Author: John Boyne

20 Different Radio Formats with Top 5 Success

One of the things I love about my job is the broad perspective gained from helping a diverse array of clients in a diverse array of situations: different places, different demographics, different content types, different platforms. We’ve always felt that such a variety of experiences allows us to better serve our clients, as learnings build upon one another, sometimes in surprising ways.

Our work in radio takes us to many markets, and while there are certainly themes and trends that are widely evident, it’s also fascinating to see how different the successful brands of one community can be from the successful brands of another. If you think there’s a one-size-fits-all profile of winning in radio, let’s go ahead and debunk that theory with a year-end review of Nielsen Audio ratings. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s define “successful” as being a Top 5 station among 18- to 54-year-old persons, Monday-Sunday 6a-12m, across the average of January 2023 through December 2023*.

Looking at 15 of the largest markets in the U.S., we find no fewer than 20 different formats represented among the Top 5 stations in these markets. There are CHR, Hot AC, Mainstream AC, and Soft AC stations. There are Urban Contemporary, Urban AC, and Rhythmic/Throwback stations. Classic Hits and Adult Hits are represented, as are Classic Rock, Active Rock, Alternative, and AAA. Also included are Spanish Contemporary, Regional Mexican, and Tropical, plus Country, Contemporary Christian, News/Talk, and Sports. In almost any format, if you’re looking for a success story, you can find one somewhere out there.

The format path to Top 5 radio success doesn’t point in one direction. (Source: Shutterstock/StunningArt)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that any format will work in any situation. Market demographics (e.g., age, ethnicity) and culture (e.g., sports teams, music history) play a role, as do competitive dynamics (e.g., others in the format, others in adjacent formats). Moreover, even when you’ve got a format with high potential, success can hinge on the proper execution of day-to-day programming and marketing.

It’s not easy to get into the top tier of performance, but isn’t it kind of encouraging to know that there are many different ways to potentially get there?

*Source: Nielsen, Average Persons 18-54, January-December 2023, Monday-Sunday 6a-Mid

Always Good Work

If you live in the southeastern portion of the United States, you might be familiar with Baker Roofing, one of the nation’s largest roofing contractors. And if you are familiar with Baker Roofing, you might also be familiar with a phrase that is prominently displayed on each of their work trucks, a promise that founder W.P. Baker first posted to the front door of his downtown Raleigh shop in 1915:

We shall do good work

At a profit if we can

At a loss if we must

But always good work

At twenty-one words long, it’s a statement that requires a little time and effort to digest. To the highway driver passing by, it’s a blur of language. To the stationary driver, perhaps held captive by a stoplight, it’s readable. But to the truly receptive audience, sharing common values, it’s poetry.

I love that it puts “good work” front and center. It’s not about gimmicks or promotions. It’s about the quality of the outcome, plain and simple. Whether you’re looking for a doctor or a mechanic, a lawyer or a roofer, what you ultimately need is a job well done.

I love that, by saying “at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must,” it acknowledges that the pursuit of good work is sometimes bumpy. It’s an assurance to the customer that if a project does not go as planned, the business’s profitability may suffer, but the quality of its work will not.

One of the many reasons I’m thankful to work at Coleman Insights is that I know these values are shared. It’s a culture that was established by our founder, Jon Coleman, and carries on today. When costs are higher than expected, we accept them and consider how to make better estimates in the future. When mistakes are made, we find them and make things right. We try to focus not so much on the profitability of the individual project, but instead on the process of doing the kind of good work that yields long-lasting relationships with our clients and success for our business.

Always good work. It’s a mindset that has worked well for Baker Roofing, works well for Coleman Insights, and I bet—knowing our readers—works well for many of you.

Why Your Radio Station or Streaming Channel Must Evolve with Music Tastes

One of the most challenging tasks facing the program director of a radio station or streaming channel is determining when the tastes of the target audience are shifting. While there is no easy or singular solution, it helps to understand how tastes evolve.

When considering music tastes, let’s look at it from the standpoint of the target audience, not an individual listener. For brands that don’t change their target demographic, they must evolve within it. Each year, one set of listeners ages in, while another set ages out. If we were to stop there, evolution would be a rather linear and predictable process. But, for a variety of reasons, it’s not that simple.

