Podcasting‘s (define) cool. Sometimes, it can be a great marketing tool. But that’s not true all the time, and podcasting is certainly not for every marketing plan.

Sure, we’ve been covering podcasting both as marketing and an ad medium here at ClickZ. It’s been fun watching companies use this simple, very low-cost syndicated audio channel to innovate and spread their messages.

Simultaneously, podcasting seems to have spawned a small army of Pod People. They’re eager to leap, without really looking, over the edge of the latest technology. With an entry barrier as low as email and RSS (define), there will be plenty of podcast leapers. Before heading, lemming-like, to the brink (as my inbox indicates many ClickZ readers are preparing to do), some points to consider.

  • Think “publishing,” not “audiobook.” If it’s a true podcast, it’s an RSS-distributed feed that users subscribe to. Real podcasts don’t stream (define), nor are they individually downloadable, single files. As with a blog or newsletter, if you’re getting into this, you’re doing it for the long haul. One goal is to build a subscriber base.
  • Audio’s not as quick. Reading, whether text on a screen or on a piece of paper, is faster than talking or reading aloud. If your podcast is high in informational value but lacks other audio bells and whistles, such as music, interviews, celebrity value, or sound effects (particularly if the audience is business-to-business), you may be better off with text instead of a talking head, sans head. And unlike text, audio isn’t yet searchable.
  • Podcasts offer zero interactivity. Once downloaded, a podcast is an audio file — plain and simple. Nothing more, nothing less. The subscriber can listen. She can’t click, fill out a form, or navigate elsewhere.
  • Podcasting offers iffy metrics. Once you’re podcasting, the only reliable metric you get, as with text RSS feeds, is number of subscribers. There’s no way to know how many subscriber actually listen to any given podcast (much less if they listen all the way through) or if they pass it on or trash it. You can try methods to measure things a bit more closely, such as including a call to action in the audio track and waiting to see how many listeners actually bite. Reconcile with the fact there’s a lot you’re just not going to know.
  • Is anyone listening? Podcast user numbers aren’t all that big, and growth isn’t expected to be explosive. In April, Pew Internet & American Life Project reported about 6 million Americans had listened to a podcast. Forrester Research says 12.3 million will listen by 2010. That’s only fairly rapid growth and, for many marketers, not significant penetration. Is it your target? The top podcasts tend to skew to a young audience looking for music, entertainment, or geek/tech info.
  • The MP3 player is optional. Podcasting’s growth and popularity are doubtless driven by the rapid adoption of portable MP3 players. Although these certainly make podcasts portable, everyone seems to overlook the fact they’re not mission-critical. Podcasts are plain, everyday MP3 files. You can play them on your PC. Heck, you can burn them onto a CD and play them on most DVD players, if you want.
  • Size matters. More than RSS feeds, more than email newsletters, maybe even more than your Web site, podcasts must deliver value to subscribers. An MP3 file subscription will add up — and fill up — hard drives and portable players. We’re not talking a couple text kilobytes. Optimize the length of your podcasts, as well as file size.
  • Quality still counts. The majority of podcasts currently out there are amateur recordings made on amateur equipment. No quarrel here, but a low-rent approach doesn’t work for every brand. It’s not uncommon for articulate writers and incisive thinkers to be really rotten talkers. Think about brand voice — literally — before you market via podcast. There’s a reason broadcast entities were overwhelmingly first-to-market in commercial podcasting: core competency.

The first commercial entrants into the podcasting fray, whether as podcasters or podcast sponsors (after the obvious entertainment, music, and broadcast entities), tend to be (or want to be perceived as) tech savvy or cutting-edge geeky. For them, the medium makes sense.

As with any other medium or channel, you must first figure out if podcasting makes sense for your brand, your product or service, and your audience. If it does, please let me know how podcasting fits into your marketing strategy.

The ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards recognize ClickZ readers’ choices for achievement and innovation in online marketing technology, solutions, and execution. Nominate the products, services, and campaigns you believe deserve the distinction of being named the best in their category. Nominations are open until Friday, June 3 (EOB, EST).

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