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RETURN ON TECHNOLOGY: Is becoming a podcaster dream marketing?

July 24, 2006

Imagine that your customers are so eager to hear from you that you don't even need to send them newsletters or e-mails, that they check each day, or even several times a day, to see if you have anything to tell them.

What a dream marketing campaign, eh? There are catches, of course. Lots of them. But in the right circumstances, this come-and-get-it approach can work.

It's known as "podcasting," a name that's a linguistic weld job so common in technology nowadays. The "pod" is from "iPod," the little media player from Apple, and "casting" from "broadcasting." The idea is that you produce a piece of media, like a description of a new product or a set of tips for saving money, and you make it available to customers or the public through "feeds" that are constantly checked by the recipients.

It reminds me a little of the newswire machine that sat in my high school decades ago, and was old even then. When the news organization we used was ready to send us updated "wire copy," it sent a signal to the machine's bell to alert us, then it chugged for a long time, printing out the news story one character at a time. The story was going out to thousands of subscribers worldwide. The process of putting the news on the wire was known as a "newsfeed." You had to be a subscriber for it to work.

Podcasting works similarly. People who want to hear what you have to say run a little piece of software known as a "podcatcher" or an "aggregator" to set up their subscriptions.

Most podcasting subscriptions are free for the taking. All you need to do is type in the location of the feed, which is a document that describes your podcast and where it can be found. The podcatcher then grabs the podcast from wherever it might be parked in the world, downloads it, and gives it to the user to play. The term "aggregator" has come to be associated with text downloads through a service known as "RSS," but most good aggregators will do podcast fetching, too.

You do not set up the feed. That's automatically done when you upload your podcast to whatever service you want to use. The effect is that people will subscribe to hear your podcast, and will check automatically for it.

Podcasting started out as a poor-man's radio. It cost almost nothing to record, edit and upload half-hour or one-hour audio shows. But then other uses sprang up. Teachers record their lectures for download by students. Police agencies record safety tips. News agencies put out short update reports. Consultants provide ongoing streams of ideas and case studies, along with seminar audio. Executives talk candidly with employees widely scattered in time or geography. Ministers distribute sermons.

And marketing. Oh, imagine the ways you can keep in contact with your customers with little audio shots. Rex Hammock (www.rexblog.com) suggested that somebody come up with a daily podcast of news set to a high-energy musical backdrop, so he could jog in the morning and listen to the news. Some cell phones will take podcasts. In the future, podcasts will routinely involve video, too, although it's likely that audio-only will be popular for a long time, due to the long downloading times for video.

Of course, many businesses will find it hard to generate interest in their customers in between contact times, with or without podcasts. Dentists and lawn-care services come immediately to mind. But there are many businesses that trade in information, such as accountants, lawyers, consultants and technology sales. For these, customers might be inclined to download free advice.

Remember I said there were catches? One is that today's podcasts are sounding better than ever, and something recorded at your office on an old tape recorder won't cut it anymore. You'll need soundediting software and some small skill in using it. Another is the time it takes to put together a podcast. And it's a lot like feeding the birds: You start feeding, you'd better keep to it. Oddball political commentators might get away with irregular offerings, but businesses usually can't.

Keep in mind that most podcasts are meant to be sequential, like radio shows, so it's not easy to offer several at one time. Too, podcasts are often large, on the order of 10 to 20 megabytes, which can take forever to send if you're not on broadband.

If you want to read up on marketing uses for podcasts, sites like For Immediate Release (forimmediaterelease.biz) can get you started. Hosting sites usually cost very little, perhaps as little as $5 a month. Check out the Liberated Syndication site (www.libsyn.com), among others, for details. If you decide to get into podcasting, let me know. I'd like to subscribe.



Altom is a senior business consultant for Perficient Consulting. His column appears every other week. He can be reached at timaltom@sbcglobal.net.
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