I could give you a potted history of how it all started at the turn of the millennium and how, unsurprisingly, the Microsoft guys tried to rename it audiocasting, blogcasting, etc. But "pod" just seems to have stuck. However, I am neither a historian nor a technical geek, and I want to get to the meat regarding content.
Basically, a podcast is a form of content consumers can download and listen to on computers (research shows 80 per cent do just that) or use it as the transferable medium to be uploaded to their iPods, MP3 players or mobiles. As long as it's engaging enough for a specific audience to want to, that is.
Everyone is starting to look at podcasting. Increasingly, we're talking to people who have shed their towels and are scanning the shoreline - but are worried the "market" is too cold, so they're scared to dip their toes, or simply jump in with a big splash.
But Splash is what The Guardian did with the Ricky Gervais podcast. It's a smart use of the medium, clearly branded in a non-intrusive fashion and, would you Adam and Eve it, the thing actually worked. People discussed it as they would a TV show, but the beauty was that as soon as people heard about it they could download it anytime. Hitting nearly three million downloads per episode and earning a place in the Guinness Book of Records; in a Chinese-whisper fashion it spread from Guardian readers to its rivals' readers. A beautiful example of how the medium should be used.
Other brands trying to find their footing are Coke, The Observer, Pepsi Max, Adidas, Cadbury and HSBC.
The benefits are simple. Brands can have dialogue with consumers and show they understand them by either entertaining or creating debate. They can form relationships in a way that they've never been able to.
You're not asking someone to be available at a certain time. They pick when to listen, as they do with their music, be it at their desk, on the way to work or even while doing the ironing. If it's boring they press stop, if it's engaging they listen again and again. It's like Sky+ for your ears!
Worryingly, the market is going to become saturated with bad branded podcasts and put consumers off downloading them. Competition is huge - it's evident how quickly the market is moving, specifically because of the increasing quality of desktop tools available. Apple has made it easy for users to produce their own podcast. Consumers are creating the sort of content they want to, and are sharing and discussing it via blogs. The success of MySpace and YouTube are huge examples of this.
A podcast can be anything. Programme-makers are using it as bite-size extensions of shows: BBC Breakfast has a new Breakfast Takeaway. This is the most up-to-the-minute podcast yet launched - and allows listeners to take the news to work with them.
Think of a podcast as a polished piece of programming with the same content values, matched with the grooming a commercial receives. To break through to the consumer, budgets must allow for a quality production. Can Bob from Birmingham get Ricky Gervais to voice his podcast?
A podcast needs to be well thought out. Use an expert copywriter or programme writer. Just because John from dispatch has a husky voice, it doesn't mean he can hold an audience's attention for 15 minutes. Even worse to record him in the broom cupboard with the distant hum of the telephones and fax machines.
To cut corners means to cut out the audience. People can make them in their bedroom and make them engaging, because they are being themselves and they are close to what they are talking about. If you are trying to recreate something and do this badly, you may as well not have bothered.
Care and attention to your idea and the appropriate amount of investment is what differentiates you from the homegrown. If it's got a brand plastered all over it, consumers won't be forgiving of bad quality.
The talent is key, the sound design and music equally so. What does your consumer want to hear? What exactly do you want to deliver and what relationship does this have with your brand? Can the consumer make an intellectual connection between the content and what your brand offers, or is it simply that you want to be "cool" by association.
Are you a car manufacturer after a classical music show that sounds beautiful when downloaded on your sound system? Maybe you are a bidding site that wants a short film about a guy who buys a life-changing antique teapot? Or is it simply that Peter Kay is popular and will attract traffic to your site?
Where are you putting your podcast? You have to think about the sorts of sites people regularly visit; can a brand tie in with another for the greater good? Consumers don't regularly check the website of their washing powder to see whether or not the chemical ratios have changed, for example, and strategic guys can advise if it is appropriate to look at newspaper, broadcasters' or football websites.
I have barely scratched the surface and am yet to discuss the vodcast (visual output). It has a little way to go until it reaches the same attainability of audio. It is not as transferable. However, the new iPod glasses that let you watch video in 16:9 widescreen is an amazing example of the possibilities.
Whichever "casting" you look at, think about the quality and invest in what you are doing to gain cut-through. Let's not kill the audience's interest in branded content before we've even begun to realise its full potential. This is the gateway for brands to communicate not only with the consumer, but also internally, or business to business. It's content that can be sold on; such as in-flight entertainment, cable channels or developing characters that can be used in other media.
Think big! The market is changing quickly; make sure you change with it.