October 01, 2001
Web audio, video—great marketing tools when
by Evan Schuman
Here’s a marketing mantra to consider: A
great idea poorly executed is worse than a weak idea done well. In few
places is that thought more apt than with corporate multimedia today.
Veteran marketers who would never think of naming a product without
weeks of primary research seem to have no problem putting audio and video
on a site with no regard for how the audience wants to absorb it.
Would a site visitor truly want to see a verbatim 40-minute video of a
keynote speech? Or would that visitor rather see a list of the points made
in that speech, with links to edited, one-minute segments that just
elaborate on that one point? Multimedia is a way of communicating
information to people and requires the same discipline as any other medium.
Have you ever had an e-mail exchange with a colleague and come to a
point that was simply not being communicated? After several e-mails, you
call the other person and the communication happens. He or she understands
because of pauses, emphasis and vocal inflections. On the phone, you could
communicate far more information than in e-mail because your voice
communicated beyond what your words could.
The best way to communicate on a Web page is with straight text. If a
reader misses a point or forgets a detail, text is instantly scannable. A
reader can reread a sentence.
But with audio, the message must be received instantly. Granted, it is
certainly possible for streaming audio to be paused and replayed, but
today’s streaming audio controls are awkward and slow. Most site visitors
are not inclined to even try. It’s the reason that audio on the Web must be
sliced into digestible pieces, each one focused on a single message.
Deleting "ums" and "y’knows" makes the source sound
more intelligent and the comments easier to follow. That’s helpful in print
but essential in audio.
If the information is best communicated by the words alone, don’t use
audio just because you can. I’m reminded of a line in "Jurassic Park."
Jeff Goldblum’s character, Ian Malcolm, argues with the park’s creator
about whether dinosaurs should be recreated: "Your scientists were so
preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if
they should." It’s a good lesson for any marketer thinking about
Instead of showing footage of an executive at a podium, show charts,
graphs and bulleted lists reinforcing the points being made in the
voiceover. When transmitting audio, use the features of MediaPlayer and RealPlayer
that allow you to have a line detailing who is speaking and what their
position is. This is absolutely crucial when it’s a panel discussion.
Streaming audio can often be produced at a much lower cost than many
marketers assume. Consider how the typical person will hear streaming
audio. The very nature of streaming means that the audio file is severely
compressed, which means there is a material loss of quality. Also, the
sound is often heard on tiny PC speakers or even smaller laptop speakers.
The truth is that interviews done in an expensive studio session can—when
the compression and everything involved in streaming is finished—sound
virtually the same as an interview done on the phone.
Bandwidth is key
Another factor is bandwidth. Even if 99% of your customers are corporate
users working on T1s and T3s, don’t assume a speed greater than 35K or so,
which is about what most 56K modems typically deliver under good
conditions, give or take 10K. Why? Many of those corporate users travel and
will listen from hotel, airport or train connections. Many browse from
their homes at night.
The same rules apply for video. Is that the way your audience wants to
receive data? Would audio suffice, coupled with some pictures? If video is
indeed called for, such as to demonstrate a new surgical technique, keep it
as short as possible. Show the essential item and then pull back to audio
But the most critical weakness of many multimedia executions is they
don’t think through the reason marketers started using multimedia in the
first place. People get a feel for the speakers’ credibility when they hear
them talk. Do they sound nervous or confident? Do they sound like they are
reading what someone else wrote for them, or are they discussing something
they personally care about?
Text won’t tell a reader that, but an audio cut will.
Evan Schuman, firstname.lastname@example.org, is CEO of The Content
Firm Inc., a content creation company that specializes in multimedia and
online. A veteran journalist, he has reported for National Public Radio,
CBS Radio, AP Radio, NBC Radio, Canadian Broadcasting Co. and CNN Radio.
October 2001, Crain Communications, Inc.