Author: Meghan Campbell

Six Lessons Learned from One Year of Campfire Online Discussion Groups


This week marks a full year since we debuted our CampfireSM Online Discussion Groups, and we have learned a lot through this new platform. For those of you not familiar with Campfire, it is a research tool that enables us to engage with listeners in an online community setting, probing deeply into brand perceptions and usage through direct questioning and discussions. The insights from these studies have been immensely valuable to our clients.

Coleman Insights has conducted Campfire studies on a wide range of topics since the launch of the service. We’ve studied heritage morning and afternoon shows that are striving to remain relevant, as well as authentic and new radio shows in development mode looking for a read on audience perceptions of cast members and the overall theme of the program. We’ve partnered with News/Talk stations looking for feedback on hosts, programs, and the best way to approach the news in this highly volatile political climate. And, we have studied the relationship between radio and digital platforms, looking for intel on how usage has shifted and why.

In honor of Campfire’s first birthday, we present six of our biggest takeaways to share from these fascinating qualitative studies.

#1 Pandemic disruption to radio listening is a wash

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw sweeping, overnight changes to Cume listening levels. And while we have seen a slow climb back to near pre-COVID levels, there is a general feeling that radio listening remains lower than before and that habits have moved away from radio due to workforce changes and the shift toward working from home.

Our 2021 Campfire studies have told a different story. Regardless of format and age target, we found that a majority of listeners feel they are listening to radio the same amount that they were prior to the pandemic. The small percentages of people reporting more or less listening generally attribute the change to their personal situation (e.g., “I can listen in the background all day now that I’m no longer in the office”) rather than shifts in preference toward or away from radio. Perception is not always reality, but it is encouraging that most radio listeners perceive themselves to be just as engaged with radio as they were a few years ago.


#2 Younger listeners are much more sensitive to “noise”

Radio has been in the habit of creating an intro sound or jingle for each feature or show, while air personalities often use sound bites to emphasize something or to inject humor. These elements can create a vibe and add personality to a station but can also be distracting. The heavy use of production elements is also frequently heard in the commercials created for radio.

In our Campfire studies targeting younger listeners, one recurring theme has been the dislike of and lack of patience for these types of production “noise.” In a world where consumers are also listening to digital platforms devoid of all but music and clean breaks, the excessive use of production elements can make radio can sound cluttered and dated.

Which leads me to number three…


#3 Radio, as a category has an age appeal issue

This may seem like common sense when talking to younger music listeners, but we’ve found that radio’s age relevance challenges exist even with listeners in their 40s and 50s, including those listening to Gold-based music formats and/or spoken word formats. In study after study, we have repeatedly heard comments like “I listen to the radio, but I don’t know that anyone else my age really does these days.”

If so many radio listeners perceive that radio is for someone older than them and they are the lone person in their demographic still listening, what does that tell us? It means that radio managers must be sensitive to everything the stations they oversee—and the medium overall—do that make radio sound “old” and do everything they can to balance those components with relevant, timely content and production. See number four…


#4 Entertainment is king

Radio consumers are media savvy. They have a lot of choices when it comes to entertainment—audio or otherwise—and they know it. Because there are so many choices out there, radio stations cannot just go through the motions. Younger listeners are unimpressed with birthday callouts and A-Z games and want edge-of-your-seat entertainment. The title of Marshall Goldsmith’s bestselling books—one of my favorite books on changing business paradigms—says it all: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

The good news is…


#5 Listeners form deep relationships with the personalities and shows they connect with

We have conducted Campfire studies for a variety of music and spoken word stations and one thing that has been very encouraging across all formats is the depth of connection listeners have with the hosts and shows they love. The audience can describe in detail the overall theme of a show, the roles each of the cast members play, and the strengths and weaknesses of the hosts. This type of information cannot be gleaned from a quantitative study. Campfire has provided us with numerous opportunities to witness this depth of understanding and connection, as well as situations where audio brands, shows, podcasts, etc. fail to achieve the necessary levels of engagement.


