Author: Jon Coleman

Best of 2020: Should Radio Go Back to Normal?

As we spend four weeks of December revisiting some of our most-read blogs over the past four years, we find this week’s entry to be remarkably appropriate from a timing standpoint. It is also the most buzzed about Tuesdays With Coleman blog since we started the series.

The timing is appropriate because “Should Radio Go Back to Normal” by Jon Coleman was published one year ago. In fact, exactly one year ago tomorrow, when things in the world (and the Radio industry) were decidedly not normal. Thankfully, although the wrath of Covid is still highly relevant and impactful, the business has returned to much healthier levels and there is a sense of optimism for 2022.

Jon’s blog was about using the pandemic pause to reassess the future of the Radio industry, and he offered a wide range of thought starters and ideas. Many were also introduced for the first time to Blue Ocean Strategy. You may read this and feel great about how far we’ve come in one year, maybe you’ll think nothing has really changed, or perhaps your feelings will fall somewhere in the middle.

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

“Should Radio Go Back to Normal?” by Jon Coleman

The inclination of many will be to write off 2020 as a horrible year for the world and for our business. The question is, will radio “get back to normal” in 2021 or 2022 or should it be focused on a new business model?

Significant challenges often force industries to reevaluate, and some good can come out of this one. It may not be what everyone in the industry wants to hear, but companies are being forced to focus on return on investment (ROI). By that I am not even talking about financial ROI, though that is a part of it, but consumer ROI. What things really generate audience and audience loyalty? Which stations and shows will get a consumer ROI? As an industry, making consumer ROI a priority will require care, balancing broad appeal with a likely slow but narrowing focus to generate more core passion. Plus, as I will address below, I think it is time to start investigating totally new opportunities for radio stations and companies.

But first, let me talk about the here and now. Radio’s workforce­­–including owners, General Managers, and Program Directors–have been tasked to do more with less. This requires a laser focus on things that really matter. This does not mean that every cost cutting move is a good one or that radio can be fully healthy by cutting left and right. Owners need to know what the wheat is and what the chaff is.

So, what is the wheat and what is the chaff? What matters? First, format dominant and revenue critical stations matter. They are the wheat that will get radio to the future. Also, strong personalities, strong music, and strong leaders on those stations matter.

But, all this is a status quo or defensive strategy. It is likely to extend the life of the best stations well into the future, but it is not the dramatic cure that will attract new non-users to the medium in large numbers and as passionate fans. Radio needs offensive strategies. Just as you can’t win a football game without an offense, radio cannot reinvigorate the medium with defense alone. It needs to play great defense right now, but it also needs an offensive strategy going forward.

I think the offensive strategy begins with the weak stations that may fill a format hole, but do little for the future. Radio needs to look to new ways to truly energize the medium. This comes from changing the paradigm about how we program our weakest stations. Right now our paradigm for these weak stations is music, news/talk, 12 commercials an hour, music sweeps, stop sets, morning shows, etc. It’s the world we live in and the world advertisers live in. And it’s been essentially unchanged for decades.

Coleman Insights believes in the importance of these elements for the majority of the most successful stations.  Music is still an overwhelmingly important listener benefit, but we also recognize that competition for the music listener is getting harder every day and will get harder in the future.

However, looking down the road, there may not be enough music lanes to support three to five stations in a cluster. And the weakest music or talk stations trick us into thinking we don’t need to think about more important changes that might actually grow the audience and revenue opportunities on these signals. There are already weak sisters in every company and every cluster and there will be more down the road. Employing the strategies of the successful sisters may not be enough for the weaker sister stations.

This is where the current paradigm meets the new competitive world. In order to grow as a medium and stop playing just defense, we must examine other paradigms. We need to find values for consumers that go beyond just our music and personalities. Radio must find new ways by experimenting.  I don’t mean throwing ideas willy-nilly against the wall, but strategically considering all ideas, evaluating them carefully, and then throwing them against the wall.

We need to find new ways of attracting both non-consumers and current listeners and making them passionate about what we offer. We do this by creating uncontested market space for growth, rather than continuing to attempt to compete in a vicious sea of competition in a shrinking profit pool. This technique is called Blue Ocean Strategy. Radio is in the bloody, shark-infested “red” section of the ocean, fighting with itself and constantly emerging competitors. It should be creating new, innovative, never-before-heard concepts to draw new audience in the clear “blue” section of the ocean. Radio needs to Blue Ocean its world. We need to stop thinking about how we can get people to listen to our clusters’ weak stations a little more just so we can squeeze in six more minutes a day and marginally increase our time spent listening (which is generally pointless or at best a stalling tactic) but instead think about what role radio might play in the lives of consumers in the media world in which we increasingly live. Use this process to develop new types of programs within existing stations or totally new formats that don’t rely on music, stop sets, and the rules of the last 40 years. This does not mean throwing out good principled programming “rules” (throwing the baby out with the bathwater), but it does mean setting up a small tub next to the big one in which we can play with new ideas (smartly experiment).

To that end we need to ask: What groups of consumers are there that don’t listen to radio or do not listen a lot? What interests and excites them? What media do they consume and why?

We should also rethink how we segment the audience. What segments of the population are not currently served by the media landscape as it stands now? Perhaps we should set aside the traditional demographics we use to segment audience and start examining how our country is reorganizing along nontraditional lines. Rural/Urban, Secular/Religious, etc. Are there lifestyle segments that might be passionate if they were served? Are there new ways of segmenting political segments versus the traditional conservative, moderate, and liberal? Does the move to the left and right in many media create an opportunity in the middle?

