Author: Sam Milkman

The Strategic Reason Why Bed Bath & Beyond Struggled and Failed

In the Coleman Insights presentation “The Urgency of Branding” that Jay Nachlis and I first shared at Morning Show Boot Camp in Chicago last year, one of my favorite points highlights this image on a slide:

Bed Bath & Beyond coupon

The classic Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off coupon. We think it demonstrates a classic marketing blunder, putting all your focus on a promotion, not your product benefit. Last Wednesday was the last day Bed Bath & Beyond accepted coupons, shortly following the announcement that the store will go out of business for good on June 30th.

The fact that many headlines of Bed Bath & Beyond’s demise actually mentioned coupons—“Bed Bath & Beyond, facing bankruptcy and string of store closings, stops accepting coupons”, for example—makes complete sense for a store that was known more for a tactic than its brand.

That’s the lesson in “The Urgency of Branding”, and it’s one that bears repeating here.

There are many hot takes that attempt to explain the reasoning behind the store’s failure. They opened too many stores. They didn’t adapt to online shopping. They made too many stock buybacks. All may be true on some level. But at its core, the problem was deeper.

Throughout its long history, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Bed Bath & Beyond without a 20% off coupon. That coupon, delivered regularly to seemingly every mailbox in the United States, was so iconic and representative of the company that it became a dominant brand image.

And thus, it became one of the first things that came to mind when you thought of it. Say Bed Bath & Beyond, picture a 20% off coupon.

Rather than, for example, say Bed Bath and Beyond and think of the destination for furnishings for my kids’ college dorm. Say Bed Bath and Beyond and think of the largest selection of shower curtains anywhere. Say Bed Bath and Beyond and think, “That’s the comforter store. I’ve bought every comforter I’ve ever owned there.”

Nope, you think of a tactical discount.

Just as, as explained by our Image Pyramid, radio listeners need to clearly understand and be able to communicate a stations’ Base Music or Talk Position (i.e., “The Hip Hop station,” “The Relaxing station,” “The Sports station”) consumers need to clearly understand and be able to communicate a store’s base position.

The Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

Technically, the position is in the name—they are a bed and bath specialist—but they didn’t reinforce the position in their marketing, instead they allowed the tactic to overwhelm the brand.

This is a dangerous path. Dominant personalities and forefront contests can be hugely beneficial to a radio station, providing brand depth on their Image Pyramid. But if tactical efforts come at the expense of the brand, rather than in support of it, you risk overwhelming the base position.

Fortify and focus on your base position and deploy marketing that reinforces the image.

That’s the key to surviving to infinity…and beyond.

How ChatGPT and Artificial Intelligence May Impact Media

If you haven’t yet heard about ChatGPT, let me be the first to let you in on the little tool creating all the buzz. Or…is this ChatGPT that’s telling you about all the buzz right now because I’m not actually writing this? Once you learn more about ChatGPT in this blog, that will make more sense to you and you can decide for yourself.

One thing is for certain. ChatGPT has wildly positive or negative implications for just about everyone on the planet.

How’s that for a teaser?

ChatGPT is a chatbot powered by Artificial Intelligence. How you feel about AI will likely drive your initial thoughts on the product. My son Ryan is taking a coding class at Columbia and completed an assignment over the weekend. Just for fun, after he finished his coding, he gave the same assignment to the ChatGPT bot.

It completed it correctly in 2.3 seconds.

The same task took Ryan six or seven hours.

Ryan went to his professor and showed both versions of his work, which inspired a lengthy discussion in class.

Imagine the implications of this thing on the teaching profession alone.

Right now, ChatGPT is offering the bot to try for free to show what it can do. Is it like Google or Alexa? In that it can prepare a custom shopping list and explain Newton’s laws of motion, sure. But if you ask Google or Alexa to write your term paper on US History in a sarcastic tone, and then ask it to expand on the Civil War parts and provide an alternate viewpoint, you won’t have something ready to turn in to a college professor. But with ChatGPT, you could.

So…how about the way media brands may use ChatGPT?

I asked the bot, “Write me a news report about the hottest new trends” and here’s what it wrote:

The hottest new trends for the season are starting to take shape, and there’s something for everyone.

In fashion, sustainability and comfort continue to be major themes. Brands are increasingly offering eco-friendly options, such as clothing made from recycled materials or natural fibers. Comfortable and practical clothing, such as loungewear and athleisure, are also gaining popularity as more people work from home.

In the beauty industry, natural and minimalistic looks are on the rise. This includes a focus on skincare and using fewer, but higher quality, products. The “no makeup” makeup look, which emphasizes a natural and youthful appearance, is also becoming more popular.

In terms of technology, virtual and augmented reality are gaining traction. Virtual reality headsets are becoming more affordable and accessible, allowing users to experience immersive entertainment and educational content. Augmented reality, which overlays digital information onto the real world, is being used in a variety of applications, from gaming to interior design.