First, your target audience evolves in other ways. You may gain a listener when someone moves to your market. You may lose a listener when someone stops commuting to work. You may pick up a listener who sees or hears your advertising. You may lose a listener who discovers a more appealing media option. Your audience is constantly changing, based on a variety of factors.

Additionally, we find that music varies in its staying power. Some songs and artists shine brightly in their heyday but then fade into obscurity. Others maintain a rather steady level of popularity, year after year, even in handoffs from one generation to another. And some, unexpectedly, come roaring back to life, often propelled by a cultural moment (e.g., the 2022 resurgence of the 1985 song “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush, after it was featured in Netflix’s Stranger Things). In music, as in investing, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future performance.

Evolution is also impacted by the popular styles of each era. As I explained a few years ago in “The 90s Music Research Conundrum,” the 90s may be a rich decade to mine if you’re in the business of targeting Hip Hop fans, Alternative fans, or Country fans, but it’s been a more challenging era for Pop-based formats to evolve into.

But wait, there’s even more to consider!

One of my favorite music research measures is Compatibility. You can think of Compatibility as cohesion, as the ties that bind collective tastes. Without Compatibility, you have a bunch of songs. With Compatibility, you have a cohesive music recipe that can attract and hold an audience.

When you have a critical mass of compatible songs, you have the hub of a music format. What’s really interesting, and oftentimes challenging, is the process of evolving the focus of a station’s recipe from one hub to another. It’s at these junctures that things can go very right…or very wrong. If the Compatibility between hubs is too weak, you may run off all your old listeners before you are able to attract new ones. Additionally, your transition may be stymied by a competitor that is already established in the space and/or by a failure to evolve how the audience perceives your brand.

It’s also easy to mistime the evolution from one musical hub to the next because it’s not always a smooth transition that is ready to occur when you’re ready for it to occur. Some of this has to do with factors discussed earlier, but some has to do with a process that I liken to interplanetary travel. Compatibility works on music format like gravity works on a planet. Just as gravity would affect your movement from one planet to another, the force of Compatibility will affect your movement from one musical hub to another.

Let’s use the Classic Hits format’s transition from the 70s to the 80s as an example. Initially, there was a time when many felt like the format was too slow to evolve, but the 70s appetite was holding strong, even as listeners aged into and out of the target demo. More and more 80s songs were testing well, but there was not yet enough to overcome the gravitational force of the 70s. But eventually, the format evolved out of the gravitational pull of the 70s and into the gravitational pull of the 80s, and—wham!—a slow transition suddenly became a quick transition into the new lane. When such a change happens, and how strongly it happens, is very difficult to predict but can be detrimental to your product and brand if missed or mismanaged.

The takeaway is to remember that the tastes of your target will never remain static, meaning your brand must evolve with it. Research can help ensure it’s evolving with the optimal blend of music, and moving at their pace, not yours.

Three Reasons You Don’t Win the Variety Image by How Many Songs You Play

On the surface, the premise makes sense. To give listeners the most variety, you need to play more songs, right?

Wrong.

To understand why, let’s explore three factors to consider in image building. If all three are not executed properly, winning the image will be that much more challenging. For this example, we’ll use variety as the image.

  1. The Type

Listeners won’t notice how many songs you play; they’ll notice how you deliver it. Era variety is generally the most obvious, but there are other ways to achieve the variety image through the product you deliver. A AAA station may offer more depth within certain strategic sounds. An Adult Hits station may offer more style/texture variety, with genres that listeners don’t generally expect to go together.

  1. The Recipe

An Adult Hits station may claim to “play everything,” but of course it doesn’t. And the most successful ones have a method to their madness. For example, stations in this format often play mostly 80s and have a Pop Rock lean. Research may dictate a different strategy based on the market and competitive landscape. The crucial element is that the songs need to be cohesive enough to hold an audience. Understanding the strategic lane for the format allows the station to go deeper on strategically important sounds while staying shallower in sounds that live on the strategic periphery.

  1. The Marketing

Radio station listeners are not paying close enough attention to recognize that your station plays the best variety. That’s why the right strategic messaging must accompany the product strategy. Doing it is not enough, you must tell them about it. Use clear, distinct, and memorable language to help build the image. When you think you’ve said it too much, keep doing it. You haven’t. Moreover, look for opportunities to spread your message externally, to people who aren’t already listening to your station.