What kinds of formats that radio does not or only minimally offers could create new interest in the medium? Could there be talk radio targeted at women? Does the popularity of Dave Ramsey suggest a full time personal finance station? Could radio play a bigger role in the emerging podcast market by having a format devoted to the leading podcasts (on FM)? Is it time to bring back progressive talk radio?  Could a well done national financial news-focused news/talk station find success on FM (versus being relegated to 1500am) in 2021? Could a Black news network on big FM signals draw a substantial audience? All of these are totally different from radio’s main offerings today or are a clearly narrowing of the appeal in search of a more passionate audience.

And, just as we need to think about our radio programming paradigm, we may need to think even harder about the economics of radio. Can new stations be built successfully on a basis other than selling commercials to local advertisers? Is local spot business the only way of doing it? Would the revenue proposition be different if the product on our stations was entirely different?

We can write off 2020 and go back to normal in 2021, or we can view 2020 as an opportunity to challenge ourselves in 2021 and bring new people to the medium. We can do this by creating new experiences and not mimicking the programming we offer right now. We can do this by creating programming that is so manifestly different that it creates a whole new expectation and is compelling enough to truly impact potential radio consumers and fans.

Best of 2018: Should I Play That Song On My Radio Station?

In late 2017, Coleman Insights introduced Tuesdays With Coleman, a weekly blog series offering tips and insights on branding, content, and research strategy. Using a combination of Google Analytics and reader engagement, we’re spending the next few weeks presenting the most impactful blogs of the past four years by reprinting one blog per year. Many of the themes are timeless and worth revisiting. Unsurprisingly, the first blog was authored by Coleman Insights founder Jon Coleman, the scribe on two of the four.

Here’s 2018’s featured blog from September 25th of that year. In this blog, Jon uses concepts such as Outside Thinking, the Brand-Content Matrix, and the introduction of the Acceptance-Fit Matrix to explain why a song’s popularity isn’t a good enough reason on its own to play it.

“Should I Play That Song On My Radio Station?” by Jon Coleman

For radio program directors, the question of which songs to play and which to leave out is as old as the medium itself.  If it was only about playing popular songs, radio stations would be broader than they are.  Why is that?  Well, just like restaurants don’t all serve the same popular foods and generally must choose what to serve, radio stations also focus on types, styles and eras of music.

Pizza Hut doesn’t sell hamburgers. CHR stations don’t play country.

Outback Steakhouse doesn’t sell Chinese food. Rock stations don’t play pop music.

Chipotle doesn’t sell pancakes. Hip Hop stations don’t play Taylor Swift.

These choices seem obvious, but are they always?  How can a program director think about what to play when consumers listen to popular music and music that seems right for the format?  How can they know when to stretch beyond the narrowest definition of their format?  When can they take chances and when should they play it safe?

Just as they choose restaurants and most brands based on simplistic image perceptions, consumers also select radio stations based on an image they have of that station.

As we’ve illustrated in our explanations of Outside Thinking, that image may be formulated based on Type (like Rock, Country or Hip Hop); Era (like 80s, 90s or 00s); or Texture (like Hard, Soft or Upbeat).

But in the real world, not every song a station plays will meet the pure definition of the brand it represents to its audience.

Sometimes, a program director will want to throw in a song just to “freshen things up.”

Other times a song will reach such a high level of popularity in the zeitgeist, a program director may feel compelled to play it even if it is outside the format lane.

Program directors will fill their music tests with “fishing expeditions” to see what happens.

Every program director and music director is faced with the decision of whether or not to play songs on their stations and is left questioning if it was the right choice because of Fit.

So, when to play and when not to play?

Don Benson, the former President and CEO of Lincoln Financial Media, put it something like this:

You can be entrepreneurial in your own lane. You can’t be entrepreneurial in your fringe lanes.

What Don means by that is your format lane gives you license to introduce your audience to songs and even sounds they haven’t heard. When you play outside your lane, you risk losing listeners and may encourage brand erosion.

For most listeners, this isn’t a conscious thought process. In the moment, if they really like it, a listener may sit through a song that feels out of sync with the brand and wait for the radio station to return to expectation. If they don’t really like it, and it’s out of sync, the listener is less likely to stay.

The real danger here is, if a station plays out-of-sync songs too often—songs that aren’t consistent with its brand perception—the listener will lose confidence in the station’s ability to deliver what the listener wants.

The Coleman Insights Brand-Content MatrixSM dictates 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.

In many ways, the decision-making process on whether or not to play a song on your radio station can be handled in much the same way…using an Acceptance-Fit Matrix.

Acceptance Fit Matrix

Ideally, your radio station will play a high percentage of songs that test well (High Acceptance) and fit your station’s brand (High Fit).

But, there always will be moments of questioning.

In the late 80s and very early 90s, for example, pop music took a milder, less edgy turn. During this period, artists like Richard Marx, Mike and the Mechanics, Wilson Phillips and Michael Bolton topped the charts.

Michael Bolton Soul Provider

How was CHR supposed to live without Michael Bolton?

For CHR stations, playing too much of this fringe ACish sound risked undermining their brand expectation. The expectations were edgier and had more tempo. The center-lane pop was from artists like Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna.

Stations had to be careful how quickly and deeply to move into the fringe sound—not just for fear of brand erosion, but also the risk of making themselves vulnerable to attack by more focused formats like Hot AC or edgier stations like Hip Hop.

As the Acceptance-Fit Matrix indicates, if a song is outside your own lane, it had better be exceptionally popular to play it.  A song that is exceptionally popular but not in the center lane is in the lower right quadrant. You may be able to get away with that. But, if it is only moderately popular it will be a tune out and will hurt your image.

Our recommendation is to evaluate every song in your library in terms of both Acceptance and Fit.

Aim for highly popular songs that are a great fit with your brand.