Overall, these trends reflect a desire for more practical, sustainable, and natural products and experiences.

I asked the bot if it could make it longer.

“Sure, here is a longer version”

As we enter the new year, it’s time to take a look at the hottest trends that are shaping up for the season. From fashion and beauty to technology and entertainment, there’s something for everyone.

One of the biggest trends in fashion is the focus on sustainability and comfort. With more people working from home and looking for clothing that is practical and easy to wear, brands are offering more options in the loungewear and athleisure categories. In addition, there is a growing demand for eco-friendly clothing made from recycled materials or natural fibers, as consumers become more aware of the environmental impact of their fashion choices.

In the beauty industry, the minimalistic and natural look is becoming more popular. This includes a focus on skincare, with people using fewer, but higher quality, products to achieve a healthy and radiant complexion. The “no makeup” makeup look, which emphasizes a natural and youthful appearance, is also gaining traction. This trend reflects a desire for a more natural and low-maintenance beauty routine.

Technology is also seeing some exciting new developments. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are becoming more mainstream, with VR headsets becoming more affordable and accessible. VR allows users to experience immersive entertainment and educational content, while AR overlays digital information onto the real world, offering a variety of applications, from gaming to interior design.

In the entertainment world, streaming services are continuing to dominate, with new content being released all the time. However, there is also a trend towards more interactive and social experiences, such as live-streamed concerts and virtual reality gaming.

Overall, these trends reflect a desire for more practical, sustainable, and natural products and experiences. Whether you’re looking to update your wardrobe, improve your beauty routine, or try out the latest tech, there are plenty of exciting options to choose from.

How long would it take someone in the newsroom to write this? (It took ChatGPT about five seconds).

There are already options to use AI for the narration, which will continue to improve.

As an aside, when I asked ChatGPT to write me a news report about Volodymyr Zelenskky, it glossed over the war with Russia and focused on peace talks. When I asked it to write a news report about Taylor Swift, it wrote about the release of Evermore, not her latest album. So, it’s certainly a work in progress.

Taylor Swift news

ChatGPT’s usefulness is a work in progress, as it referenced outdated Taylor Swift information when writing a news story. (Credit: Brian Friedman, Shutterstock)

Sounds Profitable’s Tom Webster wrote a piece on ChatGPT, positing how, despite the fears of AI replacing human jobs and the work they do, tools like ChatGPT can play an important role in helping humans do their work better.

Generally, I buy that. There are pretty cool implications for amplifying search for life hacks. Instead of Googling the generic “Questions to ask in a job interview,” I asked ChatGPT “What are good questions to ask an interviewer for a TV anchor job?”

Its response was impressively focused on the position:

  • Can you tell me more about the specific responsibilities and expectations for this position?
  • What is the company’s vision for this role, and how does it fit into the overall goals of the organization?
  • Can you provide more details about the team I would be working with and the support that would be available to me in this position?
  • What opportunities for professional development and growth are available for anchors at this company?
  • Can you tell me about the typical work schedule for anchors at this company?
  • What is the company’s approach to news coverage and storytelling, and how does this position fit into that approach?
  • How does this company support anchors in maintaining a work-life balance and managing the demands of this job?
  • Can you provide more information about the equipment and technology that anchors at this company use to produce their segments?
  • How does this company support anchors in staying current with industry trends and developments?
  • Can you tell me more about the opportunities for on-air and off-air collaboration with other members of the news team?

When we consider how it will change jobs in media, you can imagine how it could speed up show prep, help write commercial copy, and yes, write news stories.

But what we can never lose sight of is the personal human touch that can only come from a human’s tone of voice.

I asked ChatGPT to write a blog in the tone of Sam Milkman, and it told me “As a large language model trained by OpenAI, I don’t have the ability to write in the specific style of a specific person.”


AI tools like ChatGPT will disrupt our world. They will make your job easier in some ways, but have the potential to make us lazy and miss our very specific individual voices and attitude. So perhaps we should use it as a tool, but not the tool.

Back to the original question posed at the top of this blog. Did I even write it? Or did ChatGPT?

The answer: I did. I don’t think ChatGPT has the ability to write like someone on my level – ha ha.

At least, not yet.

How Demographics Impact Contemporary Music Tastes

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.

In last week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog, Warren Kurtzman examined Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4’s differences by genre, including how different types of music vary based on where listeners live and their political affiliation. This week, we’ll look at how age, gender, and ethnicity affected contemporary music appetites in the latest edition of our benchmark study.

