Author: Jessica Lichtenfeld

International House Of Branding Bewilderment

Tuesdays With Coleman

International House of Burgers. Not Breakfast. Not even Brunch. Burgers.

If you were able to tear yourself away from Singapore this past week and pay attention to something with slightly lower stakes, you’ve seen and/or heard about IHOP’s total branding switch to IHOb. No longer the place we think of when it’s 2am and we want some pancakes. Now IHOP wants us to think of them for… burgers.

IHOP becomes IHOb

National—nay, global—reaction has been pretty harsh, though bewildered might be a better word for it. Wendy’s used its stealthily snarky Twitter account to raise its proverbial eyebrows. Those of us who work with brands and branding for a living raised our actual eyebrows.

Back in March, our president, Warren Kurtzman, wrote in this blog about how restaurants can make changes while still staying true to their brand identities. It is similar to the way we encourage radio stations to keep their base music positions in mind when they want to make changes. When developing images, we believe a brand’s base position is most important, as indicated in our Image PyramidSM  below.

Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

Making changes to your brand is nuanced and not without its challenges, but it can certainly be done. And I can kind of understand why IHOP was feeling a bit old and tired and wanted to make a change. Pancakes aren’t exactly hip these days.

This change, however, boggles many minds. There are a couple of reasons why this has raised so many questions, both to the branding community and the general public:

First: It’s too abrupt. Start with more… burger promotion, if you will. IHOP has served burgers for years (don’t they have a pretty good tuna melt, too?), so promoting those instead of the Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘n’ Fruity might have made a welcome change. It would have allowed customers to remember that oh yeah, IHOP isn’t ONLY for pancakes. But they can still get their short stacks if they want them.

Second: The rollout isn’t complete. In the screenshot of the website on this page, the URL still reads “ihop”, and that tab on the top? “Pancakes, Pancakes, Pancakes.” Now, the company has since said this is simply a temporary stunt and wasn’t intended to stick. But then, why change the company’s Twitter handle? Why plan to use the name in promotions all summer? It’s just clunky. Either go all in with a re-brand, or run a well-thought-out promotion focusing on the burgers you already serve.

Third: It simply doesn’t make sense and it’s not true to the essence of the brand.

Let me elaborate on that one. In a few past lives, I’ve done a lot of work studying Millennials and how they operate. The one word that always comes up is “authenticity.” Millennials are very sharp and aware when someone or something isn’t authentic. This does not mean that a brand can never adjust or change, nor does it mean that Millennials expect products and brands to always “behave” the same way. What they’re looking for—what even we older-than-Millennials are looking for—is a brand that remains true to itself and doesn’t try too hard to appeal to some suddenly desirable yet different demographic. If Old Navy changed its name to Young Navy and stopped selling cheap jeans, that would be inauthentic. If Whole Foods started selling Heinz ketchup, that would be inauthentic, but if it started carrying a line of Heinz Organic Limited Edition ketchup, that would be more true to the Whole Foods brand. And customers are smart. They know when a brand is trying to be “too cool for school.” They especially know when a brand is turning its back on its base.

IHOP (oy, “IHOb”) is trying to be too cool for school. What is so wrong with pancakes? That’s what you’ve been known for since… well, forever. And even if pancakes aren’t chic or fashionable, being the International House of Pancakes makes you different from Applebee’s or Chili’s or Bob’s Big Boy.

Go ahead and promote your burgers. But please, don’t do it at the expense of your awesome, strong, iconic brand. As we like to say here at Coleman Insights, your base position is the core of your brand, and you should always be true to it.

Engaging Content: Everything Old Is New Again

Tuesdays With Coleman

Late last year, I wrote about the ads on your radio station fitting its brand. One of the things I touched on is the benefit of having your station’s own hosts and personalities reading your ad copy. At the Worldwide Radio Summit earlier this month, the benefits of host-read copy came up once or twice. I was a bit disappointed that no one got into the subject in depth, but then, there were a lot of topics to cover in only a couple of days. (Please feel free to use this idea for next year, no credit necessary!)

Having a station’s personalities read ad copy meets with mixed responses, to be sure. This is in part because brands have spent so much money on agencies that create slick, well-produced commercials, and those commercials have become the norm. But this is actually how ads began. Radio hosts in the 1920s and 1930s read their own copy (check out show announcer Mike Wallace in this 1947 episode of Sky King, reading a PSA), and as television entered more homes, this method continued as media changed around it. Gertrude Berg, a (now sadly ignored) dynamo of radio drama, took her character Molly Goldberg to television in 1949—and she continued to record advertisements for Sanka.

