Author: Warren Kurtzman, John Boyne, Sam Milkman, Jon Coleman, Jay Nachlis, Jessica Lichtenfeld, Meghan Campbell

How to Connect With Your Audience in a Crisis

Tuesdays With ColemanAs the world has turned upside down for the foreseeable future, the team at Coleman Insights has been engaged in conversations with our clients about how to navigate the new landscape. We recognize the ability of radio stations and other audio-based media to shine in moments of crisis, and there are already numerous examples of this occurring. On the other hand, we also recognize the lack of an “adversity road map.” There is no playbook that dictates how each brand should respond. Should you continue to deliver your format without any significant modifications? Is this a moment to break format completely and provide relevant crisis information instead? These are difficult strategic decisions. The specific choices are also hard.

Our consultant team has been having ongoing internal discussions about strategies for the audio entertainment industry. The result is the following special Thursday edition of Tuesdays With Coleman, a compilation of thoughts and ideas our team would like to share with you, with the understanding that there is no single solution for everyone.

  • Recognize unusual times call for unusual measures.

Everyone has something to contribute during a global emergency. Regardless of what your brand regularly delivers, your listeners are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and your response should reflect this. Your brand has a voice and a platform to be heard when listeners need it the most. Known, trusted personalities should play a major role and leverage the intimate connections they have with their listeners.

  • Consider the role of your brand in COVID-19 coverage.

Understand the need your brand fulfills.

News brands have a responsibility to provide comprehensive, relevant coverage. These brands might consider whether there are opportunities to go outside the typical format. For example, does more long-form programming or an increased number of updates make sense? These decisions should be determined by the role of the brand–in this case, being a provider of constant, reliable and trustworthy information during the crisis.

Listeners may be visiting your music station to get away from news coverage, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to stay connected. Does it make sense to employ a “We’re following the news so you don’t have to” approach? This allows talent to play a reassuring role; listeners can count on enjoying content on a music station without feeling like the world will pass by if they aren’t watching CNN or Fox News at that moment.

A full-service Adult Contemporary station may play a more personality-forward role of providing news and information. On the other hand, if your brand primarily provides comfort and escape, like a Soft Adult Contemporary radio station, constant news updates may be a harrowing intrusion and contrary to your brand. In fact, brands built on comfort and escape should lean in to that image, as it is particularly valuable when the real world is more chaotic.

  • Recognize that listening patterns are likely in significant flux.

If many people aren’t going to work or school, typical in-car commute listening levels no longer apply. What about everyone who is temporarily working from home? Or businesses that have been forced to close, like bars and restaurants? Will radio listening increase or decrease?

Reduced commuting will have a significant effect on listening patterns

With that in mind, consider the impact on how people may be consuming your station, podcast or streaming service and the programming options you may have.

With entire families now at home throughout the day, what about specialty programming geared to them during traditional at work hours? Should you do this on your main platform or would offering this through podcasts, separate streaming channels, etc. make more sense?

Aggressively promote all your listening platforms, keeping in mind that smart speaker listening is heavier at home than in the workplace and a surge of at home listening may be taking place.

  • Provide increased authentic and actionable listener engagement.

Listeners will find comfort in others going through the same issues. You may find yourself broadcasting from your home, which may be out of your comfort zone. Rather than trying to project a sense of business as usual, embrace the change! If the dog barks, the child screams or the husband sighs in the background, that’s real life. It’s exactly what your listener is going through. Let sharing be the mantra–you could, for example, have listeners upload pictures of their home offices to your social pages and share yours.

Find experts to feature on your shows. You don’t have to have all the COVID-19 answers yourself, and some of the best content is being generated by personalities across multiple formats interviewing those on the front lines of the crisis.

Anthony Fauci is the director of the NIAID

NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) Director Anthony Fauci has been extremely media-friendly in providing crisis guidance

Consider taking more listener phone calls. Allow them to share feelings and information that may be valuable to other listeners.

Think about brand-appropriate actionable advice you can offer listeners that is applicable to the current environment (i.e., how to work at home while the kids are in online school, the best binge-able series on Netflix or which delivery services have waived their fees).

Modify your tone. Be empathetic to the new needs of an uncertain audience.

  • Rally your community.

