With 29 independent micro-brewers scattered across the province, each with a unique story to tell, Ontario Craft Brewers decided that podcasts would be the perfect way to create that "personal, authentic" relationship with its beer drinkers.
"When they're making their decisions about beer, it's as much about that discovery and unfolding, and going behind the curtain and finding out about the beer, as it is about actually drinking the beer," said Mary MacIsaac, director of marketing at Ontario Craft Brewers. Since launching the podcast series last May, the Toronto-based brewer has created six podcasts, with the goal of profiling all 29 micro-brewers at two-week intervals.
The podcasts -- essentially digital audio or video files available over the Internet via streaming or downloading -- feature interviews with brew masters, letting beer drinkers get to know the actual makers of the beverage, insight that's seldom granted by larger brewers. Podcasts are a great way to dispense knowledge to niche audiences, said Brandy Fleming, vice-president of iStudio, a Toronto-based Internet marketing firm. "If you have content that's very deep or a subject that's very niche that people are passionate about and want to learn more about, then absolutely a podcast is a great fit for that." And given the ongoing, episodic nature of the medium, it's perfect for establishing a relationship with that niche audience, she added.
THE ROLE OF IT
Creating podcasts is not technically difficult given the ample software and commodity hardware available, however, it does require some degree of planning through the joint efforts of IT and marketing.
Fleming believes a podcasting initiative should be owned by marketing and supported by IT, because podcasts are driven by the content. Marketing should determine what that content is going to be, like the style, length, subjects, etc.
IT's role, she said, is to help shape that strategy and perform the actual production -- editing, publishing, setting up a spot on the Web site where the podcast will reside, and pushing it out to appropriate venues such as iTunes, www.podcast.net and www.podcastalley.com.
The actual recording of the podcast, said Fleming, entails testing the physical location for sound quality, and prepping the subjects to determine the level of scripting required and how much editing time will be needed per episode. Fleming added that doing a recording via Skype is beneficial for audio-only podcasts with remotely-located subjects.
The location that houses the podcast file needs to be XML or RSS-enabled as well, according to Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image, a marketing agency based in Montreal.
"Whether you're hosting it on a blog platform or even on a static Web page, the curve there for IT people is to make sure they understand what RSS is and how people can grab it," said Joel. If the podcast is public, then pushing it out to appropriate venues will require proper coding. This enables podcast directories such as iTunes to be able to broadcast it, he added.
IT needs to understand several things when approaching a podcast project, not the least of which is acknowledging the limitations of the communication vehicle, said Joel. "The critical stuff is understanding that audio as transmitted over the Internet is not really what the Internet was made to do," he noted, adding that he often observes the 'MacGyver Syndrome' where "duct tape and bubble gum and stuff" is used to make things work.
Companies can avoid these bandwidth issues by taking advantage of the fact that podcasts can be viewed by downloading. "So it's just the initial download to get it done. That naturally makes it much friendlier to an IT department than the idea of streaming," said Joel.
He suggests opening up additional bandwidth when a new podcast is available in anticipation of viewers downloading the file that day, instead of dealing with the chaos of too many people streaming the file at once.
Although podcast creation is inexpensive and commodity hardware is readily available, such an initiative may sometimes be best outsourced to a marketing firm that can apply experience garnered from the success of other companies' podcasts.
Ontario Craft Brewers chose the outsourcing approach because it didn't have the internal resources, as the company is only a small group of staff overseeing a large number of breweries. However, said Joel, if a company feels confident enough to manage the project internally, then a pilot program is often useful for determining what works and what doesn't. "It makes the learning curve a lot less painful."
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