"Thou shalt podcast" seems to be the message handed down to marketers by new media pundits nowadays. It's true that podcasting and advertising in podcasts holds a lot of promise for marketers. But this opportunity can easily be missed because of many of the myths out there, leading to doomed-from-the-start experiments in podcasting or lack of experimentation due to fear of the unknown. Let's dispel the top five myths of podcasting and podcast advertising so we can focus on the facts.
Myth #1: There's a huge incentive to fast forward ads
If you choose to place your ad or sponsor message in an existing podcast, will it simply be skipped? After all, Steve Jobs last year called podcasting "TiVo for radio," emphasizing its on-demand nature. TiVo, of course, gives all us marketers nightmares of couch potatoes with their hand on the remote just waiting to skip the next commercial break. Podcast users are no couch potatoes. For audio podcasting, listeners set the iPod to their favorite show, then put their hands back on the wheel if they're driving, mouse if they're multitasking or treadmill if they're exercising. It's simply not worth it to fast forward a short, interstitial ad for most people. Even if they do have their hand on the dial, ads in podcasts can be made relevant, short and tasteful because of the niche and opt-in nature of the medium, removing the incentive to fast-forward that audiences have in mass media.
Myth #2: You can't know the profile of a podcast's listeners or viewers
You don't need to hack into Apple's database to know who's using a podcast. Most podcasts have focused content that gives you a pretty clear concept of who's tuned in. Many podcasters have been quite successful at getting their audience to fill out demographic surveys. Every single media file download can be tracked to determine where people are downloading from and what type of software they're using to access the podcast. More and more podcasts even have community functionality on their websites that allow for profiling of users. The $20-billion terrestrial radio ad market still relies on diaries kept by a small handful of individuals. Podcasting offers a level of measurability unprecedented in similar forms of media.
Myth #3: There are an abundance of phantom downloaders inflating statistics
As podcasting gained steam, savvy marketers were quick to ask a very important question: "If people can subscribe to podcasts and get new episodes automatically downloaded by iTunes, won't there be a lot of people who subscribe but don't listen?" These non-listening and non-viewing subscribers would be phantom downloaders, and indeed would be a huge menace to anyone who uses podcasting as a marketing tool. Luckily our friend in Cupertino came to the rescue and put the kibosh on phantom downloaders. iTunes by default will stop downloading a podcast if the user doesn't access one of the podcast's last several media files. This means if someone subscribes to a podcast but doesn't listen to it or view it, they won't be a subscriber for long. Not only is podcasting opt-in, but it requires an ongoing commitment to stay opted in.
Myth #4: Creating an effective podcast is cheap and easy
Anyone can produce a podcast for next to nothing in cost. In your basement, you can use a $15 mike and open source software to launch your very own podcast. Okay, maybe a $15 mike is a little on the cheap side, but with only a few hundred dollars' worth of equipment you can achieve pretty good audio quality. So if it's so cheap to produce your own podcast, why not launch one today?
iTunes is flooded with failed podcasts produced by marketers who ignored the two "c"s of podcasting: content and consistency. It's easy to write out a script for a podcast pitching what your company does and have someone read it into a microphone. But who'd want to listen to that? Creating compelling audio or video content isn't easy. It requires you to have great talent working in a dynamic format that entertains and informs users. And if you can do that perfectly only one time, you're in trouble. A successful podcast builds audience over a series of consistently good episodes.
Myth #5: You need to do distribution deals for a podcast
Many podcast companies include in their pitch that they'll give you some kind of unique and ill-defined "distribution" for your podcast. Don't buy it. At least for now, all of the meaningful podcast distribution is free. As long as your media files are properly formatted and your RSS feed includes the right tags, you can get your podcast listed in iTunes and in all of the podcast directories that matter.
It's easy to define what's not true about podcasting (I've managed to do it in the number of words iMedia allotted me), but fully capturing podcasting's true potential as a marketing tool in a brief article is impossible. While there are lots of success stories in podcast advertising, there's still room for much more creativity and innovation in the medium. Now that we've got our facts straight, it's time to explore the opportunities podcasting offers.