In times of crisis, “Community” surges to a higher level of importance on the Image PyramidSM. As they would with aggressively promoting a Base Music or Talk position, brands should be going over the top with their community efforts. Build real community bulletins (here’s what is open, new hours for grocery stores, new restrictions, etc.). Be the voice of the community, invite listeners to participate and share as appropriate. Listeners will tell people where they can buy toilet paper (well, maybe they’ll share that information), who delivers groceries and how to find free learning resources for kids. Post the information on your website.

Don’t just think of your community as your market. Your community is your audience. A Hip Hop station and Classic Rock station will not rally the same communities, but each has the power to inspire, engage and activate their respective followers.

If you make a concerted effort now to think about what you can really do for your community and your audience, your efforts will create a halo over your brand when things settle down.

Consider reading two Tuesdays With Coleman posts in which we covered the important role of radio in a crisis:

Here’s to Local Radio and Waffle House

The Power of Radio in Tough Times

All of us at Coleman Insights welcome your input and would love to hear your thoughts on how audio brands can best serve our communities during this challenging time.

We’re all in this together.

Warren, Jon, Jessica, Sam, John, Meghan & Jay

The Case for Fart-Head

Tuesdays With Coleman

Did I get your attention?

Good. That’s the point.

I’m going to let you in on a little inside joke I have with my colleague, Jay. Our shorthand for an attention-grabbing, memorably branded media personality is “Fart-Head.” Whose name only needs to be said once in order for it to stick in your brain? Fart-Head. Who are you irrationally curious about? Fart-Head. Who are you likely to tell your friends about? Fart-Head.

What about Jim? Don’t care.

What about Melissa? Snooze.

What about Kevin? Already forgotten.

But Fart-Head…  I don’t know what he’s all about, but tell me more!!

Now, it’s up to Fart-Head to deliver the goods. If he fails to entertain, that’s on him and his memorable brand is forever remembered in a bad way.

But, the point is that he got my attention.

So in a world in which we are inundated with countless messages and presented with oodles of entertainment options, while we’re by no means advocating the return of shock jocks, we are advocating that you consider what it takes to make an impression…

THE NAME:  I bet it’s a lot harder for “Jim” or “Melissa” to draw attention than it is for “Conan” or “Jed The Fish” or “Marshmello” or “PewDiePie.”

THE DELIVERY:  I bet it’s a lot harder for the super-polished talent who sounds like all the other super-polished talents than it is for the talent who talks with an accent, a memorable speech pattern or some kind of not-your-run-of-the-mill delivery.

THE CONTENT:  I bet it’s a lot harder for the personality whose content consists of well-researched, interesting pop culture updates than it is for the personality who does something really unique and buzzworthy.

So look, maybe you’re not on board with Fart-Head. I get it. It’s silly, crude and unbecoming of a semi-respected researcher to even talk about.

But, you’ve got to admit, it’ll be hard to forget…

The Case for Jingles

Tuesdays With Coleman

Does your brand use jingles?

They’ve certainly become harder to find.

Listen to commercial breaks on TV or radio. Whereas advertisers once deployed jingles en masse, it’s more challenging to find a commercial that uses a good old-fashioned jingle.

We sometimes hear from those in charge of brands that jingles are played out, or that it’s “time to mix it up.”

Steve Karmen’s resume includes jingles for Budweiser, Doublemint, Michelob, Hershey’s, “I Love New York” and countless others.

According to Karmen, “Unfortunately, jingle is an unacceptable word today. Jingle implies old. Jingle implies stodgy. Jingle implies not with it.”

So, are jingles played out? Is it time to mix it up?

If we consider the current media landscape, we know it’s as challenging as ever to catch someone’s attention and deliver a message with frequency.

Isn’t that exactly when we should be creating audio that sticks in consumers’ brains? Fill in the blanks:

“______…the San Francisco treat”

“I want my baby back, baby back, baby back…._____baby back ribs”

“Gimme a break, gimme a break, break me off a piece of that _______”

“Like a good neighbor, _______ is there” (fun fact: that’s one of a number of famous jingles written by Barry Manilow)

Maybe the auto insurance industry is on to something, because State Farm brought the tune back to their commercials.

And how about, “Liberty, Liberty, Liberty. Liberty.”

“We are Farmers. Ba, ba, da ba, ba, bum bum bum.”

“Nationwide is on your side.”