The less it fits your brand, the more selective you should be.

So when it’s time to ask “should I play that song on my radio station?”

Be smart.

Be thoughtful.

Be strategic.

And, be entrepreneurial.

Just do it in your own lane.

The Subway Branding Challenge

As a brand matures, it builds perceptual images. Some of these images are of great benefit to the brand; strong and powerful positive word associations. Inevitably, every brand has at least some negative images as well. In last week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog, I wrote about Victoria’s Secret. After years of success, the women’s clothing store had to deal with declining sales brought on by negative images that included outdated campaigns and models. Their answer was to introduce a far more diverse lineup of models and clothes, targeting women that would have never previously shopped at Victoria’s Secret. That strategy requires a major change in consumer perceptions. One option to accomplish that perceptual shift is a name change. But that would have required starting from scratch and a massive investment to educate the consumer as to what the new name stands for. Or the brand can keep the name, but dramatically change direction and be loud about it so distracted consumers will notice. As I alluded to last week, Victoria’s Secret opted for the latter strategy—keeping the name while aggressively changing direction.

There’s another brand going through tough times and declining sales, and this week we’ll examine what happens when a brand attempts a major strategic directional change the wrong way. As recently as 2013, Subway had 41% of the market share for “limited-service sandwich chains”. Today, it’s down to 28% and slipping. Competition is one big reason why. Sales at Jersey Mike’s, Firehouse Subs, and Jimmy John’s doubled and tripled over the same time frame. Other reasons include overexpansion, a breakfast failure, and internal issues. Recently it was sued, claiming the tuna wasn’t actually tuna. From a branding standpoint, the impact of spokesperson Jared Fogle going to jail in 2015 on child sex charges can’t be overstated. From 2000 to 2015, Jared was the face of Subway and the marketing wasn’t so much about the product as it was about how Subway is healthy and can help you lose weight.

Jared Fogle was the face of Subway’s marketing for 15 years

When they dropped Jared, instead of continuing to focus on health and diet, Subway started focusing on the product. And it turned out the product, as competitors offered fresher, healthier, more innovative alternatives, just wasn’t that exciting.

If this part sounds familiar, perhaps the Domino’s Pizza 2009 “Oh Yes We Did” campaign comes to mind.

Domino’s didn’t tiptoe around the fact that research showed many consumers perceived Domino’s to have an inferior product. They made an incredible video admitting it, and millions of views later, it’s still worth a watch.

Themes of this video were sliced into smaller, snackable pieces of audio and visual marketing including social media posts.

Like Victoria’s Secret, Domino’s dramatically changed its strategic direction by reinventing its pizza from the ground up. And when it was time to tell people about it, the message was very clear and it was everywhere.

Did the campaign work for Domino’s? I bet its shareholders think so. The day that video was published to YouTube, Domino’s stock traded at around eight dollars a share.

Today, it’s just under $500 per share. Wish I’d bought that stock.

Back to Subway, which announced “massive menu changes” in July of this year. 20 new menu updates and new and improved ingredients. They apparently gave away one million free subs to celebrate the launch. Did you know about that? I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t realize Subway made any changes until a colleague told me about it. And I had just had lunch AT SUBWAY.

To be fair, Subway did run TV commercials touting the new items. The spot starred four of the most recognizable athletes on Earth—Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe, Stephen Curry, and Tom Brady (who basically says at the end that he wouldn’t personally eat it).

It’s no different than the classic Radio mistake—a radio station that is trying to build a Base Music Position uses a big personality to promote the station. You remember the personality, not the kind of music the station plays. Just like Subway. You remember Tom Brady, not the new menu.

I vividly remember when this spot first ran. I had lunch with my colleagues John Boyne, Warren Kurtzman and Jay Nachlis (not at Subway), when one of us mentioned the new Subway ad with all the athletes. None of us knew what the ad was about. What could Subway have done differently?

  • Celebrities likely got in the way of the messaging. Subway could have made sure the message was more direct.
  • The sandwiches in the advertising looked identical to the previous sandwiches. If selling a major change, they needed to look significantly different.
  • The Tom Brady nod to the advertising-skeptic generation probably went over people’s heads.
  • The in-store experience should have also been dramatically different, with clear, new presentations of the new sandwiches and ingredients and even a refurbishing of the stores for people to notice.
  • The logo needed to change to communicate a major shift. Subway has multiple major head-on competitors.
  • Subway probably didn’t run enough marketing for a campaign of this magnitude.

So remember the lesson of last week’s blog: If a brand changes its strategy dramatically without changing its name, it requires a dramatic plan. A name change alone is not enough. But without a name change the product change needs to be HUGE.

For the best chance at success, use the Victoria’s Secret/Domino’s method, not the Subway method. Aggressively market, but most importantly be very clear about the new position you’re trying to sell without letting other noise get in the way.

 

 

 

The Victoria’s Secret Branding Challenge

 

 

Earlier this summer, Victoria’s Secret revealed an upcoming change in its strategic direction. As the New York Times put it, “the most extreme brand turnaround in recent memory.” In many respects, what Victoria’s Secret is trying to do flies in the face of what we’ve learned and practiced regarding branding and marketing over the years. Consider a radio station that has been in the same format for 30 years, with perceptual images deeply ingrained. For 30 years, the name hasn’t changed, the logo hasn’t notably changed, and it’s been playing the same styles of music and targeting the same demographic. Then one day, the station decides it’s going to target a different consumer, change its product, and overhaul its messaging. But it’s keeping the name.

That’s what Victoria’s Secret is attempting, but with lingerie instead of songs.

