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* Because of their portable nature, podcasts are an effective type of social media for driving repeatable interaction
* Of the eight types of social media identified by SiriusDecisions, podcasting may very  well be the best for demand creation
* Podcasts also can be an effective mechanism for internal communications; don’t  ignore this opportunity

Editor’s Note: Sirius Trends examines the impact of emerging business strategies and tactics on b-to-b organizations. This brief – the fourth in a series on social media – provides an in-depth look
at podcasts, and how they can be leveraged by sales and marketing.

Testing…testing…is this thing on? A quick scan across the b-to-b podcasting landscape feels a bit like a flashback to a high school talent show, where would-be entertainers struggle through their 15 minutes of fame. Weak messaging, poor production and incorrect
“instrument” usage are still quite common, all hallmarks of the fact we are still dealing with a very new medium. This isn’t to say that there are no encouraging signs; in fact, a number of  organizations have adopted a more disciplined approach to podcasting so that their message is not lost in translation. In this brief, we discuss the value of podcasts both for marketing and sales, and provide our recommendations for optimizing their use.

Definitions and Base Guidelines

Podcasts are digital media files that can be downloaded, streamed, or syndicated and subscribed to in order to enable automatic distribution and drive repeated listeners when new content
is added. A highly portable medium of communication, podcasts can be embedded in Web/landing pages and microsites to further encourage distribution.

Even before discussing optimization techniques for specific types of podcasts, it is important to touch on some general guidelines that apply regardless of use; let’s start with content.

While content needs to be engaging and conversational, we often cringe at podcasts that go over the top, designed to entertain much more than inform (the latter of which is much more important in a b-to-b environment). Unless your products, services and solutions are highly engaging by their very nature – and most b-to-b offerings aren’t – podcasts that deliver the greatest value must be relevant and highly targeted to specific audiences. We do advise resisting the temptation to overcorrect by scripting podcasts, which make the content sound canned,
boring and generally a waste of time.

Following timing guidelines is also important for maximum impact. It’s better to have a series of three 15-minute podcasts rather one that is 45 minutes; it’s better still to produce a series of five-minute clips that weave a story over time, all the while training prospects and customers to return to one spot to hear the latest installment. Finally, despite their portable nature, we advise driving any discussion of podcast content from a central location for ease of tracking and monitoring; enable this by including podcast links off of appropriate blog pages, which gives your listeners a place to go to leave comments and link back to the content.

Podcasts: Functional Analysis

The real question for b-to-b organizations is how to most effectively leverage podcasts; what follows is our analysis of the value of the medium for three specific sales and marketing functions, with the impact on each function rated as low, medium or high:

* Communications (high). Many organizations have already discovered the value of using podcasts to broadcast press releases and new product announcements, and to keep current customers informed about key initiatives. The natural advantage is in not having to force targets to read online press releases and communications; they can download the podcast and listen at their leisure. The natural drawback is typically in the  one-way nature of these podcasts, simply telling people things rather than delivering  meaningful value by tying announcements to business issues. Each announcement  should result in dialogue, which takes advantage of the viral marketing nature that all  social media tools possess. Question-and-answer is a proven podcasting format, using a  chief executive or key influencer within the business to discuss why a corporate  announcement is relevant to any target group, be it prospects, customers, analysts or  journalists. Podcasts can also be a very  effective tool for internal communications,  particularly for geographically dispersed workforces that must be kept informed about  new policies and procedures. A key challenge for organizations is a lack of internal  expertise (and sometimes interest) in developing a podcast delivery strategy; while you
 need only a microphone, iTunes and audio editing software to get started, discussion  guides, messaging and public speaking skills will all be required to create podcasts that  listeners will return to over the long term. If any or all of these are foreign to your  corporate communications function, it’s best to partner with a communications, public  relations or analyst relations firm that has the experience required. Finally, when  calculating the impact podcasting has on your awareness and reputation efforts, you will likely need to combine web analytics packages that can track downloads  and other quantitative metrics such as subscriptions, links and comments with specific  media effectiveness measurement tools (e.g. Factiva Insight, Vocus or ACNielsen).

* Field marketing (medium). Of all the social media types we have covered – or will cover – we believe podcasting has the greatest potential to become a viable part of the demand creation mix if executed correctly. Podcasts can be woven into the program mix at various parts of the buying process, be it for education at the beginning, needs framing/solution selection (in the form of customers discussing their buying process  and providing tips) in the middle or even to summarize features/functionality (perhaps  delivered by a software engineer or other SME) during the latter vendor selection phase.  Use your printed or electronic deliverables as foundation for podcasting messaging architectures; you shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel, but rather leveraging already- created materials and delivering them in a different format that affords flexibility to  both prospects and customers. All podcasts must avoid overt selling messages as this  tends to reduce delivered value and discourages subscribers, the most effective means  for gaining repeat listeners. In all cases, you are trying to build a community,  a community that has your content as required reading at its center. Never disparage a  competitor in any type of podcast, as this can turn the discussion community built around  your podcasts very dark, and only invites retaliation in a war that no one can win. In fact,  demonstrating how your offerings can “fit” into an overall architecture that includes your  competitors can draw in prospects whose loyalties lie elsewhere,  and broaden your overall appeal.

* Sales (medium). The use of podcasts by sales organizations has risen steadily over the past two years (from 5 per cent to roughly 25 per cent based on our research). Some of the uses we mentioned on the field marketing front extend into sales, as individual reps may be given podcasts as tools they can use to maintain a dialogue with prospects during the phases of the buying process where they “own” the opportunity. Much like
 their rich media counterparts (vendors as Brainshark and Avitage), podcast links can be  distributed in any number of ways such as through a link in an email, on a landing page  or through a Web feeds subscription, and can be tracked to determine their efficacy.  Podcasts also have proven effective as a communications medium for training purposes,  whether to bring reps up to speed on new product information, messaging  and positioning, or to facilitate the on-boarding process for new reps (e.g. hearing how a  subject matter expert communicates value propositions so they can be practiced and  replicated). Many sales managers also have adopted podcasts as their weekly update  mechanism for staying in touch with their reports instead of leaving a voicemail or an  email; since podcasts can be tracked managers can make sure that their
 updates are received. As with podcasts used for communications or demand creation,  they must be kept very brief; we don’t recommend anything longer than five minutes  unless absolutely necessary.

In a way, podcasting is one of the more “social” types of social media, as it lets listeners hear a human voice that has the ability to bring messages to life in a way that static bulletin boards or blogs can’t. On the downside, it requires you to be excellent not only in the written word, but how those words are communicated by voice; this is a skill that anyone who is an accomplished public
speaker knows doesn’t come easy. Lastly, podcasting requires both commitment and strategy; without these, you will wind up as a voice crying out in the wilderness. Who can afford that?

About the Author:

SiriusDecisions, a leading source for business-to-business sales and marketing best-practice research and data. SiriusDecisions Executive Advisory Services, Consulting Services, Benchmark Assessment Services, Learning and Events provide senior-level executives with the sales and marketing operational intelligence required to maximize top line growth and performance. 

©Sirius Decisions. Reproduced with permission.



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