download a podcast, it's essentially being broadcast to the world. Podcasting isn't ideal for someone who wants to keep things confidential."

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