Are those jingles played out? Is it time for them to mix it up?

And sure, those are national advertisers with very large spot buys, but they don’t have the market cornered on successfully using audio signatures…and it doesn’t have to be a jingle.

Audio signatures, like jingles, are memorable and create sticky brand connections.

Here’s one of the simpilest, most effective audio signatures of all-time:

What do you think of when you hear this?

The simple ticking of a clock means 60 Minutes is on. Just a few bars of the Fox Sports theme means it’s time for football.

Are those played out? Is it time to mix it up?

When you hear this:

You may not only instantly recognize Curb Your Enthusiasm, you may associate the music with the beginning of the show, the end of the show, or anytime Larry David does something really stupid. This audio signature isn’t just identified with the show, it helps define the show’s brand.

How effective is the theme music on the Serial podcast?

The song has been played nearly 300,000 times on YouTube.

What if Serial decided to change the song every season or every episode to “keep it fresh”?

Is it played out? Is it time for them to mix it up?

The audio signature is memorable and creates a sticky connection with the Serial brand.

This works on a local level, too.

I still hear jingles for local radio stations in my head. I don’t say Mix 101.5, I sing Mix 101.5.

Even a voice can be a very powerful audio signature. Jack FM listeners may not know the name Howard Cogan, but they surely know his voice. It is synonymous with the attitude and essence of the brand.

Is it played out? Is it time to mix it up?

The answer of course, is no.

When you’re in the business of building a brand that incorporates audio, consider how a jingle and/or audio signature can create that stickiness you’re looking for.

It just might get stuck in someone’s brain.

And in 2019, when the battle for attention is more ferocious than ever, getting stuck in someone’s brain sounds like a good idea.

Images Are Like Icebergs

Tuesdays With Coleman

There’s nothing more sobering than watching a focus group of your radio station’s listeners talking about your beloved product. You might watch in horror as they:

  • Refer to your station by its previous brand name;
  • Are unable to name any of the people on your year-old morning show;
  • Are certain your station plays 70s music, even though it evolved and stopped playing 70s music three years ago.

Why are listeners—the real-life consumers of your radio station who are responsible for your brand’s success and your very livelihood—not aware of changes that seem so obvious to you?

Because they aren’t paying close attention.

Sounds harsh, I know. But the reality is that listeners have busy lives that are full of distractions, and your radio station isn’t getting their full undivided attention. They’re not listening all the time, and even when they are listening, they’re not soaking in every little thing that they hear and they’re not totally discerning what they heard on your station from what they heard on another station. It’s all a blur.

Because listeners aren’t paying close attention, messages need to be delivered clearly and often—especially when you are attempting to develop an image.

Images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, slow to erode.

Iceberg

Your images are like this.

Let’s take that music example from earlier. Say your Classic Hits station no longer plays 70s music and has added a lot of 80s music. You assume, because you dramatically decreased the percentage of 70s music and increased the percentage of 80s music, that listeners will pick up on it.

But just playing the music isn’t enough. You need to clearly and repeatedly tell listeners about it. Remember, images are like icebergs. The audience may be slow to forget that you play 70s music and slow to learn that you play 80s music. No one is keeping track of which songs they hear on your station versus which songs they hear on your competitors. If you fail to educate them about your music changes, then you could get hit with the double whammy of (a) not fully satisfying those who are tuning in to get 70s music while (b) not attracting those who love 80s music.

This is why marketing strategy and programming strategy must work hand in hand. We need marketing plans that help us align listeners’ expectations with our well-thought-out programming plans.

By the way, it’s not just radio. Images are like icebergs in other industries as well.

So, for every image you’re looking to build or erode, have:

  1. A proper assessment of tastes, expectations, the competitive lay of the land and your available resources. Is there a path to get to where you want to go, and is it a lot better than where you are now?
  2. A marketing strategy in place for how to communicate your changes clearly, with the proper weight and to the right audience.
  3. A strong stomach for how long it is going to take.

After all, images are like icebergs.

The 90s Music Research Conundrum

Tuesdays With Coleman

In theory, if you turn on an Adult Contemporary radio station in 2018, you should be hearing a healthy dose of 90s music. If you graduated high school in 1995, for example, you would be around 41 today—right in the wheelhouse of the 25-54 demographic. But of the major eras played on most Adult Contemporary stations, the 90s tend to get the least exposure—maybe about 10% of spins. You’re more likely to hear the 80s, 00s and 10s.

