August 22, 2006
How To

SPECIAL REPORT: MarketingSherpa's Practical Podcasting Guide for Marketers

SUMMARY: Podcasting is about to celebrate its second birthday and
we don't know of a marketer out there who isn't at least mulling over the possibilities.

Here's our handy guide, including:

o Surprising data on listener demographics

o 3 Mistakes to avoid

o 5 Rules for podcast content

o 4 Tips to create commercials that get results

Plus, loads of handy hotlinks for vendors, blogs and info:

Invented in August 2004, podcasts are one of the fastest-growing media channels in history -- from the podcasters' side anyway.

The good news is millions listen to podcasts. The bad news is so many podcasters are broadcasting that the average podcaster gets a few hundred listeners (if they're lucky.)

Should you be considering launching a podcast as a marketing campaign? Or perhaps sponsoring a third-party podcast? Here's MarketingSherpa's handy 101 guide to get you started:

Basic data -- Three Listener Demographic Surprises

If you're feeling behind because your podcasting initiative hasn't gotten off the ground, don't worry. Podcasting may be the hippest, hottest thing on the planet, but the vast majority of Web surfers haven't downloaded a single one yet.

Surprise #1. Total listenership

According to Arbitron/Edison Media Research, as of June only 22% of people had even heard of "podcasting" but only 11% had ever listened to one. It seems these early adopters weren't all terribly impressed either. According to Nielsen//NetRatings, just 6.6% of the online population in July recently downloaded an audio podcast. That's about 9.2 million US adults.

(Note: according to Podtrac, 22 million US adults as of early May had viewed a podcast, but that data includes children and people who've downloaded music but not necessarily entire 'podcast' shows per se.)

So, roughly 40% of people who've downloaded at least once, haven't made it a regular habit yet, despite the fact that many podcasts can be subscribed to on a regular basis just like RSS feeds and email newsletters can be.

Video podcasting (also known as Vcasting) is coming up just about as quickly with 4.4% of the Net population, as measured by Nielsen, viewing videos.

Surprise #2. Specific demographics

Although many in the podcasting world assume the core audience is young men ages 18-34 in tech fields (your typical geeky early adopters) the truth is actually completely different. Podcasting listenership is extremely broad.

According to Arbitron, podcasting listenership is fairly even across the sexes with women at 48%. Plus, only 32% of listeners are ages 18-34. At 45%, the biggest demographic slice of listeners is 35 or older, with 17% in the 45-54 age group.

These stats are extremely good news for the podcasting world, indicating the medium's jumped well over the early adopter ghetto and hit mainstream. Now all that remains to see is how big podcasting will get.

Surprise #3. Listening platforms

Another surprise, although the term podcasting was inspired by the iPod, you don't need an iPod to listen to or view a podcast. In fact, the majority of users don't listen via iPods. According to a May 2006 Podtrac survey, 56% of the audience listen via their computers instead.

So, podcasting isn't limited to iPod (or other mobile device) ownership. Your tech team should format the audio and/or video to work on an iPod as well as a computer.

Specific Tips on Creating a Podcast That Works as a Marketing Tool

Many of the most successful podcasts resemble a cross between a regularly published email newsletter with several interesting articles, a personal blog with a strong individual tone and a radio talk show with must-meet guest stars. So the best qualities are:

o Strong voice - not just the sound but the style
o Steadiness of publication - not a one-off, but a continuing series
o Variety - different guests-stars, different "articles"

According to Rob Walch, co-author of the book, 'Tricks of the Podcasting Masters' (link below) you should avoid the three most common mistakes:

Mistake #1. Shovelware

Every time a new media is invented (TV, the Web, and now podcasting) at first creators try to shovel up the same content onto the new medium that worked in the others. Don't just read your Web site content or email articles into a microphone. If your fans wanted that, they could go online to see it.

Although you may include calls to action to go to your site (click for more info…), your content should be new, fresh, specifically created for this medium. That's why guest interviews, music, co-host chit chat and even rants do so well for podcasts.

Mistake #2. Sales pitch

You may get a few people to download a podcast that's a lightly disguised sales pitch once … but chances are none of them will bother to download or listen to the next installment. Just as with email newsletters, the best-loved podcasts offer content the listeners find valuable and/or highly entertaining.