As John Boyne and Warren Kurtzman have pointed out in previous blogs, the big story of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4 is the lack of newer music among the best-testing titles. Although we see quite a lot of older material among the most popular songs of each age group, the past year’s music is a little more represented among the Top 100 titles with 12- to 24-year-olds (37%) than with 25- to 34-year-olds (31%), 35- to 44-year-olds (29%), or 45- to 54-year-olds (29%). More pronounced are differences in the genres preferred by each age group. While Pop music is well-represented among the Top 100 titles of each age group, Hip Hop/R&B and Country vary dramatically by age. 12- to 34-year-olds have more Hip Hop/R&B than Country, while 35- to 54-year-olds have more Country than Hip Hop/R&B. This is not a new development; previous SuperStudies have shown a similar pattern.

Men and women agree on one thing completely, and you don’t hear that very often. Pop represents 43% of the Top 100 songs among men, the identical percentage of the top songs among women. But just as Country leans much older, it also leans heavily Female, making up 22% of the Female Top 100 and only 5% of the Male Top 100. Meanwhile, Hip Hop/R&B, Alternative/Rock, and Dance/Electronic are more popular among men than among women.

“Believer” from Imagine Dragons was again the top Alternative/Rock song, a genre that was more popular with men (Photo credit: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock)

Genre tastes also vary by ethnicity. Among Black consumers, Hip Hop/R&B is by far the most popular genre, with 67% of their Top 100. The Hispanic Top 100 includes a lot of Hip Hop/R&B (41%) as well as a lot of Pop (33%). Among everyone else, Pop (40%) and Country (32%) have the biggest shares of Top 100 songs.

Next, we’ll examine how consumption habits might have affected contemporary music tastes. While there were some differences, the hierarchy didn’t vary a great deal. Whether you were a daily streaming service listener, AM/FM listener, podcast listener, or smart speaker listener, you were most likely to prefer Pop first and Hip Hop/R&B second. That said, podcast listeners were more likely than the other groups to listen to Hip Hop/R&B, and AM/FM listeners were more likely to prefer Country. Also of note: Apple Music listeners’ tastes are more Hip Hop/R&B-oriented than the tastes of listeners to other streaming services, and those who use TikTok for new music discovery also have an above-average quantity of Hip Hop/R&B among their favorite contemporary songs.

Registration is now open for the Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4 Deep Dive webinar, which takes place next Wednesday, May 11 at 2PM EDT/11AM PDT.


The Urgency of Brand Building: A Conversation with Pierre Bouvard

Pierre Bouvard, Chief Insights Officer at Cumulus Media and Westwood One, worked with Coleman Insights in the 90s and was instrumental in the growth of our company. Recently, Pierre and I have had discussions about long-term brand building strategy versus short-term activation tactics. We’ve talked about how favoring short-term strategies over brand building has become something of an epidemic in most advertising. What’s striking is just how similarly many radio stations are following the exact same short-term playbook, often to their peril. I spent an hour with Pierre to dig into the reasons why brand building is not just a good idea, it’s urgently required. While it applies to nearly every brand, he specifically covers why and how radio should pay attention.

Cumulus Media/Westwood One Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard

“The job of brand building advertising is to be known before you’re needed.”

This was the line that began our conversation. Creating awareness and good feelings about your brand is, by far, the most important thing you can do–whether it’s a radio station or a furniture store. We talked about two common marketing tactics: sales activation and brand building.


For a retailer, a sales activation strategy manifests itself as a sale/event. It may include price drops, promotions, and giveaways. The goal is to get the consumer to do something quickly. Radio stations deploy this strategy all the time in the form of contesting. Calls to action. Listen and win. Text for concert tickets. What is the effect of the sales activation strategy?

Generally speaking, it works…which is why marketers keep doing it. But how it works, and the net effect is important.

Pierre outlines the work of Les Binet and Peter Field, who he calls the “godfathers of marketing effectiveness.” Binet and Field showed that when the sales activation strategy is used, though it can show great ROI, brand perceptions are unchanged. Additionally, there is actually no long-term increase in sales.

You can see a parallel to the way many in radio see the world through “this quarter” or “the next book.” An attempt to justify ratings in the most recent period based on generally inconsequential effects such as some bad weather or a jock being on vacation is pure folly. The reality is your current performance is reflecting things that happened in the past year or a year ago. Focus on the short-term and you get intoxicated with doing promotions or finding a meter. That does nothing to build who you are and what you do long-term.

This is validated by research from marketing consultancy Gain Theory, demonstrating that only 18% of the impact of marketing communication is immediate. 58% of the impact is realized six months or later.


Just as brand building builds sales over time, at a higher level than the sales activation strategy, radio stations with strong brands build stronger ratings over time.

And, it starts with something that affects how consumers choose your brand and is perhaps more important than anything else…”mental availability.”