Similarly, we are not seeing Classic Hits radio stations accelerate into the 90s as quickly and aggressively as they once accelerated into the 80s and, before that, the 70s.

So what’s going on? Why aren’t the 90s taking over these formats?

In a word, Compatibility.

Don’t confuse the lack of 90s music exposure with the desire for hearing 90s music. If your music tastes came of age in the 90s, you are likely just as passionate about the music during that era as an 80s kid was about the 80s, a 70s kid was about the 70s and so on. Many people love the idea of hearing 90s music. The problem is not that the concept is unpopular; the problem is that the concept is challenging to execute.

Successful radio stations play a group of sounds that work in tandem with each other. In our FACT360SM Strategic Music Tests, Compatibility indicates if fans of one sound are likely to also be fans of other sounds. While diversity of eras and textures can help expand the scope of a station’s coalition, Compatibility helps ensure that it’s a variety blend that works well together. When Compatibility is poor, a station will have trouble keeping listeners from one song to another, as it zigs and zags across the music spectrum.

With the 80s, the golden era of MTV, we generally find that there are popular, diverse sounds that have high Compatibility with one another.

Madonna

The center lane of Pop music, driven by artists like Madonna, began to fragment in the 90s

This means if you’re a fan of:

Straight ahead 80s Pop (like Michael Jackson and Madonna);

80s Pop Rock (like Bryan Adams and John Mellencamp);

80s Flashback Pop (like Eurythmics and Simple Minds);

or 80s Rock (like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard), there is a good chance you’re a fan of more than one and perhaps all of these sounds.

The reason the 80s works so well today is because listening to Michael Jackson, John Mellencamp and Bon Jovi on the same station isn’t a train wreck.

The 90s, however, brought an era of fragmentation, as opposed to the shared experiences of previous eras.

For several styles of music, the 90s was a golden age. Alternative, Hip Hop and Country launched the careers of a multitude of stars and a vast number of hits. In formats targeted to these genres, we continue to see high passion for their 90s hits. But just because Nirvana, 2Pac and Garth Brooks songs remain highly popular does not mean that a Nirvana/2Pac/Garth Brooks radio station would be highly popular. What is lacking for the 90s is high Compatibility between genres. Playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “How Do U Want It” and “Friends In Low Places” back-to-back-to-back may be a fun experiment in variety and nostalgia, but it probably isn’t going to generate great ratings for a mainstream music station.

Garth Brooks 90s Music Research

Country experienced huge success in the 90s thanks to superstars like Garth Brooks

The lack of high Compatibility between genres in the 90s makes it difficult to effectively blend them. It also makes it difficult to find a lot of mass market hits. You may find huge passion for a song among its home genre fans, yet its mass-market appeal is watered down by low scores from everyone else.

Compounding things is that the 90s lacked a robust center lane of Pop music to help make up for the incompatible edges. Aside from the Teen Pop wave of Britney, Christina and the boy bands at the end of the decade, we’re largely looking at a cobbling together of poppier offshoots of the edges (e.g., Matchbox 20 from the Alternative side, Shania Twain from the Country side). The tide turned in the 00s and 10s. The edges cooled, and mass appeal Pop hits came back in a big way. There were massive hits on the softer side (e.g., Adele); huge artists and hits down the center Pop lane (e.g., Maroon 5); and monster crossovers from the rhythmic side (e.g., Rihanna).

Again, it’s easy to overestimate a station’s ability to effectively incorporate the 90s based on the generational affinity for this decade. Because we’re in the 90s wheelhouse generationally, it makes sense that we see signs of 90s revivals. It’s why Rosanne (now The Conners) was brought back to television. It’s why the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block reunited (and even toured together). The desire for 90s nostalgia is there and completely real.

Ultimately, however, it is the Compatibility conundrum that hinders the 90s as a major ingredient on most Adult Contemporary and Classic Hits radio stations today. While time softens the perceived tempo and edginess of music, the fragmentation of the decade’s music will continue to pose a challenge for programmers.