Instead of viewing the podcast as infomercial, consider it your 'Hallmark Hall of Fame' series, where you'll broadcast great content that's lightly peppered with palatable commercials.

“You don’t have to tell your whole story up front,” notes Walch. “Be patient with the podcast and spread your story out over the series. Look at this as being a long-term investment of time and effort.”

Mistake #3. Testing just one to start

We've heard of many, many marketers producing one podcast as a "test" campaign. The problem with that approach is although podcasting is cheap (equipment costs range from $25-$1,000 and hosting is only expensive if you're incredibly successful) you should be investing considerable energy and time into initially creating and promoting your podcast.

As with email newsletters or drive-time radio shows, the most successful podcasts build brand impact from listener relationships over time. It's not a one-off medium. If you create only one, you may not ever get the audience or impact your podcast deserves. Or, if your single podcast defies the odds to become insanely successful, you may not be ready with a follow-up series in time to catch the wave.

Here are five more content and production rules:

Rule #1: Keep it short.

The ideal length of a podcast is 10 minutes to 20 minutes. “If you go more than 25 minutes, you’re outside the average commute,” says Walch. Or past the average treadmill workout.

Plus, you need to break up that time into smaller chunks of content. Unlike a trade show speech, it can get awfully boring hearing the same announcer speaking away for 20 solid minutes. Many of the corporate podcasters we know say they spend a lot of time editing the content down for roughly three-four minutes per interview or feature.

Rule #2. Don't drone from a script

Although some corporate podcasts are scripted, just as with the blogworld, anything with too many corporate communications editors involved can turn the audience off.

Walch advises you use body language to keep your vocal energy high. Stand up instead of sitting. Gesticulate.

Rule #3. Copywrite your podcast title carefully

If you're hoping for iTunes traffic to discover you, as well as users on other major podcasting directories, remember you're competing with tens of thousands of other podcasts.

Walch advises you to pick a name for your podcast that matches your content topic. People are likely to search for a particular subject (rather than a brand name) when they visit iTunes. (Note: This is just like any other type of search marketing -- it’s all about keywords.)

When an audience member is listening on an iPod, they'll see a 255-character ID3 tag title scrolling across their screen throughout the podcast. Roughly 17-32 characters appear on the screen at any time as it scrolls.

Be sure to include your phone number and short vanity URL in that title for responses. Plus, naturally include your title.

What should the title be? Remember you're trying to build a brand relationship with the audience over time. While your podcast name can have your company or brand name in it, you should also consider a secondary name. Don't call it "XYZ Corporation Podcast Issue I," which is a recipe for boring.

However, do include a date in your name if the content will be dated in the future. Unlike email newsletters, which are date-stamped by the recipient's inbox when they arrive, podcasts are not dated unless you put one there.

Rule #4. Schedule a calendar (ongoing or limited-series)

Many podcasting experts say the best frequency is weekly. However, if you're not sure if you're up to the work, nor if the audience demand will be there, you probably should start with a slower calendar. As with blogging and email newsletters, podcasting can be exhausting for the long haul.

“You don’t want to produce a show five days a week and wake up and think, ‘It’s time to make the doughnuts,’” Walch says. Key -- whatever timing you set, try to stick to it to capture habitual listeners. “You want to get in people’s ruts."

Not sure if you're up to starting a podcast series that will go on until the end of time? It's a scary commitment. Our suggestion, try the waters first with a limited-run podcast series. Just as with an emailed "e-course," a single-season TV series, or a novel with chapters, you'd have a story arc and announce up front how long the entire podcast will be.

Each episode would be developed to play in context of the rest, and the entire series would be as evergreen as possible so newbies can start with podcast #1 at any time and work their way through the series at their own pace.

Rule #5. Best time of day may be nighttime

Many podcasting enthusiasts dock their iPods overnight and then listen to whatever's new the next morning.

Advertising Within Your Own Podcasts: Four Tips

Although your podcast shouldn't be just ads, you certainly can and should insert house ads and offers. Four tips on making these work best:

Tip #1. Keep advertisements short and in-context

Unlike radio, podcast listeners can click on their "skip" button and jump right over commercials extremely easily.

You should try to keep ads short -- perhaps 10-15 seconds -- so it's not worth the effort to skip over them. Plus, if possible, make the transition smooth so the listener isn't immediately aware, "Oh, this is an ad." (Note: you're should not be misleading or lying, just not calling attention to the commercial break, especially if it's an in-house ad.)

