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Podcasting: Who's Tuning In?

Mike Chapman
Podcasting: Who's Tuning In? Mike Chapman

Is it still fair to describe podcast listeners as "early adopters?" In a survey published by Pew Internet & American Life in July 2005, a mere 13 percent of respondents were confident of the meaning of the word "podcasting." Only the term "RSS feeds" was less well known, whereas more than 50 percent understood "adware," "internet cookies," "spyware," "firewall" and "spam."

Joining the podcast audience requires confident use of an iPod or MP3 player, as well as ease with the process of downloading syndicated digital content from the internet (although podcasts can be listened to and watched on a computer with an internet connection, it's their portability that attracts users). This will remain a constraint on audience size even though the number of consumers who meet these requirements will inevitably grow over the next few years.

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The extent of immediate comfort with the technology involved is not, however, the only factor that will determine the popularity of podcasting. Consumers have repeatedly shown that they can quickly overcome perceived technical issues in order to obtain a product or service that better meets their needs. Podcasting meets an important and proven consumer preference: it allows users to choose when and where they "consume" their entertainment or information. The pursuit of this freedom has driven many "revolutionary" products and services: the personal stereo, the laptop computer and the digital video recorder, to name but a few.

These and other factors underlie eMarketer's podcast audience projections, which show a total active audience of 15 million by 2010.


Mike Chapman is editorial director at eMarketer. This article is drawn from his new report, "Podcasting: Who's Tuning In?" Click here to learn more.

Gesture recognition
Long the stuff of science fiction, gesture recognition computing suddenly landed with the resounding thunk of 8 million families leaping up and down in front of their televisions, as Microsoft's Xbox Kinect plug-in debuted in late 2010. Marketers, sensing a ripe opportunity to transform their interactions with consumers into something immersive and fun...

Oh, hell, who am I kidding? We've done next to nothing with gesture recognition, as a recent article in Ad Age laments. The one small step for consumers onto the bizarre coin-catching rubber raft turns out to be a giant leap for marketers. And that's understandable: To succeed in a space where consumers are themselves still getting their sea legs, marketers not only have to figure out how to make gesture inputs seamless and smooth, but also how to create experiences so compelling that consumers will put in the extra work to interact.

Most marketers could reason that 8 million Kinect users constitutes a niche market that we can afford to neglect in the still-austere year of 2011, but new Kinect developments might be game-changers. In addition to the promise of faster evolution driven by the kind of experiments showcased on the Kinect Hacks blog, Microsoft has hinted that a more accessible software development kit might accompany the launch of a PC-compatible Kinect in 2011. So that touch-optimized web interface you're developing might need to be gesture-optimized sooner than you think.

While no one has yet been able to explain to me why we needed to coin the word "geolocation" when we already have a perfectly good word that means location -- namely, "location" -- it's clear that both the term and the technologies are here to stay. Yes, I speak of the much-heralded growth of check-in apps like Foursquare and Gowalla and the attendant opportunities for marketers, but that's not where most location-specific brand interactions will take place. On tablets and browsers, geolocation is a potential factor in every browser and app-based interaction with consumers, not just on dedicated geolocation apps. Even on good old-fashioned desktops and laptops, location is increasingly important as search engines begin to put more juice behind local results, ad networks push location-based targeting, and HTML5 location-sniffing gains ground with each new browser release.

To take advantage, marketers need to think conceptually about geolocation rather than chasing after the app of the day. You need to start with big questions like, "What could I offer my prospects that would be different if I already knew their locations?" The answer to that question not only influences mobile strategy but also search engine optimization, paid search and display ads, and web development. Which reminds me...

The death of the website
OK, I admit, your website is not going to die, but it makes for a more provocative subhead than "the increasing de-centering of the website," which is actually what's taking place. The corporate website is losing its centrality as the means by which consumers interact with brands online, and it's not coming back.

The website will, for the foreseeable future, continue to be the primary means of transacting with consumers online, but that's only one small part of marketer-consumer interaction, way down at the bottom of the funnel. Further up the funnel, where consumers compare brands, read reviews, listen to friends, and talk to brands directly, you're far better off meeting up with consumers in the places they like to hang out, like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, as well as blogs, forums, communities, etc.