While this example focuses on variety, the process is the same for any image you want to win.

Utilize research to determine the optimal strategy, execute the strategy according to the plan, and deliver consistent messaging on-air and off-air to drive the image perception forward.

Look Before You Leap: Four Brand Evolution Tips

For many brands, a key to longevity is the ability to evolve. What works today may not work tomorrow.

To that end, much of our research at Coleman Insights relates to helping clients appropriately adapt and innovate by staying in touch with consumer tastes, behaviors, and perceptions. We’re studying music trends, talk/personality content, and distribution platforms.

Of course, evolutionary decisions are rarely easy and are often fraught with risk. As The Clash famously asked, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” As you contemplate taking your brand in a different direction, we encourage you to think through the following questions:

  1. Is there a sizable market for “the new thing”? Don’t change for the sake of change. Change because a data-driven analysis of the situation tells you that this change has the potential to be fruitful.
  2. Can you execute “the new thing” exceptionally well? Just because you want to do something doesn’t mean that you’re equipped to do it well (a.k.a., the not-everyone-can-be-a-world-class-athlete rule). Consumers have a lot of options, and they’re typically not looking for mediocrity.
  3. Can your brand become known for “the new thing”? You’ll have a hard time attracting those who may enjoy “the new thing” if they don’t know that your brand does “the new thing.” Consider what kind of competition is in the way, the pre-learned interference of existing perceptions of your brand, how to effectively communicate the new message, and whether you have the marketing resources necessary to cut through.
  4. Are you ok leaving “the old thing” behind? Change often comes with trade-offs, as you emphasize one thing at the expense of another. If you give something up, and a competitor fills the void, you may never get it back.
Facebook evolves brand into Meta

There are many examples of brand evolution, such as Facebook’s rebranding as Meta.

Now, let’s marry these questions with some real-world examples:

  1. If you’re a producer trying to decide among several topics that are not well covered by existing podcasts, do you know how appealing each is to potential listeners?
  2. If you want to launch a podcast about soccer, have you determined what your soccer podcast will do exceptionally well relative to the other soccer podcasts that already exist?
  3. If you are thinking about taking your Classic Hits station’s recipe deeply into the 90s, do you have a good marketing plan for developing the station’s image as a source of 90s music?
  4. If you’ve shifted your Top 40 station’s recipe substantially older in response to a downturn in the popularity of current music, are you comfortable with the possibility that your station’s image and usage as a source of current music is being diminished?

So look for ways in which innovation and evolution can benefit your brand, but do so through a strategic lens that takes into consideration the many factors that will play into the success or failure of your decision.

Time Stands Still (Again) in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4

Coleman Insights is releasing findings from its Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4 in a three-part blog series, followed by a free webinar on Wednesday May 11th at 2PM EDT/11AM PDT, in which the findings will be covered in greater depth. Details to register for that webinar are below.

With a little digging, it’s not too hard nowadays to learn about music consumption trends. For example, our friends at Luminate (formerly known as MRC Data) and Billboard collaborated on a fascinating 2021 U.S. Year-End Report that showed, among many other things, that last year’s top song in both streaming and radio airplay was Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” featuring DaBaby, while BTS’s “Butter” led in digital song sales.

What’s oftentimes harder to ascertain is precisely what motivates consumption. How do people feel about a song, an artist, or a genre? Who likes it? Who doesn’t? Is its success driven by broad popularity or a small but passionate core? Does everyone know it already, or is there room to grow its impact by growing its familiarity? What makes answering these questions challenging is that doing so requires getting inside people’s heads by actually communicating with them. And that is precisely what we do every day at Coleman Insights. On behalf of our clients, we use survey research to get inside the head of the consumer.

And if you’re looking to learn more about how consumers feel about contemporary music, you’ve come to the right place.

The Contemporary Music SuperStudy series consists of annually fielded research designed to assess the lay of the land of contemporary music tastes. In each, we begin by creating a list of the songs most consumed in the previous year—via streaming, sales, and radio airplay—using data provided by Luminate. We supplement this list with top-tier songs from individual genre charts, and we eliminate titles more than five years old. This yields a list of several hundred contemporary songs, which we then take to the people. Using our FACT360SM Strategic Music Test platform, we assess the popularity of each and every one of these titles by testing them with 1,000 people between the ages of 12 and 54 across the United States and Canada.