Note that it’s Molly, not Gertrude Berg, who touts the benefits of the now-iconic instant beverage. The audience saw no discernible break between their favorite show and the ad. A few years later, during her eponymous show on NBC, Dinah Shore took a moment, walked off to one side of the set and urged her viewers to “See the USA in Your Chevrolet.” Again, the transition from content to advertisement was seamless.

Peter Weir made fun of this—and of the blatant product placement in which some shows indulge—in The Truman Show. Remember how Laura Linney’s character was always being zoomed in on while she talked about a product? Same idea.

Interestingly, the podcasting world has picked up on the benefits of host-read copy. A recent Nielsen study tells us that when an ad is read by a podcast’s host or hosts, that ad is much more likely to be seen as authentic and less likely to sound forced. This, I imagine, was the same back in Gertrude Berg’s and Dinah Shore’s days. Copy read by a host benefits shows as well as advertisers—listeners are savvy, and they know how long an ad break usually is, whether it’s on their favorite station or during their favorite podcast. Over the years, listeners have trained their brains when to tune out and when to tune back in. But when the host is reading the copy, they’re more engaged. They don’t immediately tell the difference between show and advertisement. As listeners, we trust our hosts, just as viewers in 1953 trusted Dinah Shore. We often talk about making sure your station features authentic, spontaneous content—why not expand that into your ads as well? Live ads—or ads that sound and “feel” live—offer your listeners a seamless experience.

The listener savviness I mentioned before also comes into play when gauging a host’s actual interest in the product he or she is advertising. I, for one, fully believe that Marc Maron, host of the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast uses and wears MeUndies. On the other side of the coin, one of the podcasts I love and listen to faithfully features a host-read ad that I do not believe for one second. I don’t stop listening when she starts talking about the greatest haircare product in the world, but I do roll my eyes a bit—it takes me out of the moment. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Is that an argument for that podcast to drop the advertiser? Not at all. I see it as an opportunity to coach the host in methods of how to sound more enthusiastic than she is. After all, program directors often coach radio talent during breaks, so why not expand and coach them on spot reads? 1949 television viewers truly believed that Sanka filled Molly Goldberg with joy, and from what I understand, that didn’t come naturally to Gertrude Berg.

It’s important to remember that the hosts on your radio stations are just as much a part of your brand as the music is. Your loyal listeners pay attention to what they say, so why not use them to your advertisers’ advantage? If it sounds old-fashioned to you, remember that well-read copy, like great content, almost always sounds fresh, engaging and spontaneous.

Sometimes, everything old is new again.

The Power Of Radio In Tough Times

Tuesdays With Coleman

Last week, the east coast got battered with its FOURTH winter storm in three weeks. Raleigh had some wintry weather too (yeah, yeah, I know, cry you New Englanders a river). When this happens, many of us have the luxury of taking our laptops home and avoiding a harrowing and potentially hazardous commute. If you’re a radio station program director or host or engineer (or all three), you don’t have that luxury. You’re needed.

In the last six months, Mother Nature has reminded us of the power of radio to reach through and save lives. That’s not hyperbole. While Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, Irma raged through South Florida and Maria wreaked havoc on the Caribbean, radio stations switched from regular programming to on-the-minute updates and even requests for help. One Puerto Rico radio station stayed on the air despite the roof flying off.

Listeners called in with reports of devastation and other listeners heard those reports and went to assist their neighbors. And even beyond physical assistance, there’s comfort in hearing a familiar voice over the airwaves. If you don’t show up to work, especially in treacherous conditions, your community can miss out on vital information.

One man who clearly saw the power of radio to transmit information was Trevor Baylis, who passed away a few weeks ago. Baylis invented the wind-up radio.

That sounds like a fun invention, but it served—and was born out of—a greater purpose. Baylis watched a documentary about AIDS in Africa that discussed radio’s role in educating the public about the spread of the disease, and he got to work on a tool that could bring radio anywhere in the world, even without power. He didn’t need the latest super-powered technology to make his invention work; he used the age-old system of good old-fashioned human-generated energy to run his radio. The idea is that if electricity is gone and batteries are scarce, people can still access much-needed information. Thanks to Trevor Baylis, communities with wind-up radios are now able to receive information that could be life-changing in the long-term (i.e., AIDS education) and the short-term (i.e., impending natural disasters). Baylis knew that communication is crucial to keeping a community connected, and he knew that radio was the ideal method to maintain communication.

So the next time a big storm hits and it looks like you might be stuck at work overnight, or something devastating happens in your community, think about all the ways radio can make a difference just by staying on the air. And know that we, your listeners, thank you.

Do Artists Still Need Radio For Stardom?

Tuesdays With Coleman

Have you been looking for music on YouTube lately? Maybe on Instagram? Snapchat? Unknown artists, old and young, are using these platforms to share their talents with the world. YouTube has created a whole generation of musicians with massive amounts of followers, waiting to be heard by the widest audience possible. This isn’t so easy despite social media’s perceived ubiquity. Social media requires viewers to actively seek out new music and new artists. Even with tons of followers, how do these artists break through and truly make it big?