The Three Ts of Content Execution

Tuesdays With Coleman

It doesn’t take too much exposure to Coleman Insights to recognize that we talk a lot about the twin goals of building strong brands and developing great content. My colleague Warren Kurtzman revisited these fundamentals last week when he wrote about what it will take for podcasting to pass the tipping point.

This week, I’d like to focus on the content development side of the equation. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even a media researcher!) to tell you that better content comes from doing more of what the audience likes and less of what they don’t. The challenge comes in figuring out what exactly are those positive and negative drivers.

To help demonstrate to the podcasting industry what is doable on this front, on July 25th, iHeartRadio SVP/Podcasting Chris Peterson joined my colleague Sam Milkman and me onstage at Podcast Movement in Philadelphia to share content research we had done for two of their original podcasts. Chris introduced the session by stating, “Let’s learn what listeners really think rather than a download, which tells you nothing.”

Podcast Movement Session

(L-R) John Boyne, Sam Milkman and iHeartMedia SVP/Podcasting Chris Peterson

The Podcast Content Deep Dive: A Second-By-Second Look At Listening Behavior was the culmination of two separate mediaEKG Deep Dive® studies that analyzed a pair of iHeartRadio Original podcasts. One is The Ben & Ashley I Almost Famous Podcast, featuring former cast members of ABC-TV’s The Bachelor; while the other is Business Unusual with Barbara Corcoran, hosted by the real estate mogul and Shark Tank celebrity. For each, we recruited a sample of their target audience to listen to the podcast. Then, using the mediaEKG meter, we were able to collect granular in-the-moment feedback on what they were hearing. What caught their attention? What grew their interest? What lost them? We then followed up with qualitative questions to help us understand why they rated content the way they did.

While the details of the research are fascinating, let’s be honest: What works for a podcast specializing in The Bachelor universe may not work for everyone.

But, stepping back, there are broader lessons of the research that are applicable to many and that are evident in much of the content research we do. We refer to these as “The Three Ts” – Topic, Treatment and Tone.

Ben and Ashley I Almost Famous Podcast

  1. Choosing the right topic means choosing something to talk about that your audience wants to hear about and—importantly—wants to hear you talk about. In the case of Ben and Ashley I, their topic selections have a very clear impact on the second-by-second performance of the show. When talking about the current season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, their odds of success are high. But, the further they get from that bullseye topic lane, the better their execution needs to be in order to cut through. In our presentation, there are some fun examples of this, as well as a creative example of how the show cleverly extends its topic lane.
  2. For Barbara Corcoran’s podcast, the lessons of the research primarily relate to her treatment of various topics. There are certain ways that Barbara can espouse business advice that really work well for her. For example, Business Unusual’s target audience reacts really well to Barbara’s highly structured, step-by-step treatment of how to do things like ask for a raise or speak well in public.
  3. Finally, it is important to understand the optimal tone for a segment. Different tones for the same topic can have wildly different outcomes. For example, think about how differently one could cover the latest news out of the White House. Stephen Colbert may take a humorous tone, while Fareed Zakaria may take a more serious, professorial tone. Meanwhile, someone else may take an almost unhinged, ranting tone. Same topic + different tone = totally different outcome.

Business Unusual Barbara Corcoran

Want to learn more? On Wednesday, September 5th at 2pm EDT, Sam and I will deliver The Podcast Content Deep Dive: A Second-By-Second Look At Listening Behavior via webinar. We’ll dig into the specifics of how listeners react to these two podcasts, and you’ll learn more about how topic, treatment and tone play out in each. Our goal is to help podcasters and broadcasters think more and learn more about how The Three Ts can help them develop great content.

Click here to register for the webinar, and we’ll talk with you then!

How Can Listener Expectations Help Guide My Music Strategy?

Coleman Insights recently introduced the FACT360 Strategic Music Test. FACT360 is online music testing done right through the latest sampling techniques and data collection capabilities, and includes the same benefits that Coleman Insights has provided through its FACT Strategic Music Tests for more than 20 years. These benefits help radio stations build the most appealing and strategically on-target libraries possible.

In the spirit of our launch of FACT360, we present the final installment in a series of five blogs authored by Coleman Insights executives covering important considerations about music testing and music strategy. This blog is written by vice president John Boyne and covers how using Fit data can help you get maximum value out of a library test.