A year ago, Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 left us feeling like we were in the movie Groundhog Day. After a year of the pandemic, music tastes looked a lot like Phil Conners in Punxsutawney: stuck in time. Many of the most popular songs from Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 carried over to Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3, including the #1 song: Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.”

But that was then, and this is now. How do things look in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4?

Well, it still feels like Groundhog Day.

The most popular song, for the third straight year, is Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.”

ed sheeran, shape of you

Incredibly, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran tops the Contemporary Music SuperStudy for the third straight year

Moreover, nine of the top ten songs in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4 were at or near the top in last year’s study.

The only new addition to the top ten is Adele’s “Easy On Me.” In fact, “Easy On Me” is the only song released in the past two years to break into the top ten. In other words, nine of the ten most popular contemporary songs are pre-pandemic titles.

“Easy On Me” by Adele is the only new addition to the Contemporary Music SuperStudy Top 10

Now, that feels unusual…but is it?

To some degree, we expect to see songs from a few years ago among the most popular contemporary titles. The older songs that are still being consumed highly enough to qualify for this study have, inherently, exhibited staying power. Whereas some newer songs may still be developing in familiarity and finding their fan base, these older songs have largely weathered the storm and benefit from having above-average familiarity with consumers.

That said, what’s notable here is that, as compared to previous Contemporary Music SuperStudies, we are seeing less turnover among the most popular songs. More of them are older, relative to the timing of the research. In the original Contemporary Music SuperStudy, just 17 of the top 100 titles were more than two years old at that time. Now, in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4, that proportion has doubled; 34 of the top 100 titles are more than two years old.

Not only do these findings continue a trend that began in previous Contemporary Music SuperStudies, they are consistent with what we and others have seen in researching and studying music popularity and consumption (e.g., see the section entitled “Play It Again: Catalog Music Takes The Lead” in the Luminate/Billboard 2021 U.S. Year-End Report referenced earlier).

Whether it’s because of the pandemic, the evolution of audio consumption, and/or a variety of other factors, when it comes to contemporary music popularity, the more things change, the more they seem to be staying the same.

Register now for our Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4 webinar on Wednesday, May 11th at 2P EDT/11AM PDT, when we’ll go in-depth on the state of contemporary music. In the meantime, keep an eye out for next week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog for more sneak peek findings from the study.

Best of 2021: Time Stands Still in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3

In the final entry of some of our most-read blogs over the past four years, and the last Tuesdays With Coleman of 2021, we step into a veritable time capsule. 2021’s most-read blog, “Time Stands Still in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3” by John Boyne, revealed findings from our annual benchmark study of contemporary music tastes. We field these studies in the beginning of the year, and test the most-consumed songs of the previous year. Meaning this version of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy measured the most consumed songs of 2020, a year most of us would prefer to forget.

As it turned out, the study was a little strange for a tracking study, but a perfect metaphor for a year of lockdowns and sheltering in place. In a number of ways, Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 was frozen in time.

“Time Stands Still in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3” by John Boyne

With Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3, we are excited to once again share learnings about the lay of the land of contemporary music. This is a study of mass music tastes that starts with us compiling a list of the most consumed songs of 2020, using streaming (led by Roddy Ricch’s “The Box”), sales (led by BTS’s “Dynamite”), and radio airplay (led by The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights”) data provided by MRC Data. We supplement this list with top-tier songs from individual genre charts, and we eliminate titles that are more than five years old, such as Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” (sorry, TikTok sensation 420doggface208). Then, using our FACT360SM Strategic Music Test platform, we assess the popularity of each and every one of these titles by testing them with 1,000 people between the ages of 12 and 54 across the United States and Canada.

Of course, looming large over Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 are these strange pandemic times. Going into the study, we wondered quite a bit about how contemporary music tastes might be impacted after a year in which the normal rhythms of life were upended. Sequestered at home, many of us felt more than a little like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, the cynical weatherman who is stuck in a seemingly endless time loop.

As it turns out, the results of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 have a decidedly Groundhog Day-like feel as well. It all looks very familiar…

What was last year’s most popular song? Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.”

What is this year’s most popular song? Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.”