#6 Awareness is radio’s greatest foe

This last takeaway is from both our Campfire studies and many Plan Developer strategic studies conducted in the past year and piggybacks on my first point. While radio listeners believe they are listening just as much as they were pre-pandemic, there has been a general softening of recall overall—recall of stations, morning shows, talk show hosts, etc.—in this time of COVID.  That may be because consumers have a lot on their minds; rules are changing every day and their lives are in a constant state of upheaval. But it also has a lot to do with branding and marketing. In hectic times such as these, audio brands need to send loud, clear messages about who they are and what they offer. Radio won’t grow more listenership from those already listening; there are too many other platforms out there competing for consumers’ time. Radio stations and other audio brands need to reach out to those people in their target audiences who like what these brands have to offer but that have no idea they exist.


I’m thrilled with the results we are getting from the Campfire Online Discussion Group platform and invite you to reach out to us about putting Campfire to work for you and your brands.

Answer Your Burning Questions

I create a lot of to-do lists. I have one for home improvements, one for gardening, one for bike maintenance, and more than one for work. Not only do these lists keep me organized, I get a lot of satisfaction from crossing tasks off my lists. The frustrating thing for list-makers…there always seems to be a section that we can’t get to. New tasks continue to pop up that take priority over others.

Since I joined Coleman Insights in 2017, many clients have expressed interest in alternatives to focus groups. It is not that they didn’t see value in our 20/20 Focus Group studies, but the reality is that for all the vital qualitative information they provide, focus group projects can be cumbersome from a logistical perspective and are expensive to conduct.

Coleman Insights Associate Consultant Meghan Campbell

I’ve always enjoyed the qualitative side of research and was excited to take part in the development of a new research tool. We’ve experimented with several options over the years but couldn’t find the perfect means to our desired end. Many of the solutions we tested—including conducting mini focus groups on online video platforms long before “Zooming” became a widespread pandemic pastime—never felt like the major advance in qualitative research our clients were seeking.

As eager as we were to provide a solution, finding the ultimate alternative to focus groups was a task that was continuously pushed into the next week or month as time-sensitive project work took priority.

When the pandemic hit, our priorities shifted. After in-depth discussions with some of our clients, we spent our time working on service enhancements and the task of finding an online qualitative solution moved to the top of my list. Not only were in-person focus groups off the table for the foreseeable future, we had the time to develop a tool that met our clients’ needs.

Our new service, CampfireSM Online Discussion Groups, is the result of years of development and months of comprehensive testing with multiple clients. This new platform enables us to engage with listeners in an online community setting, probing deeply into brand perceptions and usage through direct questioning and off the cuff discussions. The insights from these studies have been immensely valuable to our clients.

Some of these insights include why radio listeners choose one station over another, what the audience likes and dislikes about a morning show, the individual cast members, and its features and the value of a station “name” vs. its brand. What drives listeners to one podcast and does that differ depending on the platform on which they listen? We’ve also uncovered some interesting findings regarding listener needs and expectations during the pandemic.

While I look forward to meeting consumers face-to-face across the focus group table again one day, I’m excited about our qualitative evolution and can’t wait to see what insights we can uncover—before and after the masks come off for good.

It feels good to officially cross this off the Coleman Insights task list.

If you are interested in learning more about CampfireSM Online Discussion Groups, please click here to visit the new Campfire page on our website.

Time to Reframe Audio Brands

Tuesdays With Coleman

As a busy mom with two boys, I am always on the lookout for brands that simplify my life. The ones that earn my business generally have simple, direct messages that get to the heart of the matter and don’t leave me guessing.

Over the past few years, there have been some shake-ups in long-standing categories that have made a big impact on my brand choices for our family of four. Some of these brands have simplified a product or service that already existed, stripping them down to what really matters.

The bed-in-a-box concept

Once upon a time we had to go to a mattress store and attempt to compare and contrast row after row of overpriced mattresses. The last time I shopped at one of these stores, I spent more time wrangling the kids than trying out mattresses and I wasn’t happy with our ultimate selection.

Today, mattress companies like Casper (“Don’t overpay, get the best”) and The Purple Mattress (“The bed that broke the internet”) help you identify the right mattress for you with a quick quiz on their website. Then they deliver your mattress to your door in a box smaller than your coffee table—with a generous trial period. Simple, easy and affordable. I’ve purchased four mattresses in this category over the past few years and couldn’t be happier.

The Purple Mattress reframes the bedding marketing and buying experience.

quip toothbrush

Their slogan says it all… “Better oral care. Made simple.” quip’s website describes the product as “An electric toothbrush created by dentists and designers with features you need (and none of the gimmicks you don’t). Starting at $25.” Added bonus—these brushes look sleek, modern and fancy.