Me, doing blog research

The perceptual images Victoria’s Secret carries today were developed in the 90s, thanks in large part to its annual fashion shows. The shows featured tall, skinny models like Gisele Bundchen, Heidi Klum, and Tyra Banks. This was followed in 1997 by the introduction of the Victoria’s Secret “Angel”, and advertising regularly featured skinny models in skimpy outfits.

 

In recent years, a variety of factors contributed to sales declines. These included other brands starting to use plus-size models, while Victoria’s Secret stuck to its size zero models; the fashion show being seen as outdated; and the brand being seen as tone-deaf to changing attitudes.

To try and turn things around, Victoria’s Secret employed an “all-in,” “go big or go home” strategy.

The biggest and most obvious move was ditching the Angels for the VS Collective for a more diverse group of brand representatives. This includes soccer star Megan Rapinoe, plus-sized model Paloma Elsesser, transgender model and actress Valentina Sampaio, actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas, 17-year-old skier Eileen Gu, and former child refugee Amanda de Cadenet.

This received a great deal of press at the announcement, but the company’s moves appear to be continually aggressive towards changing perceptions of what Victoria’s Secret stands for.

The company’s new direct marketing catalog looks decidedly different–more diverse in ethnicity and body size. Its new YouTube videos do not have the look of a brand stuck in the past. It is making drastic changes to its product line as well, adding larger sizes and items like maternity bras.

Of course, the big question is, will this all work?

Victoria’s Secret faces headwinds in two areas related to its rebrand. One: images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, even slower to erode. Can it shed its deeply held image as an outdated company that is only for skinny women? Two: are there enough women that want the new direction from Victoria’s Secret?

 

In the comments underneath the new YouTube video, you’ll find some very positive, affirming comments. But you’ll also find “Bring the fashion show back,” “Bring back the angels,” and “This is H&M, not Victoria’s Secret. Bring your classic style back.”

Time will tell if Victoria’s Secret’s rebrand is successful, but I like the way they are going about it. If a brand changes its strategy dramatically without changing its name, it requires a dramatic plan. Simply put, a brand cannot overcome deep perceptions without aggressive, in-your-face marketing that clearly states the new strategy. One could argue that Victoria’s Secret isn’t going far enough in their marketing – the outside of their stores look the same. The logo is the same. The company isn’t going as far as they could in verbally communicating the new direction.

On the other hand, there’s another big company that is also currently going through a rebrand to modernize and connect with younger consumers, and it also kept its name. But unlike Victoria’s Secret, nobody is noticing because this other company is being decidedly undramatic about its changes. As we’ve pointed out countless times when discussing Outside Thinking, consumers aren’t paying close attention. It’s not that this brand isn’t spending money on marketing. It’s just all wrong.

I’ll cover that in next week’s blog.

 

 

 

Radio’s Got a Story to Tell

Sometimes a radio station changes its name, format, or both. Other times it makes a morning show switch—sometimes the talent leaves voluntarily, in other instances not so much.

How do stations usually handle these large-scale changes? On far too many occasions, they move forward in their on-air presentations like it’s “business as usual.”

And that is bad business.

Radio station management often doesn’t think about the brands’ relationship to the audience. When big decisions are made, they avoid telling listeners because there is an underlying line of thinking that radio is “show biz” and therefore explanations are somehow unnecessary. “Talk” to the audience? We don’t actually talk to the audience. We present. We’ll make the change and they’ll get it.

Over the course of doing focus groups throughout my career, I heard from radio listeners that had been exposed to these types of changes, in instances where the station didn’t talk about the changes. The audience never understood. If it was a morning show change, they would ask, “Where did the morning show go?” “Where did these new guys come from?” The way these changes were handled generated a sense of confusion. It also created a sense of disappointment and sometimes anger. The radio station has asked its listeners to build a relationship with its hosts. Now the hosts listeners have built relationships with have been taken away and they don’t get an explanation?

Sounds pretty crappy when you really think about it.

A classic example of how to not handle a change was how ESPN handled Mike & Mike. The hugely successful show that paired anchor Mike Greenberg with former NFL player Mike Golic aired on ESPN Radio for 17 years. Then, all of a sudden in 2017, it was announced that Greenberg would be leaving to host his own show. It was never really explained to the audience why he was leaving. When Trey Wingo was brought on to replace Greenberg, the new show was never clearly defined. Why should the audience care? There were reports of acrimony and bad blood between Greenberg and Golic, and Golic and Wingo ultimately didn’t last three years.

Bristol, CT – February 8, 2016 – Studio F: Mike Greenberg, left, and Mike Golic on the set of Mike & Mike. (Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

Perhaps the show would not have survived anyway, but in many respects it never had a chance. When you replace a heritage show that features hosts that have undeniable chemistry with a new show that is essentially starting from scratch, you need to let the audience in on the change. By doing so, you are asking permission for them to give you the time needed to develop the new show. When you don’t, when you just expect them to “get it,” their reaction is far more likely to be negative. “They took away my favorite show and replaced it with a worse one.”

Golic and Wingo were simply put in a terrible position.

Bristol, CT – November 27, 2017 – Radio Studio: Mike Golic and Trey Wingo on the set of Golic & Wingo
(Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

Here’s another example.

YouTuber Stevin John released his first Blippi video in 2014. Wearing a blue shirt with bright orange glasses, suspenders, and a bow tie, John presented Blippi as a children’s entertainer and educator. Blippi has been a massive success in children’s entertainment. Blippi has 13 million YouTube subscribers and an additional 11 million on a Spanish language account. The videos have racked up billions of views. That’s billions with a b.