That’s right. One year later, a thousand surveys later, and the exact same song rises to the top.

And that’s not all.

Six of the top ten songs in this year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 were also in the top ten of last year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

How about the most prolific artist? Last time it was Post Malone, with eight of the top 100 songs. This time it is Post Malone, with six of the top 100 songs.

OK, let’s mix it up. Instead of looking at the top of the list, let’s go all the way to the bottom. What was the least popular song in last year’s SuperStudy 2? Surely, it won’t be the exact same this time around in SuperStudy 3.

Think again.

Many of you still don’t like “Baby Shark.”

Crazy, right? It almost feels like nothing has changed. It feels like Groundhog Day.

Well, to be clear, some things have changed. I promise.

Saying that time stands still—as we did in the title of this blog—is a bit of an exaggeration. Time hasn’t stopped, but it has slowed. The following chart shows the era distribution of the top 100 titles in each of the three SuperStudies. As these studies are done on a yearly basis, we have aligned them based on their relative era so that we can more easily compare them. The most recent year for SuperStudy 1 was 2018, the most recent year for SuperStudy 2 was 2019, and the most recent year for SuperStudy 3 is 2020. Note how the most recent year of music has gone from 40% to 36% to 26% of the top 100. In other words, the most popular contemporary titles have gotten less contemporary. They still meet our “past five years” rule, but they are leaning more toward the older end of it.

When we compare the era distribution of all songs tested in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 (which, again, is comprised of last year’s most consumed songs) to the era distribution of the 100 most popular songs, we see that 2020 really under-performs; the year accounts for 46% of the test list, but just 26% of the top 100. Meanwhile, 2019 has 42% of the test list and 46% of the top 100, while 2018 and 2017 over-perform with a combined 12% of the test list and 27% of the top 100.

The fact that the most popular songs lean older is not completely surprising to us. The older songs that are still being consumed highly enough to qualify for this study have, inherently, exhibited staying power. Whereas some newer songs may still be developing in familiarity and finding their fan base, these older songs have largely weathered the storm and benefit from having above-average familiarity with consumers. Instead, what is noteworthy is that the most popular songs have shifted quite a bit older, with so many familiar faces remaining at the top.

So, it’s the things that haven’t changed that really grab our attention in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3. This is what we get after a year without in-person concerts, after a year in which many new releases have been held back, after a year of comfort food binging.

I think we’ve found our contemporary music comfort food, and its name is “Shape Of You.”

Time Stands Still in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3

Coleman Insights is releasing findings from its Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 in a three-part blog series, followed by a free webinar on May 13th, in which the findings will be covered in greater depth. Details to register for that webinar are below.

With Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3, we are excited to once again share learnings about the lay of the land of contemporary music. This is a study of mass music tastes that starts with us compiling a list of the most consumed songs of 2020, using streaming (led by Roddy Ricch’s “The Box”), sales (led by BTS’s “Dynamite”), and radio airplay (led by The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights”) data provided by MRC Data. We supplement this list with top-tier songs from individual genre charts, and we eliminate titles that are more than five years old, such as Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” (sorry, TikTok sensation 420doggface208). Then, using our FACT360SM Strategic Music Test platform, we assess the popularity of each and every one of these titles by testing them with 1,000 people between the ages of 12 and 54 across the United States and Canada.

Of course, looming large over Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 are these strange pandemic times. Going into the study, we wondered quite a bit about how contemporary music tastes might be impacted after a year in which the normal rhythms of life were upended. Sequestered at home, many of us felt more than a little like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, the cynical weatherman who is stuck in a seemingly endless time loop.

As it turns out, the results of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 have a decidedly Groundhog Day-like feel as well. It all looks very familiar…

What was last year’s most popular song? Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.”

What is this year’s most popular song? Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.”

That’s right. One year later, a thousand surveys later, and the exact same song rises to the top.

And that’s not all.

Six of the top ten songs in this year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 were also in the top ten of last year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

How about the most prolific artist? Last time it was Post Malone, with eight of the top 100 songs. This time it is Post Malone, with six of the top 100 songs.

OK, let’s mix it up. Instead of looking at the top of the list, let’s go all the way to the bottom. What was the least popular song in last year’s SuperStudy 2? Surely, it won’t be the exact same this time around in SuperStudy 3.

Think again.