So I checked it out, because for some reason, I can’t seem to remember to put toothpaste on my shopping list and the kids could use all the help they can get in the tooth brushing department. I subscribed to a refill plan to get brush heads, fresh floss, and paste delivered every 3 months.

Easy, peasy. No more $100 electric toothbrushes and expensive replacement heads and no more drug store runs. Best part of all, there are four less things for me to keep up with.

quip reframes the tooth hygiene experience.

Smart speakers

My kids laid claim to our Amazon Echo at the beginning of quarantine. At first I was annoyed but I decided to let it go—Alexa buys me an hour or so of productivity each morning while the kids listen to jokes, bedtime stories and “Old Town Road” on seemingly endless repeat so I’m not going to take it back. Going without one is no longer an option so I am in the market for a new smart speaker.

In considering my options, I came across Google Nests’ latest marketing campaign. Google has eliminated standard descriptions of its device features and added colorful replacements that speak directly to how the device might fit into my life.

It’s not a smart speaker, it’s a “karaoke machine”.

It doesn’t play comedy, it’s a “joke teller”.

It doesn’t mirror your screen, it’s a “horror movie projector”.

It doesn’t play sports, it’s a “play-by-play announcer”.

It’s not a fast router, it’s a “lag buster”.

It’s not environmentally friendly, it’s a “tree hugger”.

It’s not able to handle big files, it’s a “big file mover”.

It isn’t a thermostat, it’s an “energy reducer”.

Google Nest reframes the smart device experience.

There’s nothing to figure out, no mental leap I have to make from concept to functionality. Plus, it’s fun and engaging… something different.

Compare how these products message themselves to what we associate with our favorite audio brands:

“Variety from the 80s, 90s and 2000s”

“Classic Hits”

“The Voice of Wilmington”

“Today’s KAAA”

“Mega Hit Mix”

While these messages give a hint at what type of music or format might be offered, they lack an emotional reason for listening.

With the changes to my daily schedule and work-from-home life, I’ve become keenly aware of what these brands do for me and what needs they fulfill.

A morning show isn’t just a few hosts telling jokes and news headlines, it is familiar, non-familial voices who kickstart my morning. To me, that feels a lot like “hanging out with friends”.

An afternoon 80s feature hosted by my favorite DJ isn’t just songs I haven’t heard in a while, it provides a mental break—and acts as a “virtual happy hour”.

When I need something “familiar and fun”, I turn on an hour of The Beatles.

When I need to step back and “take a breath”, I turn on soft, relaxing favorites.

When we need to burn off some pent up energy, we turn on some Disco and have a “dance party”.

Maybe we take this moment to re-evaluate our brands and reframe them for the world today. Is there a simplified version that would be more engaging? What elements are necessary and what can be trimmed? What is the audio brand equivalent of the bed-in-a-box?

And, what words can be used to position these brands that are more appealing to listeners? What needs do they serve today and what words do consumers use to express that?

Don’t be afraid to go beyond describing what your brand offers using traditional language. Tell your listeners what it can do for them using fun, engaging language that speaks directly to need fulfillment

Escape, comfort, companionship, laughter, release, adult conversation, a mood boost—these are the reasons I turn to my favorite radio station, streaming service or podcast. Share with your listeners why they should tune in to you.

What Radio Can Learn From the Ford Bronco Relaunch and its New Brand Story

Tuesdays With Coleman

You probably know by now that Ford just relaunched its heritage Bronco brand for 2021 to rave reviews.

When you hear the name Ford Bronco, some of us likely think of the full-sized, white getaway vehicle used by “The Juice” more than 25 years ago.

Those more familiar with the brand may recall the adventurous first generation model introduced as a competitor to the Jeep CJ-5 and the International Harvester Scout, the OGs of off-roading.

As Ford reintroduced the new models, it produced a very compelling brand story in a series of short videos.

“On August 11th, 1965 Ford Motor Company introduced the world to the Ford Bronco, America’s first SUV. A vehicle that reshaped the 4 x 4 landscape forever. And today, it’s going to do it again.”