Five years after launching Blippi (in 2019,) fans attending the Blippi Live tour noticed that Stevin John wasn’t the one playing the Blippi character. It was the same orange and blue clothes, but it was actor Clayton Grimm on stage with no explanation. Audiences were just expected to accept that Blippi was Blippi, no matter who played him. Recently, John launched a new Learn With Blippi series of videos on YouTube, and Clayton Grimm is now also the online Blippi. What did viewers think? The comments are turned off.

(L) Stevin John as Blippi; (R) Clayton Grimm as Blippi

This has resulted in widespread confusion, with online comments that include, “Who’s this??! This ain’t gonna fly with my kids,” while another wrote, “My 3-year-old said, ‘That’s not Blippi.”

If you dig deep enough, you’ll find John addressed the issue in an interview with Billboard before the 2019 tour. “I won’t be on the road, but I am obviously extremely involved with the whole process,” he said. “Blippi is as a character and I’m the creative force behind it, but since YouTube is a monster and all of these platforms are really crazy I can’t go on the road for many weeks or months at a time.”

When you’re trying to deliver a crucially important widespread message about a change to your brand, maybe an industry publication like Billboard isn’t the way to go. This is a message that should have been delivered aggressively through traditional media and social media, and should be clearly front and center on the Blippi website. But it’s not. In fact, the answer to the question “Who is the actor that plays Blippi?” on the FAQ page is Stevin John.

What happens when a radio station changes its name or music?

When a station makes a wholesale change to its brand—a name change, music shift, new imaging, perhaps new air talent—it cannot emerge “fully developed.”

Your station can’t have one name, one music library, one set of DJs, and one imaging package on the air on a Thursday, and suddenly debut all new things on a Friday and pretend like nothing has happened.

This is in part because listeners are not paying close enough attention. They will not pick up on the nuances you expect them to. The result is that the new brand doesn’t get the opportunity to build properly because the audience is confused.

They changed their name from G102 to The Vibe? Why? That morning show I listened to every morning for five years is gone. Why? They’re not playing my favorite songs anymore. Why?

Every brand change needs a story. You cannot just jump in the pool with no explanation.

There was a rock station in Davenport, Iowa in the 80s that ignored their brand fit and followed the music trends. The station started playing popular Top 40 artists like Prince and Madonna. The ratings tanked and listeners were furious. Ultimately, station management realized they had made a mistake and recognized they were damaging the brand. When they corrected their error, they didn’t just take Prince and Madonna off and hope the audience picked up on it. The program director went on the air and apologized. He explained why they did it, why they were changing back, and handled it with some self-deprecation.

The ratings came roaring back.

When E. Alvin Davis was a program director and consultant, he explained the value of having the PD talk to the audience about what they were doing. He would introduce himself in promos explaining new contests. Here’s what it’s called, here’s why we’re doing it, and here’s how to play. Let the audience peek behind the curtain.

Ultimately, that’s the whole point. Let your audience peek behind the curtain. If you tell them why you changed the station (and please, do not insult their intelligence and say, “you told us you wanted it”,) they are more likely to accept it. If you explain why the music has changed, they are more likely to notice (and listen). If you explain why the new morning show is there and why the other one left, they are more likely to give the show a chance.

Show biz is an important part of radio, but sometimes we need to dial it back just a bit. When changes are made, be intimate and honest and don’t pretend the change didn’t happen. If your goal is to build strong bonds with your audience, you’ve got to be willing to share the ride with them, in good times and in challenging times. If you treat the audience like the bond doesn’t exist, the bond will be broken and the change for naught.

Radio, You’re Obsessing Over Alexa

Over the last couple of years, a new girl in town has caused quite the buzz in the radio industry. Her name is Alexa and chances are if you work in radio, you’ve had (probably way more than one) “How do we handle Alexa on our stations?” conversation.

Alexa

The rationale behind wanting to run smart speaker promos on your radio station is understandable. You want to train your listeners to ask for your station on the new tech they are adopting. You know that it is a potential growth area of listening for your brand. And, perhaps there is a mandate coming down (whether it be from corporate or on the local level) that’s telling you Alexa’s important, so make sure you get those promos in.

Making your listeners aware of Alexa is a part of audience building for the long-term, so it should be a part of your strategy. But you need to sell it the right way. The dominant brand in your market will win smart speaker listening. If you spend too much time tactically promoting Alexa and less time promoting the value of your brand, you may be unintentionally hurting yourself.

It is not dissimilar to a radio station that spends too much time promoting a contest at the expense of its Base Music Position. Contesting is tactical, and so is Alexa. It can’t come at the expense of your brand.

Tactical programming should support, not come at the expense of, promoting your Base Music or Talk Position. (Coleman Insights Image Pyramid)

A restaurant that becomes famous in your hometown because it has great food and a great ambience will be the most popular in town even if people don’t know exactly where it is. It will be the most popular because it has a great brand.  People will find it when they want to eat out because it is a strong restaurant brand. However, a restaurant that is not top-of-mind and valued by consumers will not be crowded just because it puts its address in big letters on its web page. That restaurant needs to sell its food and ambience, then people will find it.

This is not to suggest that promoting Alexa as a place to listen to your station is a waste of time.  However, in the rush to build listening via Alexa, it seems that many stations are running lackluster one-off promos for listening to the station on Alexa–it’s not the kind of emotional verbiage that will change behavior. Rather than liners that simply mention Alexa, consider whether it makes sense to create a campaign that builds smart speaker listening awareness and your brand at the same time. Take into account how many people have Alexa, how they use it, and whether it fits into your marketing. If it does, rather than just running liners, build a consistent campaign. This is how to truly make habitual change.

If the brand is strong, listeners will come to the distribution in their own time. If you build the brand, the more likely it is listeners will ask Alexa for it.

So, when it comes to those smart speaker promos, don’t do it just for the sake of doing it or because you think you should. Think about how you can use every moment of airtime to build your brand. When you do promote Alexa, think about how to make it memorable, engaging and how the campaign can support your brand’s image growth.

 

Should Radio Go Back to Normal?

Tuesdays With Coleman

The inclination of many will be to write off 2020 as a horrible year for the world and for our business. The question is, will radio “get back to normal” in 2021 or 2022 or should it be focused on a new business model?

Significant challenges often force industries to reevaluate, and some good can come out of this one. It may not be what everyone in the industry wants to hear, but companies are being forced to focus on return on investment (ROI). By that I am not even talking about financial ROI, though that is a part of it, but consumer ROI. What things really generate audience and audience loyalty? Which stations and shows will get a consumer ROI? As an industry, making consumer ROI a priority will require care, balancing broad appeal with a likely slow but narrowing focus to generate more core passion. Plus, as I will address below, I think it is time to start investigating totally new opportunities for radio stations and companies.

But first, let me talk about the here and now. Radio’s workforce­­–including owners, General Managers, and Program Directors–have been tasked to do more with less. This requires a laser focus on things that really matter. This does not mean that every cost cutting move is a good one or that radio can be fully healthy by cutting left and right. Owners need to know what the wheat is and what the chaff is.

So, what is the wheat and what is the chaff? What matters? First, format dominant and revenue critical stations matter. They are the wheat that will get radio to the future. Also, strong personalities, strong music, and strong leaders on those stations matter.

But, all this is a status quo or defensive strategy. It is likely to extend the life of the best stations well into the future, but it is not the dramatic cure that will attract new non-users to the medium in large numbers and as passionate fans. Radio needs offensive strategies. Just as you can’t win a football game without an offense, radio cannot reinvigorate the medium with defense alone. It needs to play great defense right now, but it also needs an offensive strategy going forward.

I think the offensive strategy begins with the weak stations that may fill a format hole, but do little for the future. Radio needs to look to new ways to truly energize the medium. This comes from changing the paradigm about how we program our weakest stations. Right now our paradigm for these weak stations is music, news/talk, 12 commercials an hour, music sweeps, stop sets, morning shows, etc. It’s the world we live in and the world advertisers live in. And it’s been essentially unchanged for decades.

Many radio stations spin their wheels, doing the same things they’ve always done for decades.

Coleman Insights believes in the importance of these elements for the majority of the most successful stations.  Music is still an overwhelmingly important listener benefit, but we also recognize that competition for the music listener is getting harder every day and will get harder in the future.

However, looking down the road, there may not be enough music lanes to support three to five stations in a cluster. And the weakest music or talk stations trick us into thinking we don’t need to think about more important changes that might actually grow the audience and revenue opportunities on these signals. There are already weak sisters in every company and every cluster and there will be more down the road. Employing the strategies of the successful sisters may not be enough for the weaker sister stations.

This is where the current paradigm meets the new competitive world. In order to grow as a medium and stop playing just defense, we must examine other paradigms. We need to find values for consumers that go beyond just our music and personalities. Radio must find new ways by experimenting.  I don’t mean throwing ideas willy-nilly against the wall, but strategically considering all ideas, evaluating them carefully, and then throwing them against the wall.

We need to find new ways of attracting both non-consumers and current listeners and making them passionate about what we offer. We do this by creating uncontested market space for growth, rather than continuing to attempt to compete in a vicious sea of competition in a shrinking profit pool. This technique is called Blue Ocean Strategy. Radio is in the bloody, shark-infested “red” section of the ocean, fighting with itself and constantly emerging competitors. It should be creating new, innovative, never-before-heard concepts to draw new audience in the clear “blue” section of the ocean. Radio needs to Blue Ocean its world. We need to stop thinking about how we can get people to listen to our clusters’ weak stations a little more just so we can squeeze in six more minutes a day and marginally increase our time spent listening (which is generally pointless or at best a stalling tactic) but instead think about what role radio might play in the lives of consumers in the media world in which we increasingly live. Use this process to develop new types of programs within existing stations or totally new formats that don’t rely on music, stop sets, and the rules of the last 40 years. This does not mean throwing out good principled programming “rules” (throwing the baby out with the bathwater), but it does mean setting up a small tub next to the big one in which we can play with new ideas (smartly experiment).

To that end we need to ask: What groups of consumers are there that don’t listen to radio or do not listen a lot? What interests and excites them? What media do they consume and why?

We should also rethink how we segment the audience. What segments of the population are not currently served by the media landscape as it stands now? Perhaps we should set aside the traditional demographics we use to segment audience and start examining how our country is reorganizing along nontraditional lines. Rural/Urban, Secular/Religious, etc. Are there lifestyle segments that might be passionate if they were served? Are there new ways of segmenting political segments versus the traditional conservative, moderate, and liberal? Does the move to the left and right in many media create an opportunity in the middle?

What kinds of formats that radio does not or only minimally offers could create new interest in the medium? Could there be talk radio targeted at women? Does the popularity of Dave Ramsey suggest a full time personal finance station? Could radio play a bigger role in the emerging podcast market by having a format devoted to the leading podcasts (on FM)? Is it time to bring back progressive talk radio?  Could a well done national financial news-focused news/talk station find success on FM (versus being relegated to 1500am) in 2021? Could a Black news network on big FM signals draw a substantial audience? All of these are totally different from radio’s main offerings today or are a clearly narrowing of the appeal in search of a more passionate audience.

And, just as we need to think about our radio programming paradigm, we may need to think even harder about the economics of radio. Can new stations be built successfully on a basis other than selling commercials to local advertisers? Is local spot business the only way of doing it? Would the revenue proposition be different if the product on our stations was entirely different?

