Brian Haven, sr analyst, Forrester Research

Begin with the fundamentals: Is podcasting right for your audience? And then, how to go about it?

The continued popularization of the term “podcast" and the increased availability of content options largely fuel the growth in podcast listening. While companies continue to seek the appropriate type of content for podcasts, it’s important to first determine whether your customers — existing or potential — are even interested! To figure out if podcasts are a good fit for your audience, as a marketer, you should:

Identify existing podcast content related to your brand. The best first step in determining if podcasts are right for your audience is to identify if podcast content related to your brand already exists. Check the sites of competitors, vendors, and industry associations, as well as podcast indices like iTunes, PodShow, or Yahoo! Podcasts. Make sure you look not only for content directly related to your brand, but also for topics that are indirectly related. For example, if a company that sells products for children is interested in creating podcasts about parenting, it should also look at podcasts on youth education or family vacations.

Leverage existing surveys and feedback to identify potential podcast topics. Take the opportunity to explore audience interest in podcasts using existing survey vehicles like email and online surveys, custom mail surveys, and customer service calls. There are several areas to explore, including whether or not they listen to podcasts today, whether they listen using their computer or with a portable device, and whether they would be interested in content related to your brand. Because knowing if your audience listens to podcasts on a computer or on a portable device can have a big impact on how you deliver the content. For desktop listeners, you may be able to provide podcasts just on your Web site, while portable device listeners (e.g. iPod owners) may prefer to download podcasts through services like iTunes.

And be prepared for some disappointment — Forrester’s findings show that only 24% of podcast listeners and 4% of all online consumers responded positively when asked if they were interested in receiving podcast content from marketers! The key: Target your initial podcasts to that small segment of interested, podcast-listening customers to build your initial core audience.

Find a content hole to fill. Podcasting is a particularly competitive space because it typically replaces an existing activity — listening to music or the radio. Additionally, given that consumers regularly listen to only a small number of podcasts, the biggest challenge for most marketers is identifying what content customers want, and how they will use it. Don’t assume that podcast listeners will automatically subscribe to — and listen to — all of your content. Instead, a more viable strategy may be to optimize each individual podcast episode for search engine visibility and drive episode downloads or streams rather than subscriptions. For example, IBM provides an individual page for each podcast that includes a text description and a link to a transcript — all of which can be indexed by search engines.

Gauge interest by creating test podcasts. As we’re still in the early stages of adoption, many companies just jump in to podcasting with both feet to see what happens. In stead, you should first gauge the interest by way of creating test podcasts and measuring response to it.

Finally, on a separate note, beware of creating ‘cheap’ podcasts. While production costs for podcasts can be extremely low, creating quality podcasts should be a priority for any brand marketer seeking to make a good first impression with customers.

The next part of this article will elaborate the types of podcasts along with nine techniques for creating successful podcasts.

At Forrester, Brian covers the intersection of rich media and Social Computing, including user-generated content, podcasting, and immersive video gaming environments in addition to social networks, blogs, and other social media technologies. He advises Marketing Leadership professionals world over through workshops on emerging interactive channels and Social Computing.

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