Pierre shared a quote from Les Binet and Sarah Carter that he feels is immensely important for radio stations:

“The single most important factor driving brand preference is mental availability. How well known a brand is, how easily it comes to mind. Brands with low mental availability tend to struggle in favor of more familiar rivals or are not considered in the first place.”

If you really think about it, this is contrary to how many programmers think about their radio stations. Are you thinking about extending the amount of time someone listens every day or week? The reality is their lifestyle and habits very well may not permit them to give your station more listening. That’s why the answer is to expand the pie and bring more people into the station. The way to do that is building awareness. That’s done through brand building.

When focusing on brand building, Pierre points to the use of “fluent devices,” and he wishes more radio stations would use them. Exhibit A is a new segment that has become a significant radio advertiser–online sports betting. Almost all advertising for these companies is sales activation: “Download our app, get a $50 bonus”; “Get a free play for signing up,” and so on. But one company has chosen the brand building route.

Featuring comedian JB Smoove as Caesar, commercials for Caesars Sportsbook have featured everyone from Halle Berry as Cleopatra to football’s Manning family. They are unique, funny, and fun. The offer isn’t the star. Caesar is the fluent device.

A fluent device can be a memorable slogan, like Snickers unleashed for years with “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” It’s the lonely Maytag repairman. It’s memorable and fun, and it builds the brand.

Brands shouldn’t employ only a brand building strategy, just as they shouldn’t only employ a sales activation strategy. In fact, Binet and Field themselves say the typical brand should do about 60% brand building and 40% sales activation. The problem is that most are way too heavy into the short-term camp.

Pierre suggests radio stations perform a promo inventory analysis. Determine how much time is being spent screaming about concert tickets and how much time is truly being spent explaining what the station does in a fun way. It’s not about losing the contesting, which serves an important role. It’s about finding the right balance and recognizing the patience required to build a brand is well worth it.

“Imagine I have a lawn that needs work. I watered and fertilized it this week and nothing happened. It didn’t work! That’s the danger of short-term thinking. If we treat building brands the way we treat growing our lawn, you’ll love the end result.”

I Can Tell How Healthy Your Brand Is With One Question

Remember when you went to the fair as a kid and there was a booth called “Fool the Guesser?” This eccentric gentleman was tasked with guessing your age (within two years), your weight (within 3 pounds), or the month of your birthday (within two months). If he got the answer wrong, you won a prize. It was a simple trick. He had to know the answer to just one question. As crazy as this guy looked, somehow, he seemed to always get the answer correct, mystifying the gathering crowd.

Was he psychic? Or are these things just obvious to an astute observer?[1]

Many years ago, I met a radio researcher who claimed that the answer to just one question was the key to winning or losing radio stations. Just like in Fool the Guesser. Curious about what that question might be? I was too. The question was “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of (radio station name)?”

His line of thinking was that if most listeners mentioned the base music position of the radio station, the station was in a healthy place. If they mentioned the morning show, a contest, a feature, or some other programming element before music, he would say the station was not properly branded, and in a bit of trouble. The classic radio example is Howard Stern. Howard’s brand was so powerful, it overpowered the base positions of the stations that carried his show. When he fled for Sirius, a large percentage of the brands were forced to flip with no foundation to stand on.

Today, that remains a critical question and one of the most valuable health checks you can perform on your radio station. Indeed, it forms the foundation of the Coleman Insights Image Pyramid philosophy. Listeners must be able to, in a word or two, be able to explain what your station represents. What kind of music is it famous for? This applies for Spoken Word stations as well, with the Base Talk position replacing the Base Music position.

The Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

As the Image Pyramid demonstrates, the importance of the correct answer to the “one question” doesn’t mean the other elements are not important to study as well. The base position is the foundation, the other elements provide brand depth.

The “one question” exercise can be applied to any brand. Certainly, other audio brands in the podcast and streaming segments, but in other product categories as well. Take Spirit Airlines, in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. If consumers start regularly answering the one question with “cancelled flights” instead of “low fares,” Spirit is going to have a serious problem.

While no replacement for comprehensive research, try this exercise with your brand. Ask about the first thing that comes to mind.

What’s the answer?

[1] Here’s a fun article about “The Guesser” you might enjoy:

Slicing Contemporary Music Tastes by Demographics and Consumption

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve shared some interesting findings about the current state of contemporary music. John Boyne compared this year’s study to the movie Groundhog Day, as some of the results appeared frozen in time. Warren Kurtzman discussed how Pop once again overperformed in this year’s version of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy. In this final Tuesdays With Coleman blog installment about Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 before our deep dive webinar, we’ll focus on how music tastes correlate with how you choose to consume music.

One thing is for certain. There are very clear differences in this data. But first, what’s not different.

No matter how you slice the data, by various demographics, whether you listen daily to AM/FM Radio, podcasts, streaming services, or smart speakers, you are likely to see Pop perform well. