Podcasting has become the “it” thing lately in the marketing world. This doesn’t really surprise me too much because not only can a podcast be an effective marketing tool when done right, but it also lets you indulge your inner disc jockey.

I mean, come on, haven’t you ever dreamed of sitting behind one of those cool microphones, putting on a headset and sharing your wisdom for all the world to hear? You might not be sitting in a recording studio and spinning vinyl like Wolfman Jack, but it’s still pretty cool just the same.

A Brief History of Podcasting

Podcasts first came on the scene in the mid-2000s when iPods became ubiquitous (hence the name podcasts). It’s estimated that there are now more than 115,000 English-language podcasts out there and that 42 million Americans listen to them on a regular basis.

The early podcasts were kind of crude from a production standpoint and dominated by political bloggers and others who wanted to circumvent traditional media gatekeepers to get their messages out there. But it didn’t take long for marketers to realize the benefits of podcasting when it comes to marketing and branding.

Podcasting can be a great way to position yourself as an expert in your field and your business as a leading authority in your industry. In this respect it’s kind of like blogging and publishing an e-newsletter, except that the content is in an audio instead of a text format.

So Should You Be Podcasting … or Not?

If you’ve been thinking about jumping on the podcasting bandwagon but aren’t sure about it — or if you’re just curious about whether launching a podcast is a smart move — here are a few things to consider. First, the podcasting pros:

• Podcasts are popular and easy for people to consume. The numbers I cited above point to the popularity of podcasting. One reason it’s so popular is because it’s so easy for people to listen to them.

Almost everybody today has a smartphone with Bluetooth wireless and a wireless speaker and/or earbuds. This means they can listen to podcasts pretty much wherever they are and whatever they’re doing — whether driving, walking, jogging, cleaning the house or working out at the gym. Contrast this with a print blog that you can’t really read while doing anything else.

• The barriers to entry have fallen dramatically. A decade ago it would have cost several thousand dollars to buy the high-tech equipment needed to launch and produce a podcast. Like most technology, this cost has fallen drastically.

All it really takes now is a laptop (or even an iPhone), recording software that’s inexpensive or free, a microphone and headset, and a pop filter. You can buy a podcasting bundle with everything you need (except the laptop) for under $200.

• It can be an effective branding tool. This is the main marketing benefit of podcasting, as I detailed above. Just like blogging or sending out an e-newsletter, podcasting can help position you as a subject matter expert and keep you in front of your customers and prospects so they’re more likely to contact you when they need your products or services.

• You could potentially monetize your podcast. If you’re eventually able to grow your audience large enough, there’s a chance you could actually make money from your podcast. One way is to sell sponsorships or ads on your show, just like regular broadcast media. Another is to put past episodes behind a paywall on your website and charge a fee to access them. You could also possibly syndicate your show to YouTube.

• It’s fun! Like I said in my intro, there’s something pretty cool about sitting behind a microphone with a headset on and broadcasting your own show. It’s definitely a good way to spice up your normal work routine and do something a little bit different.

Is Podcasting Worthwhile for You?

To be honest, I can’t think of any real cons to podcasting. Rather than thinking in terms of drawbacks or downsides, you should think in terms of whether producing a podcast would be a good use of your time and energy and correlate well with your other marketing activities. My friend Michael Katz addressed this in a recent issue of his newsletter.

Michael didn’t question whether or not a podcast is a useful marketing tactic — it no doubt is when done well. Instead, he asks what else are you doing to market your business, and does adding a podcast to your marketing mix provide enough incremental value to make it worthwhile?

I love the exercise analogy he uses: Walking 20 minutes a day is unquestionably beneficial for anyone. But a couch potato is going to get incrementally more value out of this than a marathoner.

So if you’re blogging or publishing an e-newsletter, you’re already enjoying some of the biggest benefits of podcasting, like sharing your unique viewpoint, positioning yourself as an expert and staying in front of customers and prospects on a regular basis. In this case, adding a podcast to your marketing mix “isn’t going to move the needle very much,” Michael says, “because there’s too much overlap to justify the time and effort of doing both.”

Instead, Michael suggests using marketing tactics that take advantage of what you’re already doing. One easy example is recording your blogs or newsletters and making the audio available to people who’d rather listen to than read it. This isn’t as fancy as a podcast, but it’s sure a lot easier and faster.

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