“Is this song too poppy for my Hip Hop station?  It tests really well…”

“Is this song too wimpy for my Rock station?  It tests really well…”

“Is this song too old for my CHR station?  It tests really well…”

As a researcher, I get this kind of question all the time. At issue is what to do with songs that are popular yet seem to push beyond the boundaries of what “fits” the radio station. Fit matters, of course, because listeners tune in to your station for a reason. Need traffic info? Go to the station that you know delivers it. Need a good laugh? Go to the station that you know delivers it. In the mood for Country?  Go to the station that you know delivers it. Wanna Rock out? Go to the station that you know delivers it. Up for hearing the latest hits? Go to the station that you know delivers it.

In this sense, ratings are generated through a combination of catering to listeners’ tastes and expectations. Great programming only gets a station so far if the people who would like what it is doing are not thinking of that station for what it is doing. This is why stations sometimes get in trouble when product evolution outpaces perceptual evolution. We probably all know examples of stations with well-intentioned, evolutionary changes that ended up alienating the people who had been listening without changing market perceptions enough to bring in new listeners.

This is why it is so important to understand listeners’ perceptions and consider them in light of market tastes, competitive opportunities and station resources. Sometimes the best path is to stay pretty close to listener expectations. Sometimes the best path is to aggressively try to change or evolve listener expectations. The key is to have the best information at hand so that you can develop the appropriate strategy. While strategic studies—such as the Plan DeveloperSM and FLIPSM studies used by many Coleman Insights clients—are ideal when mapping out where a station should go, music testing helps keep a station from veering off course along the way.

This is where Fit comes into play as a music testing measurement. In Coleman Insights’ FACT360 studies, listeners indicate which stations—if any—they expect would play each song. Fit is not a measure of whether your listeners think you should play a song; it is simply a measure of what your listeners expect. It is a highly valuable measure that is separate from our measure of how much listeners like or dislike a song. Just as smart programmers rely on more than just their gut instincts when assessing a song’s familiarity and popularity, it is wise to also get a read on how strongly listeners associate a song with your station and your closest competitors. Better data for better decisions.

Coleman Insights clients use FACT360 Fit data in a variety of ways. From a macro perspective, we are able to aggregate the Fit scores of different music genres and eras to help clients get a sense of how their station is being perceived and whether those perceptions are aligning with that station’s strategy. If, for example, a station is trying to develop a more contemporary identity, Fit data in library testing can help track the station’s progress and influence its on- and off-air marketing decisions.

From a micro perspective, we are able to show clients the Fit for every song tested. This gets back to the questions posed at the beginning of this article. What do you do with a popular song that has low Fit? Well, like many questions, the answer varies depending on the situation. If it is a low Fit song that aligns with your strategy and your vision, then it probably makes sense to play it—perhaps aggressively—and possibly even feature it in on-air imaging to help bring it into the perceptual wheelhouse of your station. But if it is a low Fit song that is also not particularly relevant to your strategy and your vision, then it is worth considering whether this song should be limited in exposure (perhaps to specialty programming or an “oh wow” category) or left off the station entirely.

Of course, these decisions are also influenced by a station’s format and brand strength. For example, a variety-imaged Adult Hits station is going to have more latitude to get away with and even benefit from surprising departures from core expectations than stations in many other formats. And a well-known station with a healthy base music image position is not going to need to be as closely aligned with core expectations as a weaker station that needs a lot of strategic focus to build its brand.

Music radio stations that enjoy sustained ratings success play the songs their target audiences love and expect to hear when they tune in—understanding that this sometimes requires evolving those expectations along the way. Using Fit data in a library test helps ensure that your station can do that as often as possible.

What Songs Should Be In My Library Test?

Coleman Insights recently introduced the FACT360 Strategic Music Test. FACT360 is online music testing done right through the latest sampling techniques and data collection capabilities, and includes the same benefits that Coleman Insights has provided through its FACT Strategic Music Tests for more than 20 years. These benefits help radio stations build the most appealing and strategically on-target libraries possible.

In the spirit of our launch of FACT360, we present the third in a series of five blogs authored by Coleman Insights executives covering important considerations about music testing and music strategy. This blog is written by vice president John Boyne and covers how to select songs for your next library test.

In the previous entry in this blog series, my colleague Sam Milkman wrote about the importance of using the “right” sample when you test your music library. Equally important is testing the “right” songs, which I will address in some detail here. There are important parallels between these concepts.