Many of you still don’t like “Baby Shark.”

Crazy, right? It almost feels like nothing has changed. It feels like Groundhog Day.

Well, to be clear, some things have changed. I promise.

Saying that time stands still—as we did in the title of this blog—is a bit of an exaggeration. Time hasn’t stopped, but it has slowed. The following chart shows the era distribution of the top 100 titles in each of the three SuperStudies. As these studies are done on a yearly basis, we have aligned them based on their relative era so that we can more easily compare them. The most recent year for SuperStudy 1 was 2018, the most recent year for SuperStudy 2 was 2019, and the most recent year for SuperStudy 3 is 2020. Note how the most recent year of music has gone from 40% to 36% to 26% of the top 100. In other words, the most popular contemporary titles have gotten less contemporary. They still meet our “past five years” rule, but they are leaning more toward the older end of it.

When we compare the era distribution of all songs tested in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 (which, again, is comprised of last year’s most consumed songs) to the era distribution of the 100 most popular songs, we see that 2020 really under-performs; the year accounts for 46% of the test list, but just 26% of the top 100. Meanwhile, 2019 has 42% of the test list and 46% of the top 100, while 2018 and 2017 over-perform with a combined 12% of the test list and 27% of the top 100.

The fact that the most popular songs lean older is not completely surprising to us. The older songs that are still being consumed highly enough to qualify for this study have, inherently, exhibited staying power. Whereas some newer songs may still be developing in familiarity and finding their fan base, these older songs have largely weathered the storm and benefit from having above-average familiarity with consumers. Instead, what is noteworthy is that the most popular songs have shifted quite a bit older, with so many familiar faces remaining at the top.

So, it’s the things that haven’t changed that really grab our attention in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3. This is what we get after a year without in-person concerts, after a year in which many new releases have been held back, after a year of comfort food binging.

I think we’ve found our contemporary music comfort food, and its name is “Shape Of You.”

Register now for our Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 webinar on May 13th from 2p-3p EDT, when we’ll go in-depth on the state of contemporary music. In the meantime, keep an eye out for next week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog for more sneak peek findings from the study.

Using Contesting As Strategic Image Building

You know a good promotion can drive listening to your radio station. But how can you capture the attention of your consumer when, as Barenaked Ladies sang so poignantly in 1998, “It’s All Been Done”?

Although radio contesting is tactical in nature, it can have the benefit of strategic image building if executed correctly. That is, a well-executed contest can not only draw more listening out of someone, but it can also positively boost their perceptions of your brand. We have seen large scale promotions such as Double Your Paycheck, Phrase That Pays, and Pay Your Bills have remarkable association with the radio stations that run them. Contests can add brand depth to stations, on top of being known for great music and/or personalities.

But only if they stick with it.

A classic sign of Inside Thinking—i.e., not viewing your brand like a normal consumer—includes assuming that your listeners are paying close attention to everything your station does. Stations that adopt this mentality run a big six-to-twelve-week promotion and then misinterpret the results. If the ratings aren’t as good as hoped, they are quick to blame the contest and proclaim, “Our listeners are bored…it’s time to change it up!”

And so, when it’s time for another contest, the Inside Thinker will:

  • Move on to a totally different contest in order to “mix things up”;
  • Run the same contest, but change the rules and execution enough to “keep it fresh”;
  • Add layers of complexity to “goose listening”

Meanwhile, the Outside Thinker, who adopts the mindset of the consumer, recognizes that listeners have more on their minds than your contest. The Outside Thinker will understand that it takes time, marketing, and consistency to build an impactful contest. Not everyone will be aware of it or know how it play it initially, but if you stick with it, you may find that it benefits you more and more as the audience gets to know it better and better each time you do it.

The Outside Thinker also recognizes that different contests can provide different benefits. Some are fantastic at driving habituated listening. Some build music or personality imagery. Some create market buzz. And some are just plain fun to play along with.

But the most important piece of advice is pick one big contest and go all-in. Just one. Make it easy to understand and easy to play. Do not change the rules. Promote it internally and externally. Make it a “franchise” promotion that runs year after year. Then watch as your audience grows, and you build strategic images.

Your listeners will not get bored, and you won’t tire of the long-term benefits.

