Candlepower

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Marketing Podcasts: Tap Your Inner Broadcaster

When my client, a Boston cosmetic dentist, asked me to produce podcasts promoting her dental practice, I said sure. I'm always game to learn new things. Although I was vaguely aware of podcasts, I really had no idea how they were put together or why a company would use them.

What's a podcast? A podcast is like your very own radio broadcast -- an audio file you create that can be downloaded from the Internet or the Apple iTunes store for free. Podcasts go by other names -- the Harry Potter fan site, The Leaky Cauldron, produces a PotterCast, for example -- but essentially, whether it's a healthcast or podcast, you're creating an audio file that listeners can easily retrieve from the Internet.

You can download a podcast to an MP3 player, your computer's hard drive, or burn it to a CD and then listen while driving or on the treadmill. If streaming audio is available with the podcast, you can simply click a "play" button without having to save the file to anything.

So what do podcasts have to do with marketing? And why should marketing and corporate communicators pay attention? Although a relatively new marketing tactic, podcasts have gained in popularity in recent years. Companies such as Whirlpool, Oracle, and AchieveGlobal use podcasts to help build their brand by producing them on topics related to their products or services.

As more companies begin to use podcasts as a way to reach prospective customers, communicators will be called on to brainstorm topics, write scripts, and find potential guests to feature on these corporate "radio shows." Here's what I learned putting together podcasts for my client -- from a communications perspective.

Uh-oh Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore!

Because my client and I were new to podcasting, we decided I would take her existing e-newsletters and record the content. I had seen other newsletter publishers do this; plus, I knew that one or two white paper syndicators, such as KnowledgeStorm, offer a service where they repurposed white papers into podcasts.

So how hard could it be? As you can imagine, I encountered quite the technical learning curve. However, I also realized that you can't take content geared for a reading audience and simply repurpose it into content for a listening audience -- due to a few major differences.

Difference #1: Listeners don't hear the voice in your head

As writers, we've been trained to finely hone our "voice." P.D. James' voice is very different from that of J.K. Rowling's as is Austen's from Hemingway's.

What I found fascinating about recording my client's podcasts is that the voice I hear in my head when writing her newsletters (I try to make it her voice) isn't the voice I, or listeners, hear in the recordings. This means that the copy you think sounds perfect "in your head" may sound very clunky to your listening audience.

Difference #2: Verbal speech isn't perfect

The next time you have the radio on, listen to how people actually talk. You can hear them breathing. They clear their throats. They stumble on words. They repeat themselves. Their voices speed up or slow down depending on what they're talking about. Sentences are shorter and full of punch.

Indeed, if a radio journalist simply read content in a monotone voice, you would change the channel. Why? The program would put you to sleep!

Which is what happened the first time I recorded one of my client's newsletters word for word -- and then played back the recording. "Oh, oh," I thought as I listened to my monotone recording, "that doesn't work." Hence, I had to tweak the script to include "off the cuff" and "spontaneous" expressions -- as well as cue myself when to express excitement.

Difference #3: Listeners can't see bullet points and formatting

As writers, we're also "graphic designers" in that we format our copy to make it easier to read. Bullets, paragraphs, indentations, bolded words, italics: we use these and other formatting options to break up overwhelming chunks of text and help readers skim content and grasp pertinent points.

Formatting is irrelevant when it comes to writing for a listening audience that can't see bolded words and sub-heads, of course. I quickly learned I had to reformat my bullet points and verbally state them as "point #1, point #2," etc. I also learned that I had to verbally transition into my next topic -- whereas when writing copy for a reading audience I rely on sub-heads to help do this for me.

Writing example: Revising print copy for audio

The excerpted copy below, from one of my client's e-newsletters, highlights how we "format" for a reading audience. Notice the use of bolded words, indented paragraphs, and the transition sentence:

Persistent bad breath can also indicate more serious health issues, which is why it's important you see your dental professional -- and why you shouldn't be embarrassed to do so. These problems include:

Abscessed tooth -- Bacteria cause cavities. When the inflammation from the cavity gets to the root of the tooth, it causes an abscess. This means pus is collected in the tooth's pulp. In addition to being painful, an abscessed tooth can cause bad breath.