We can write off 2020 and go back to normal in 2021, or we can view 2020 as an opportunity to challenge ourselves in 2021 and bring new people to the medium. We can do this by creating new experiences and not mimicking the programming we offer right now. We can do this by creating programming that is so manifestly different that it creates a whole new expectation and is compelling enough to truly impact potential radio consumers and fans.

This blog was originally published by Deane Media Solutions and is reprinted with permission.

The Story of a Once Dominant Brand

Tuesdays With Coleman

This is the story of a once-dominant radio station that did everything right.

The owners deployed a perceptual research (Plan DeveloperSM) study on the brand every single year to ensure its market position was the most optimal one. It had an enviable Image PyramidSM: a strong Base Music Position, a dominant morning show that complemented the brand, and deep images that permeated the community.

The Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

Because this station consistently fielded research, we saw things that were not obviously there. Ratings were great. Revenue was great. But there was trouble brewing, and we could identify it early.

For obvious reasons, we can’t share identifying information such as the market, station, and personalities, but we invite you to take a look back at the progression of studies done for this brand over a nearly fifteen year period to get a clearer glimpse of how the process works–and how valuable perceptual research can be.

At one time, our client station was in an outstanding position. Their perceptual research looked very strong. It was strongly associated with its desired music images and the morning show was the dominant leader in the market. In fact, in the early stages of research, our morning show was growing with Cume and P1 listeners and there were few signs of weakness.

Then a new competitor launched. It wasn’t the first time our station had fended off competitors. If ratings and revenue were the measure of success, the client station was still in an outstanding place. The new competitor was on a weak signal, which limited its potential. But early on, despite what ratings showed, the morning show on the new competitor displayed positive early indicators in our research. And, despite what the ratings said, we saw the first signs of image erosion with our show.

About a year later, it was clear the crosstown morning show showed impressive promise with the younger end of our target demographic. We recommended attempting to acquire the other morning show.

Eleven months later, our morning show still performed well in the ratings, but there was a clear disconnect with the younger end. At this point, our station had a far stronger Base Music Position and in fact the competitor’s base position was weakening. But their morning show was growing and was wildly popular among their P1s. Their show was not performing to its potential because that station’s Base Music Position was weak. Again, we recommended making a play for the other show.

A year later, the weakness of our competitor’s music position continued to hamper their morning show, which lacked familiarity in the market. But the show was outperforming our show perceptually on the younger end. We believed, particularly because of its weak music position, getting this show would be devastating to the other station. We once again recommended going after it.

Another year later: We insisted a morning show change needed to be made. The host of the other show had been given the time needed to develop into a superstar. Our show’s fan base was now significantly older than the target of our station. But by this point, making a pitch for their show was getting out of reach.

Two years later: Our station’s perceptual position had eroded. Cume Conversion (the percentage of listeners that convert into loyal P1s) plummeted. Momentum images were concerning, with a high number of listeners that felt our station was “not as good as it used to be.” By this point, our morning show was replaced, but it was too late–and the new morning show was not a good fit and had high negative images.

Three years later: The competitor was now the preferred station in our target demographic. The other show was in syndication.

The station has arguably never recovered, going through a variety of format shifts and talent lineups while the competitor continues to thrive.

Every good researcher will tell you that their job isn’t to tell you what you want to hear–it’s to tell you what you need to hear, as we did here. And fortunately, we often get to deliver good news–but hearing bad news can be immensely valuable. It would be easy to say, “Why didn’t they just make the change??”…but of course it’s more complicated than that, including money issues and people issues. It’s hard to pull the trigger on something when ratings and revenue show things are going well.

By deploying strategic research, you get to see things that aren’t immediately obvious. You get to make the decisions that can have remarkable impacts on your brand. It’s certainly better than relying on ratings and gut alone.

Intelligence, Imagination and Creativity

Tuesdays With Coleman

Do you consider yourself intelligent, imaginative or creative? Is creativity important in how you manage, develop or execute your audio product or offerings? The answer is obviously yes, but have you considered what creativity means and how to maximize yours and your organization’s creativity?

Here’s how Scott Barry Kaufman, author of Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization defined each trait when he appeared on Sam Harris’s Making Sense podcast.

“Intelligence is the ability to apprehend and perceive what is.”

“Imagination is the ability to perceive what could be.”

“Creativity is the combination of both intelligence and imagination.”

What does Kaufman mean by the ability to “apprehend and perceive the world as it is”?  In business he means that a person understands their product, the competition and their consumers.

Some people are good at apprehending and perceiving the world as it is. They understand how consumers perceive and use their product and how it fits in the consumer’s life.

In this context an intelligent person is one who:

  • Knows how consumers use their product or show.
  • Knows when they listen, how long they listen, where they listen.
  • Knows how their product is perceived by consumers.
  • Understands the value the consumers get from the product.
  • Grasps fully the emotions the product or show evokes.

Kaufman’s second trait is imagination. Imaginative people can envision what a product could be, not just what it is currently. Within this context the imaginative person is one who:

  • Dreams about things that will engage or entertain the audience.
  • Conjures new ways for consumers to use their product.
  • Comes up with novel ways of competing with similar products.
  • Invents product enhancements or improvements that make it more appealing and more competitive.

According to Kaufman, the most effective and unique solutions are creative ones, and creativity requires both “intelligence” and “imagination”.  This makes creativity really useful and actionable, not just pie-in-the-sky dreaming. The most actionably creative people understand the true nature of the world and don’t impose prior beliefs or biases and can imagine what could be. Imagination becomes creativity only when it is grounded in “what is”.

Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman explains that creativity is a combination of both intelligence and imagination.