Much like how it should drive the design of your music testing sample, strategic research—such as the Plan DeveloperSM and FLIPSM studies Coleman Insights provides to many of its clients—should drive what you test. You should walk away from a strategic research project with clear direction on your station’s music strategy, specifically, which styles of music should be at the core of that strategy, which should comprise secondary and “spice” roles and which should be avoided altogether.

These insights should then drive what you test, as the composition of your test list should generally mirror the music strategy that emerges from your strategic research. For example, if you program a 70s- and 80s-based Classic Hits station that features 80s Pop Rock, 70s Pop Rock and 70s Corporate Rock as its core sounds, you should be exhaustive in testing titles from those three genres, making sure that they are well-represented in your test list. Meanwhile, if your strategic research advises being cautious about your Classic Hits station going too far into Classic Rock territory, you would be wise to limit your testing of titles from sounds like 70s Classic Rock, 80s AOR and 80s Hair to just the very biggest hits. In other words, be more adventurous and try to go as deep as possible in testing songs from the genres at the core of your strategy; be more cautious and try to stick to the more “tried and true” titles for sounds that are on the fringes of your strategy.

Taking this point further, I urge extra caution about going on what we like to call a “fishing expedition.” This is when a programmer tries to use a music test to assess whether or not their station should get into sounds that it currently does not play. For example, going back to Classic Hits, this could involve testing a lot of 90s and 00s titles in an effort to see whether the station should evolve. As tempting as it can sometimes be to explore new territory, music tests are not the tool for making this assessment. Such questions should be answered by a strategic study, which takes into account your larger competitive landscape. Thus, strategic research should drive your station’s music strategy and music testing should be looked to as a tool for executing that strategy. We have seen far too often stations get off track because they let their music testing drive their strategy instead of vice versa.

At Coleman Insights, we also encourage stations to test every title in their libraries. This even includes those titles that you see test well repeatedly and have no question about the frequency with which you play them. Why? First, to gain insights into how your target audience feels about each song, you need songs to be rated relative to those songs that you know are popular. Second, and perhaps more importantly, testing your full library is necessary to learn about the relationships that exist between the appetites for every music genre you play. High quality music testing gives you these insights (for example, our FACT360 Strategic Music Tests do so through a measure called Compatibility, which will be the subject of our next blog in this series), but can only do so comprehensively if your entire active library is represented in your test list. Moreover, even if your station is fortunate enough to conduct new music research on a regular basis and you use that as the primary tool for deciding which Currents to play, including your Currents in a library test is a good idea because it allows you to learn more about the Compatibility between the newer and the older sounds you play.

Sam’s previous blog talked about “garbage in, garbage out” and how testing your music with the wrong sample could produce results that send your station in the wrong direction. The same is true with constructing the list of titles in your library test. I encourage you to avoid getting garbage results by testing titles that conform to your station’s music strategy as closely as possible.

Pharmacies, Cigarettes…and Radio?

Last month, Jon Coleman wrote on article entitled “Misreading PPM and What Drives Ratings.”  In it, he talked about the tension between in-the-moment performance and brand value.  Jon expressed concern that radio programmers and management are sometimes so overly focused on preventing in-the-moment tune-out that they don’t do the big bold things that drive loyalty (and regular tune-in) to the brand.  Sometimes the very things that cause short-term pain result in long-term gain.

We have been talking with our clients about this “in-the-moment/brand” tension for many years, particularly since the advent of PPM, and we have drawn parallels to industries outside of radio.  A few weeks ago, another great example made the news:  CVS/pharmacy will stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products in its more than 7,600 U.S. stores.

Short-term pain?  Yes.  It is estimated that CVS/pharmacy will lose $2 billion annually from tobacco shoppers.

Long-term gain?  I’d bet on it.  While there is certainly a moral case to be made for this move, the company is surely also hoping that the change sends a strong positive message to consumers about the CVS/pharmacy brand.  In explaining the move, it says:

“The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health…By removing tobacco products from our retail shelves; we will better serve our patients, clients and health care providers while positioning CVS Caremark for future growth as a health care company.  Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered.  This is the right thing to do.”

It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the right thing to do for business.  Short-term pain, long-term gain.  Is there a lesson for your station to take away from this?