Periodontal disease -- Periodontal disease a gum disease that affects the bone surrounding the teeth. Women are especially prone to periodontal disease due to hormonal changes, which affect blood supply to the gums and the gums' response to bacterial irritants. Left untreated, periodontal disease results in lost teeth and gum tissue, and yes, bad breath.

Liver problems -- Liver problems can lower the immune system, which in turn leads to bacteria growth and bad breath. If your dental professional suspects a liver problem, he or she will refer you to a physician for further diagnoses and treatment.

Diabetes -- A fruity or sweet chemical smell to breath can indicate Diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication of diabetes. Again, if your dental professional suspects this condition, you'll be referred to a physician.

For the podcast script, I stripped away the formatting and changed the transition sentence by eliminating the phrase, "these problems include." I learned, after recording the podcast the first time, that these types of transitions simply don't work when speaking or listening.

After a few more trial and error recordings, I inserted the four health concerns into the transition and then repeated the name of each health problem to help listeners follow my points. The rest of the copy remains the same, except for the addition of a concluding sentence to help sum up information.

Persistent bad breath can also indicate more serious health issues, which is why it's important that you see your dental professional -- and why you shouldn't be embarrassed to do so.

These problems include an abscessed tooth, periodontal disease, liver problems and diabetes.

An abscessed tooth is a tooth with an untreated cavity. When the inflammation from the cavity gets to the root of the tooth, it causes an abscess. This means pus is collected in the tooth's pulp (sounds gross, I know). In addition to being painful, an abscessed tooth can cause bad breath.

Periodontal disease is a gum disease that affects the bone surrounding the teeth. Women are especially prone to periodontal disease due to hormonal changes, which affect blood supply to the gums and the gums' response to bacterial irritants. Left untreated, periodontal disease results in lost teeth and gum tissue, and yes, bad breath.

Liver problems can lower the immune system, which in turn leads to bacteria growth and bad breath. If your dental professional suspects a liver problem, he or she will refer you to a physician for further diagnoses and treatment.

A fruity or sweet chemical smell to breath can indicate diabetes, which also needs to be diagnosed and treated by a physician.

As you can see, persistent bad breath is not something you should leave untreated!

The changes from print copy to an audio script are minor, but they made a big difference when recording the podcast. I made dozens of minor tweaks while recording -- I would record and listen, rewrite and re-record.

In addition to learning the technical aspects of podcasting, the experience helped me see that we do process information in different ways depending on the medium -- and that writing copy for print isn't the same as writing copy for a listening audience.

My client is thrilled with her new podcasts. In the course of one week, three popular bloggers wrote favorably about the podcast campaign (which in turn sent people to the podcasts), ten people subscribed to the podcast feed, over 1,000 people read the press release, and 30 people clicked through from the release to her site. Not huge numbers, I know, but then again, just how many podcasting dentists do you know?


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Dianna Huff is a B2B marketing communications consultant and copywriting expert. You can subscribe to her e-newsletter, The MarCom Writer, at the DH Communications website. To download her latest free e-book, "Five B2B MarCom Strategies to Increase Sales Now," visit MarCom Writer Blog. Click here to read more articles by Dianna Huff.

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Comments from our users:

Monday July 30th 2007, 5:08 AM
Comment by: Anonymous
Isn't that word supposed to be "persistent", instead of persistant?
Monday July 30th 2007, 9:31 AM
Comment by: Anonymous
Thanks, Wycliffe, for your eagle eye! Harris, VT editor
Monday July 30th 2007, 4:52 PM
Comment by: Paul A.
Excellent and motivating article. Thanks, PA.
Monday July 30th 2007, 5:14 PM
Comment by: James M.
Very Informative. Thanks. Jim
Monday August 6th 2007, 3:50 AM
Comment by: Raju Kalampuram
Informative indeed!

Thanks
Tuesday August 7th 2007, 8:13 AM
Comment by: Jimmy A.
I hear you! Excellent article!
Thursday January 3rd 2008, 12:12 PM
Comment by: Chris T.
Difference #1 is so true, it made me wince when I read it. As a copywriter and a screenwriter, I often run into the problem of crafting something that sounds perfect in my head but winds up sounding marble-mouthed when an actor or voice talent reads it. Reading my stuff aloud has been a huge help in overcoming this problem.

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