Digital MarketingStrategiesChanging Channels and the Rise of Podcasting

Changing Channels and the Rise of Podcasting

The devices are reaching critical mass and the range of content is expanding quickly. Where are the advertisers?

Reaching a mass digital audience is getting easier as megaportals and search engines capture an ever-larger number of eyeballs. But crafting a compelling message, separating yourself from the competition, and reaching time-, and attention-, starved audiences are getting more complex as wholly new digital constructs gather momentum.

The digital medium is experiencing the same channel proliferation TV faced a decade ago, to the power of 10. The staggering number of programming choices isn’t the only challenge. The real killer is there isn’t a single remote control, screen, or access device, as there is with TV.

Digital marketers know all too well how much thought goes into reaching people nowadays. A couple years ago, a sound digital marketing plan included a dot-com Web site, some smart ad buys on portals and targeted sites, email, and search. Today’s digital marketing plan must consider all that, plus a huge array of new options, such as SMS (define), video over the mobile phone, product and ad placements in video games, viral marketing, blogs, vlogs (define), and ads delivered through TiVo and other DVRs. Compounding this complexity, new digital media options reach a critical mass every couple months. And many of the newest media lack the measurement advertisers require before they spend real money.

The latest big-noise (literally) digital medium is podcasting (define). Think of it as radio on demand. Like blogs, podcasts are free (for now) syndicated content. An RSS (define) feed points to the latest episode.

Although it’s no more complex than downloading an audio file to your iPod or MP3 player, until recently the medium has had limited appeal for content creators and marketers because the audience was so small (the devices hadn’t yet reached critical mass). Clearly, the medium is still young. You could buy only eight books on podcasting on last week, compared to 94 for blogging, and 534 for Internet advertising.

With widespread adoption of iPods and MP3 players, the addressable audience has gotten much bigger. Jupiter Research estimates 18.2 million units will be shipped this year.

Said David Card, Jupiter Research VP and senior analyst, in the press release: “Historically, any new device or medium that reaches a U.S. household penetration of 15 to 20 percent creates a critical mass of customers for other products and services. MP3 players will hit that mark this year. This is good news for both digital download stores and subscription music services. Subscription services and devices will fuel each other’s growth.”

Seth Palmer, an engagement manager at my agency, active blogger, and aspiring podcaster, had a great dialogue with me about this latest digital medium. He pointed me to a press release issued just two days after iTunes 4.9’s release, in which Apple reported over 1 million podcast subscriptions through iTunes.

You can view podcasting’s role in two ways: advertising to an early-adopter audience and developing marketer-created podcasts to deepen customer or prospect relationships on your sites. A great example of this is “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” podcasts of HipTips and previously aired episodes. This is interesting on many levels, as it allows the network to deepen the relationship between the audience and the characters, and it’s a nearly cost-free way to build audience share between episodes. Many networks sell advertising on their own sites. By providing an additional reason for people to visit sites, they can increase traffic and maximize revenues.

The devices are reaching critical mass and the range of content is expanding quickly, from audiocasts such as ABC News’ Latest News 24/7 to “The Bob and Rob Show” (“Weekly English Lessons from a Yankee and a Brit”). In a clear sign of the medium’s hot status, SIRIUS Satellite Radio recently signed Adam Curry to broadcast his podcasts on podcasting over its network. (Curry is considered by many to be the founding father of podcasting.)

To get a sense of the range of content available, visit Podcast Alley and check out the Top 10 Podcasts as selected by site visitors. For June, two entries among the Top 10 illustrate the broad range of online content: “The Dawn and Drew Show” (“two ex gutter punks fall in love, buy a retired farm in Wisconsin, and tell the world their dirty secrets”) and “Catholic Insider” (“your daily dose of Catholic inside information”). You can navigate from the sacred to the profane in just two clicks.

The devices are in people’s hands, and a lot of rich content is available on the Internet. How do listeners search and sort it? Just as various RSS aggregators were created to help readers find, subscribe to, and read blogs, similar services are being developed for listeners in the podcasting world. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you should check out the recently released Odeo, which allows listeners to find and manage podcast content with relative ease. Of course, iTunes added a podcast feature in its latest release and currently features 4,500 entries. Similarly, has a directory with over 7,000 entries.

Other services are launching to help podcast producers promote their content to listeners. Kiptronic recently launched an innovative service that allows podcasters to record and exchange promos for their podcasts (think movie trailers or public service announcements). Kiptronic handles all the technical issues for integrating these promos, as well as hosts podcasts. It’ll even make it possible to advertise on its podcast network.

The audience is emerging and content is growing. So where are the advertisers? Here are a few interesting examples: This spring, Durex Condoms was reportedly the first commercial podcast advertiser with a sponsorship of the popular (if not somewhat off-color and sexually explicit) podcast, “The Dawn and Drew Show.” The media buy allowed Durex to place its product in a highly relevant context with no danger of an FCC fine. Blogging and podcasting can be neatly bundled, as Volvo did with its recent $60,000, six-month sponsorship of’s Web site and podcast. Virgin Atlantic is creating podcast city guides you can download before you jump on a plane. New York is the first destination available on its site. Hometown Tales recently auctioned off a sponsorship of its podcast on eBay (winning bid: $76).

The market is very, very new, but early-adopter advertisers are jumping in relatively quickly, testing a variety of formats and ideas. Here’s what advertisers should be thinking about and doing:

  1. Before you dip your toe in, determine podcast objectives. Every large marketer should have some money set aside for R&D spending on new media and new advertising constructs. Podcasting certainly qualifies as both. Get clear on objectives and start small.
  2. Define your podcast audience. Right now, you’ll find early-adopter consumers. Figure out what they listen to and use that to determine whether you’ll sponsor a podcast, sponsor a group of podcasts, or create your own. Make sure you listen to podcasts you’re considering sponsoring first to get a feel for the content and tone. Because podcasts are “inner circle” media vehicles, you want your advertising to fit the content’s personality.
  3. Watch and measure. Because measurement is nascent today given the medium, the podcast decision probably won’t stand the return-on-investment (ROI) scrutiny placed on other media. Also, the medium is still unregulated, so understand with freedom comes risk (especially content risk). Assess that carefully going in.

    For podcast advertisers, try to learn as much as you can. Find out about audience size, both new and repeat listeners; the content; and the number of impressions or streams. Optimize accordingly.

    If you provide podcasts on your own site, there are lots of additional things to measure, including number of streams and pass-alongs. You can do registration-based podcasts or make them accessible to customers only. Tie clicks on podcast streams to sales confirmation pages to determine ROI.

Podcasting is so new, there are no tried-and-true formulas. If it’s out of your comfort zone, wait until the medium matures a bit. If you’re comfortable with uncertainty, jump right in.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

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