This requires a tectonic shift in the classic marketer mindset. Even marketers that have fully embraced the idea that their content needs to live in lots of different places still get twitchy at the notion that a promo can live solely on Facebook or Twitter without needing to herd everybody over to the corporate site. That's understandable; digital marketers live and die by the numbers, and site traffic is a number. Marketers won't truly make the leap until social analytics mature, but that's a topic for another day.

Content aggregation
Faced with the constant deluge of digital content produced by consumers, competitors, and peers, the marketer's last tether to sanity is content aggregation, which allows us wrangle the content flood into a manageable, consumable stream. I am, as I write this, using a content aggregator to monitor content about content aggregation, proving that 1) every day, in every way, things are getting meta and meta, and 2) my own frayed tether to sanity has finally snapped.

Simple aggregators like Google Reader and Flipboard can work behind the scenes to mainline relevant content into our marketing veins, but consumers also suffer from content overload and need our help. (Or, at least, they're sometimes willing to accept our help.) Many marketers have embraced content curation as part of their content marketing strategy. Using handy curation tools like Scoop.It, they pluck relevant content out of the ether, slather on a coat of their own content varnish, and package it up for content-addled consumers. Mint.com's much-vaunted MintLife blog is a prime example, but every topic has content worth curating. Marketers who fret about how to sustain content production for their blogs should be first in line for this: The ability to pinpoint good content is often far more valuable than adding new content to the flood.

Woody Allen once described an existentialist philosopher as someone who hated reality but found it was the only place he could get a good steak. Augmented reality (AR) bears the promise of making it easier for consumers to find a good steak and even to visualize what a good steak might look like.

AR has become a catch-all term for any application that visually layers digital reality on top of analog reality. Across devices -- PC, tablet, and smartphone -- the camera is usually the bridge between realities. Browser-based AR often takes the form of a printable AR marker that, when held up to a webcam, displays some sort of 3-D model that can even include motion, sound, and video. Mobile-based AR, which tends to get more of the buzz, usually consists of location-based (sorry, geolocation-based) visual information imposed on whatever you're looking at through the phone's camera.

AR is still mostly in the sparkly object phase of its development -- perfectly suited to the launch of the new Gorillaz album, for instance. But it's going to gain ground quickly as marketers seize on its potential for better merchandising; consider, for instance, an application that would allow you to model the style and finish of new door hardware simply by scanning your door through your smartphone's camera.

I encourage my fellow marketers to start dabbling in AR right away. It's relatively cheap, easy, and fun, with great potential to create more immersive experiences that delight consumers. Any able-bodied Flash developer can create browser-based AR, and any marketers with location information worth touting can create their own branded AR layers and make them available for free through the AR application Layar. Then when AR glasses finally bust out a mere 20 years from now, you'll be ahead of the game.

Yes, mobile. I know -- mobile was last year's big tech trend, and the year before that, and the year before that. This time, we mean it. For the first time in 2011, sales of smartphones will surpass the combined sales of PC desktops and laptops. So it seems that mobile has become kind of a big deal.

I risk stating the obvious because marketers have thus far failed to embrace the obvious when it comes to mobile, and we face a rude awakening. DotMobi reports that only 29.7 percent of the web's top 10,000 sites are optimized for mobile. That's a full-blown usability crisis in the making.

How did we end up in this spot? App fetish is partly to blame. Settling on a mobile app strategy and getting an app built is a much longer road than simply optimizing your site for mobile browsing, but marketers have a tendency to focus on the big payoffs. As any analyst will tell you, ignoring your site's poor mobile performance in favor of an app strategy is deeply misguided. Different user types favor apps vs. browsing, but all mobile users will demand better browsing experiences from brand sites. Expect to see studies emerge in 2011 documenting the brand switching and loss of brand equity that occurs as a result of poor mobile experiences; you can then bake that data into your business case for the new mobile site.

That's the view of 2011 from two months into it. What did I miss? Let me know!

Eric Anderson is VP of marketing at White Horse. Check out his blogs on iMedia Connection and the White Horse website.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


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