Walch's advice, "Try something like '…speaking of that, why don’t you go to and download our latest 10% off coupon for …”

Tip #2. Offer phone and online response devices

Commuters and folks at the gym aren't near a computer when they listen in, so you may want to include an easy-to-remember phone number for them to respond to offers. (This is a great use for your vanity 800 number.) And remember to keep it staffed outside work hours for those users.

On the other hand, you also want Web url calls to action for the 56% of your audience who are listening while at a computer. These also need to be easy-to-spell, vanity URLs that lead to landing pages -- no ad-tracking gobbledygook.

Tip #3. Make your ad offers evergreen

Once a podcast is posted online, it may live there for months or years to come. So, ads with specific dated deadlines or offers that won't be interesting a few weeks from now are a bad idea.

Tip #4. Place ads at the middle and end

Don't start out with an ad right off the bat. Instead, hook the audience with interesting content and then perhaps half-way through run your ad. Then reiterate it at the very end. According to Podtrac's May survey 88% of podcast users listen or view the entire broadcast.

Advertising on Third-Party Podcasts:

Podcast ad deals now often tend to resemble early TV where a sponsor "owns" the show and their brand name can even be incorporated into it.
This is a great way for a brand marketer to test the benefits of a sponsored podcast without the headaches of actually producing it in-house.

Examples: Skeptic Magazine recently named the independently-produced podcast Skepticality its official podcast. Last year, Dixie (Georgia-Pacific’s disposable dinnerware brand), signed on as the sole sponsor of the MommyCast podcast.

To get the most from your sole sponsorship investment, you should also consider investing in promotion for the podcast itself just as you would if it were an in-house production. Chances are the creators themselves are enthusiastic amateurs or a fairly small shop.

If you're not going to be the sole sponsor, as with any ad medium you'll get far better impact if you sponsor multiple episodes in a row. At the very least try four-six episodes before making a yes/no decision about continuation.

Just as with the blogworld, several online ad networks are already offering podcast buys either across network or per blog. Typical costs according to Walch are fairly high for media, ranging from $15-$40 CPM (Cost Per Thousand downloads) at the low end. He's heard of sponsors paying more, even $200 CPM.

Your other options range widely from buying podcast ads on eBay (yes, honestly) to testing nascent PPC networks. We've included links to several networks below.

How Much Traffic Should Your Podcast Get?

You're not going to get a zillion listeners by simply posting your podcast to iTunes and assuming people will find it. As noted above, a great search-worthy name will help.

We've also heard a fabulous chicklet can make a big difference -- the chicklet is the thumbnail icon that Web surfers use to visually identify and subscribe to your podcast. Just as with bloggers, many podcasters use the templated graphics instead of creating their own, so all too many podcasts look same-old, same-old to a consumer surfing down a list of them.

Obviously, include info about your podcast in:
o Your email newsletters
o Employee email SIGs
o Your Web site
o Other famous podcasts
o Any related promotional messaging especially including SMS and other wireless

However, just as with Web site launches, sending out a press release about your podcast launch will probably get you el-zilcho attention these days. Instead, hold on your press announcement until you have valuable or exciting content to brag about. For example, send a release, including a hotlink to the podcast download in the first paragraph, if you have a celebrity guest.

How many downloads should you expect? Only a very few big runaway hits have audiences for a typical episode in the hundreds of thousands. (British comedian Ricky Gervais claims that the Guinness Book of Records is considering his show for inclusion because it has more than 260,000 listeners per episode.)

Your best bet is to set expectations fairly low -- perhaps 6% of your typical email newsletter readership or blog traffic would be a reasonable goal to shoot for until listening to podcasts becomes more routine for mainstream consumers. The good news is this should be fairly soon.

Useful links related to this article:

-> More places for info on podcasting

podCast411, blog of Robert Walch, co-author, 'Tricks of the Podcasting Masters' - blog of the inventor of podcasting, Adam Curry

iTunes' tech specs for podcasters:

-> A sampling of advertising networks (in alpha order)

Blast Podcast





The Podcast Network's eBay auction info

-> A sampling of Podcast distribution services:




-> Measurement tools:


-> Audio Editing tools:


Adobe Audition

LiveOffice Free Conferencing’s Record & Playback service

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