They break through with radio.

Let’s look at one of these artists who started by making it HUGE on social media. Have you heard of Cardi B? Silly question. You’ve definitely heard of her. You probably saw her in Amazon’s “Alexa Loses Her Voice” spot in the Super Bowl (FLY EAGLES FLY). You saw her at the Grammys performing with Bruno Mars. If you have tuned into a hip hop station at least once since last summer, you have heard her single, “Bodak Yellow”. In January, Billboard reported that Cardi B became the first woman to appear on five of the top 10 hits on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart.

Amazing, right? She came out of NOWHERE, right?

Well, no. If you were a heavy user of the much-missed Vine, if you follow hot up-and-comers on Instagram, or if you are a faithful viewer of Vh1’s Love & Hip Hop (I only lasted two seasons with the original recipe), then you might not have missed this apparent superstar. It wasn’t until Ms. B took her social media superstardom to the airwaves which allowed to her reach vast new audiences. These audiences that might have passed her over otherwise helped turn her into a mega-star.

Social media has become the new Nashville coffeehouse or college town dive bar. A good chunk of today’s hottest stars, from Ed Sheeran to Alessia Cara to Charlie Puth, got picked up by record labels after building huge networks of followers online. Take Shawn Mendes, the Canadian singer-songwriter who caught Island Records’ attention when he was just 14, recording cover songs on Vine. A few years later, his single “Treat You Better” was certified triple platinum and he embarked on a tour that sold out some of the most massive arenas in the world.

For all of these huge stars, the catalyst that propelled them from social media forces majeures to mainstream international stars is the tried-and-true medium of radio. Radio play remains crucial to the success of any musician who seeks out that kind of fame and lasting recognition. Radio continues to play a major role in exposing rising talent to a broad audience.

As Cardi B contemplates her next money moves, she will use radio as her way to get recognition beyond her social media followers and even beyond hip hop fans. Further collaborations with more established artists in other formats will take her to more levels than even she thought possible. She—and her label—will continue to use social media platforms as marketing tools and ways to connect Cardi directly with her fans, but radio will still play a major role in getting her voice out to the world at large.

I have a feeling there’s a really talented young person with a guitar somewhere who wants to make it big but thinks he doesn’t need radio. He envisions stardom just by creating a YouTube video every week for his subscribers. He’s wrong, and he’s not following the advice of those who have been there before him. He’s probably pretty great. But without the radio, there is a whole segment of enthusiastic listeners who will never get a chance to hear him and make him a music powerhouse.


Smart Branding in the Age of Smart Speakers

Tuesdays With ColemanAccording to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, many Americans get their news from social media. Breaking it down further, where is this “news” coming from? Friends’ posts and tweets? Articles? Alerts on the Facebook sidebar? It’s likely a combination of all three. The true sources of that news–brands like The New York Times, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, etc.—aren’t always getting credit for providing the news. In the same vein, many people will catch a popular show on Netflix or Hulu; they’re not always registering that the show they enjoy ran first on ABC or Syfy or some publicly-funded Norwegian broadcast network. To the consumer, it’s just content, and the source is where they find it. Brands that provide content increasingly struggle to cut through the noise and make themselves stand out.

In the traditional model, radio shouldn’t have that problem. Listeners tune in directly to a station. They might go to a station’s specific website or app that streams content similar to what one might hear over the air. Therefore, the listening experience is the same as it is on broadcast radio—promos and all.

And now comes the smart speaker.

The recently released NPR and Edison Research Smart Audio Report says that one in six Americans now owns a smart speaker. As I watch this and other new forms of audio technology spring up around us every day, I’m reminded that we have to keep promoting lest we end up as lost as one of the news sources on Twitter. While we can surmise that many people with smart speakers will ask Alexa or Google to “play Foxy 107.1”, it’s not a far stretch to imagine more people who are likely to order their smart speakers to simply “play New Jack Swing” or “launch [app from a large entertainment company].” In a few years, when we ask listeners where they get their music, we want listeners to still be able to tell us the station or broadcaster, not “my smart speaker”.

So how do audio content providers effectively cut through? When a station loses its foothold in a market—when awareness is down or the audience associates the station with a format or branding that’s long been replaced—we often advise our clients to go back to the Coleman Insights Image PyramidSM.

Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

The Pyramid starts with a well-established base music, talk or news position. Once a station has effectively communicated its base position, it can build its way up the Pyramid by growing or strengthening its images. (“Images”, in this context, are phrases and concepts that people associate with your station. These can range from, “the Classic Rock station” to “the station that rocks too hard for my taste” to “the station that has the best contests and giveaways.”) Things like sponsoring events and contests, advertising intelligently and running promos are some of the tools we recommend to make our client stations top of mind in their respective markets. Even when listeners actively choose what they want to listen to, it’s important to remind them what you are and why they’ve tuned in.

In this age of constantly growing multi-platform listening, don’t forget to keep pushing those images. Evaluate how many times per hour you’re communicating your base position. Remind them what they’re listening to and what the brand stands for. Ensure your personalities have a clear understanding of how to reinforce the position and how often. Well-communicated and produced promos can complement the listening experience. It’s wonderful when your station is available to listeners at the press of a button, the swipe of a finger across a screen or a voice command in a living room, but don’t forget to remind people who you are and why they’re there with you.



Do Your Ads Fit Your Brand?

Tuesdays With Coleman

As we at Coleman Insights have learned from years of radio research, a station’s brand is vital to its success. Coleman Insights’ Brand Content MatrixSM illustrates our belief that the success of great radio stations is the result of two dimensions. First, the station’s brand strength—its top of mind awareness and perception. Second, its in-the-moment content strength—a function of how compelling the content is. The Brand Content Matrix shows the most successful radio stations marry high-quality content with a well-established brand.

Brand Content Matrix

The content we program should fit with the brand we’ve established or are trying to establish. For example, a Classic Rock station with a harder edge should consider whether playing Fleetwood Mac, even if it tests, fits the brand. The development of a station’s brand—and making sure the brand is considered in decisions from programming to marketing—plays a very important role in a station’s continued success.

The cable TV world, where I spent a good chunk of my career, understands this. However, a cable network, especially one with a carefully and well established brand, also concerns itself with the ads it airs. That is, if it wants to maintain its brand integrity with its audience, the brand’s objectives must be woven through advertising as well as content. Commercials have to make sense in a viewers’ experience or a viewer might, literally or figuratively, walk away. With the advent of minute-by-minute Nielsen measurement and new platforms for measuring viewer engagement, ad content fit has become part of the network brand equation. This is especially true for custom ad content, like sponsorships and integrations. Networks want to be sure that ad content flows with carefully selected programming content and doesn’t provide a misguided “jolt” that disrupts the viewing experience. Yet in radio, we don’t always take that approach.

In the radio world, we also talk about “fit”, but that addresses programming elements like music and personalities. It is rarely viewed in the context of whether advertising makes sense on a station. We don’t often concern ourselves with how well an ad integrates into the listener experience. After all, an ad is an ad, and stations need ads to survive, and people are used to hearing ads, so why make any changes?

PPM tells us that “in the moment” listenership diminishes during ad breaks (though, as we found in our 2011 and 2006 studies, not as much as the industry believes). When stations strive to provide their listeners with a seamless content-to-ad experience, they can cut down on this disengagement even further. Listeners shouldn’t get the aforementioned jolt when an ad break starts, cueing them to tune out either literally or figuratively. An advertisement won’t always sound exactly like a station’s regular programming, but if an ad makes sense within the framework of the station, it will likely maintain audience engagement while it plays. More engaged listening can lead to both a more engaged audience and better advertiser ROI.

The question, then, is how best to provide a listener with an experience that is as seamless as possible. One suggested method is through localization.

When a station’s hosts, who are already known quantities to their listeners, read ad copy that is customized for the station and its metro area, listeners connect it directly to the station’s content. The voices they hear are familiar, and listeners think of a station’s host as local. Therefore, the ads make geographic sense. Using a station’s talent is also great for business. Recent studies, like one from the USC Annenberg School of Communications and another commissioned by Cumulus Media, tell us that using familiar personalities in radio ads increases purchase consideration or purchase itself, and that familiar personalities influence listeners’ opinions.

Another method would be making sure the products advertised—and the style in which they’re advertised—make sense for a station’s brand. For example, a car dealership commercial featuring a country song might feel jarringly out of place on an Urban AC. You might not want a Motley Crue music bed under a spot on a Mainstream AC station, just as hearing John Legend could be confusing on an Active Rock outlet.  If your station is perceived as “family-friendly”, are there clients with edgy spot content you need to turn away or spots you should at least daypart? Is the production quality to the station’s standards or will it reflect poorly on the product?

Not every solution will work for every station. Programmers who are fortunate to have the advantage of research—especially perceptual research—can glean a better understanding of what their brand stands for. Understanding what your brand means to your audience and the broader marketplace can empower you to view the product from every angle. This level of strategic knowledge allows savvy programmers to consider every song and piece of content. Sharing these brand insights and working collaboratively with the sales leadership at the radio station can help ensure that your station’s listening experience continues to engage your audience even when your programming is on a break.