The Year Ahead, Part 2

Tuesdays With Coleman

This is the second of our two-part blog series focusing on a roundtable discussion about the impact of 2020’s upheaval on the audio entertainment industry. Last week’s post focused on what the social justice movement, the election, and the pandemic meant for how people consume and what they want from audio entertainment.

In this second installment, our Senior Consultants—Warren Kurtzman, John Boyne, and Sam Milkman—share their thoughts on nonmusical content, podcasting, and the need for thoughtful innovation.

Coleman Insights Senior Consultants (L-R) Sam Milkman, Warren Kurtzman, and John Boyne

WARREN KURTZMAN:

This was already true to some extent before all of 2020’s craziness, but we enter 2021 with the sense that the margin for error is slimmer than ever. Hyper fragmentation and democratization of the media was already making it challenging for audio entertainment brands to cut through; now with economic uncertainty and so much of what we’ve always known to be true about how and why consumers use audio entertainment potentially changing, every client we work with really must get things right as often as possible.

JOHN BOYNE:

Personality content is going to be more important; there is a race to create unique unduplicatable content that is happening in radio, with podcasts, and even the streaming platforms focusing on this, too.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

We used to talk about how crucial developing nonmusical content was for radio, but now it’s vital for all audio brands. And it’s not just about the brand value of personalities; developing unique, compelling personality content is expensive, and understanding the behavioral impact personality content can have—whether it drives consumers to use an audio brand—is going to be more important as audio companies make ROI decisions on this content.

SAM MILKMAN:

As personalities become a bigger part of the strategy of almost every audio brand, how do you make sure that you are truly reflecting what your audience wants both in terms of content and tone?  For example, we saw many Hip Hop radio morning shows adapt to the heaviness of 2020 with less of a focus on comedy and celebrities and greater emphasis on social issues.

JOHN BOYNE:

It’s important to have great talent and unique content, but more than ever, our clients are demanding more sophistication in the development and execution of that talent and content. That’s where qualitative research and content testing are becoming a bigger and bigger part of our business.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

Right, John. That’s where the discussion about the Hip Hop shows Sam mentioned continues. Many shows adjusted their content based on the gut instincts of some very talented hosts and producers who are successful because they are in touch with the audiences they serve. But now, they must refine what they offer. Have all of these shows got the balance between entertainment and issues exactly right? Are they truly reflecting what the audience wants from them right now and will that change over time? Will it be different when we’re no longer in a presidential election year or after the pandemic ends?

SAM MILKMAN:

I think this extends well beyond radio morning shows. Our podcasting clients are going to need to get a handle on how their audiences are responding to their content if they want to keep growing.

JOHN BOYNE:

There’s so much room for growth with podcasting. We don’t know what the ceiling will be.

SAM MILKMAN:

Let’s stop treating podcasting like it’s a nascent category; it’s part of the lives of so many people.

JOHN BOYNE:

Yet there are still so many people who haven’t tried it yet.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

But it is now a big business. Look at how companies like iHeartMedia, Spotify, Entercom, Amazon, SiriusXM, etc. have snatched up podcasts and podcasting companies. That’s happening because it’s growing and starting to generate revenues in a big way.

SAM MILKMAN:

Which is my point. We anticipate doing more and more research for podcasters who recognize they’re in a big business. They need to measure the health of their brands, and they need to do content testing to see what works and doesn’t work with their audience.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

All three of us having been doing this for a long time, and as I reflect on that, it’s striking how much more complex and challenging things are than when our business almost exclusively consisted of perceptual studies and music tests for radio stations. It’s invigorating and I know all three of us—in fact, our whole team at Coleman Insights—can’t wait to get to work on exciting opportunities for our clients in 2021.

JOHN BOYNE:

Every time we turn over the calendar to a new year, it makes me think of thoughtful innovation. This may be truer this year, as we emerge from the pandemic and look for new opportunities. We do a lot of research on how consumers feel about and perceive things that exist; I’m hopeful that 2021 will include more work on innovations that audio companies could potentially offer to listeners.

SAM MILKMAN:

Agreed. This harkens back to many of the points our founder Jon Coleman made in his “Should Radio Go Back To Normal?” blog post in December. I hope that many of our clients pursue Blue Ocean Strategy ideas in 2021 and that we have many opportunities to provide them with the insights they need to make those ideas succeed.