Contrast actionably creative people with dreamers. Dreamers can come up with clever ideas, or fun games, or off the wall ideas, but often these things don’t impact the audience because they ignore basic facts about how consumers use or relate to their product. Great audio brands need talent with intelligence and imagination. When you have one without the other, you’re throwing darts blindfolded.

For example, let’s say you have an imaginative program host. But if he or she does not know how long people can or will listen to their show and/or the fact that listeners are not hanging on their every word, they often talk about things that are hard to follow or comprehend. Breaks may be just too long for the average listener. The dreamer may think it’s compelling, but if it fails by not knowing how people listen, its cleverness will rarely save it.

A talk show host can offend their audience when they don’t appreciate how their show is perceived. For example, a show perceived as serious and credible can’t suddenly start doing silly bits. A show known for fun, light interviews can’t just start grilling guests with provocative questions. This show may violate the unwritten brand pact they have with the audience.

Imaginative program directors sometimes have trouble realizing how little the audience knows about their station and how hard it is to sell any idea. This may result in them constantly “creating something new” or changing their positioning liners too often, assuming the audience is bored with them. They can design highly imaginative and seemingly compelling contests that require too much effort to play. All because they don’t understand how people use their station.

Advertising and marketing executives may come up with product promotion ideas that are hilarious but completely go over the head of their audience because their imaginative idea is not grounded in audience perceptions.

Thus, the things you do on your station or in your show that are based on intelligence with imagination poured in are more likely to have a positive impact. The most creative people have a firm grasp on their world and their problem. People who think they are creative are really only imaginative if they fail or refuse to understand “the world that is”.

So, for audio entertainment we need to call on both. Utilizing research is one part of the apprehending and perceiving what is. Other techniques include being observant, listening and paying attention. Removing your biases and preconceived notions.

When you look for creative people–and you should always look for creative people–ensure you’re prioritizing cognitive and emotional intelligence along with imagination. By doing this, you won’t just find imaginative ones–you’ll find strategic thinkers who understand how to actionably turn their creativity into results.

 

What Radio Can Learn From Political Strategy

Tuesdays With Coleman

Coleman Insights rarely comments on politics, but today we are going to dissect a current political strategy. The goal is to think about how it might fit into our thinking about programming and marketing initiatives executed by radio stations.

Recently Vice President Joe Biden outlined an economic proposal that will serve as a basis of his strategy for the upcoming election.

There are a couple of important strategic lessons from Biden’s move. First, in politics and radio, it is usually best to focus on the things consumers care about. Secondly, it is critical to understand how you rank with your constituency on the same issues consumers care about–the issues of importance.

Political research has been suggesting that Biden’s strengths right now are his image for “being able to deal with COVID-19” and the image for “how to deal with social justice issues,” among other political issues currently on the minds of voters. Where he has either lagged behind President Trump or been merely competitive with him has been on how voters perceive Biden in comparison to Trump on “dealing with the economy.”

One of President Trump’s perceptual strengths has been the economy. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

In marketing, there are concepts called “points of parity” and “points of difference.” The premise is that a candidate or radio station needs to win or be perceptually equal (at parity) to other stations on those issues consumers care about, the things that they value when making choices. Since the economy is always high on lists ranking issues important to voters, it is critical for a candidate to do well there. They need to have strong images for being the best candidate to deal with the economy. A candidate who loses that image will likely lose the election. If they cannot win the “good for the economy image” they must get as close to parity as possible. Without being on a level of parity, a candidate is at a big disadvantage.

Points of difference are those areas or images when one candidate or radio station has a stronger image than its competitor. However, having great image “points of difference” does not help you win elections or ratings battles if the points of difference where you win aren’t important to voters or listeners.

So, it appears Biden sees his weakness as the economy, while his “points of difference” are on other issues, like COVID-19. Biden seems to be trying to get to parity on the economy while maintaining his advantage in other areas.

Joe Biden outlines economic proposal

Vice President Biden is attempting to limit Trump’s advantage on the economy by achieving perceptual parity.

Why not focus on his strengths all the way until November 3? Perhaps Biden realizes that he cannot ride to victory just on COVID-19, especially if the economy bounces back.

There are clear analogies in radio. Radio’s most important offerings are music and talk/sports talk programming. Achieving victory or parity on images dealing with music or talk images is critical. A radio station’s points of difference are things like “entertaining morning shows,” “great contests,” “specialty programming,” etc. These programming and image strengths can be great ratings drivers.

So, in radio, when do you focus your imaging on achieving parity or victory on base Image PyramidSM images of music or talk and when do you focus on your points of difference?

Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

The Coleman Insights Image Pyramid dictates that radio stations should work on wining their base music or talk position before focusing on other layers.

For example, let’s say you program a radio station that has a dominant morning show both in ratings and image but research indicates your station’s music images are only good and not great. What do you do if a new competitor comes into the market? Where do you focus your on- and off-air imaging?  Do you double down on your morning show, the show that drives your outsized ratings? Do you continue to stay focused on the very same thing that you have been marketing for the last few years, or do you move to marketing your music identity? It likely will depend on which is more important to listeners.

If Vice President Biden’s campaign managers were advising you, they would consider which components matter most to your target audience. They would likely focus your imaging and marketing on your music, even though you previously won big by focusing on your morning show. If music is more important to the target than morning entertainment, Biden’s advisors will conclude that they cannot permit the new competitor to become the leading music station in your format and move to win or maintain parity on that music image by marketing music.

Just as political campaigns aim to gain a deeper understanding of potential voters, you should aim to gain a deeper understanding of your radio station’s target audience. Determine what matters most. Where your station is strong in areas of importance, step on the gas pedal. If your radio station is weak in areas important to the listener, set a goal of achieving parity. The other components won’t matter until your perceptions are strong enough where it matters most.