Amid images of the American West, wild horses and footage of the Bronco models in action, a narrator tells us the images we should associate with the rebrand:

Built to take on the toughest terrain you can find

Built with adventure in mind

Built to take Americans back into the wild

Built to be the future of off-roading

Bronco: Built Wild

It appears Ford Motor Company deliberately side-stepped its more recent brand history to take the Bronco back to its off-roading roots to make us all believe that we need a Bronco in our stable.

As I watched the Bronco rollout, I couldn’t help but think of radio. Like the Bronco, radio has a rich history and faces more competition than ever (streaming, podcasting, etc.). What if the radio industry launched a campaign to remind people of its place in today’s complicated audio landscape? The medium is certainly bigger than any one radio station. How might radio tell its brand story to replant itself in the mind of listeners?

If we told radio’s brand story, we could include images of radio towers, pre-television living rooms with the family huddled around the radio, a woman listening at work, a man stuck in traffic getting a live traffic report, a woman running with headphones, or a family listening at the beach on their Bluetooth speaker.

What would the narrator say? Radio was there for you when you…

Got your first kiss

Had the best summer of your life

Mourned your first break up

Drove your first car

Heard about the planes that hit the towers on 9/11.

And radio is here for you today when you…

Need a laugh or a mood boost

Hear breaking news

Are late to work and need to get around a traffic jam

Win tickets to see your favorite band in concert

Hear that your kids will or will not be going back into classrooms this fall.

Today, radio continues to occupy an important position in our society. It is one of the easiest places to find immediate, local information and human companionship.

Just as Bronco is America’s first SUV, Radio is America’s first audio medium. Maybe as an industry it’s time to boast about the incredible relationships radio has shared with audiences for years and showcase its strengths today. “Radio. We’re free. We’re in your community. We’re here helping you get through your day, every single day.”

What if every station told Radio’s brand story on their website and on-air?

Radio, Est. 1909. Reinvented daily.

How to Connect With Your Audience in a Crisis

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

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

  • Recognize unusual times call for unusual measures.

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

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

Understand the need your brand fulfills.

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

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

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

  • Recognize that listening patterns are likely in significant flux.

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

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

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

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

  • Provide increased authentic and actionable listener engagement.

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

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

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

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

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

  • Rally your community.

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

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

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

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

Here’s to Local Radio and Waffle House

The Power of Radio in Tough Times

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

We’re all in this together.

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

Be the Fan Favorite

Tuesdays With Coleman

It’s an easy trap to fall into. And it happens in politics, radio and brand marketing. We market ourselves and our products under the assumption that people make rational decisions based on key issues or features that we recognize as being important to the majority.

A politician may say “I support border protection, gun control and gay marriage—issues important to most Americans. Where are the votes?”

A programmer may say “We are playing 20% more 80s than our competitor, have $1,000 giveaways every hour and hour-long music sweeps. Where are the listeners?”

Why aren’t they winning?

In his new book “Why We’re Polarized,” Ezra Klein theorizes that people vote based upon emotion and connection to a group. Not rationally or tied to specific issues.

Why We're Polarized by Ezra Kline

We like to be part of a movement. We cheer for the underdog, we “feel the Bern.” There is a lot of power in this group psychology. Once they’ve joined a group or become a “fan,” committed partisans will rationalize almost anything done by their “team.”

The Cleveland Browns lost every game between December 24, 2016 and September of 2018, but their fans stuck by them. That’s 635 days without a win. Browns fans love their team—through thick and thin.

We forgive Google’s trespasses into our personal data because their Super Bowl commercials give us all the feels. Never mind that they are creepily using our information to sell us products, they can help us remember family members we have lost. So sweet, love them.

Your favorite Starbucks gets your order wrong and you find yourself apologizing to them. Maybe you weren’t clear?

Where’s the emotional connection to radio? What happened to the power of the group, the feeling that I want to “vote” for this station? It’s lost in all the technical details we focus on!

While playing 12 songs in a row may build a valuable music quantity image, don’t mistakenly think that’s what will turn casual listeners into fans.

Rather than focusing on the minutiae of your station, infuse it with emotion. Bring it to life for your audience. Create a team environment. Start a movement.

Once you connect with your audience emotionally and convert them into “fans,” your listeners will forgive that extra commercial per hour or the not-quite-perfect music mix.

As my colleague Sam Milkman has said, “When we start feeling and stop gaming, we will reach greater heights.”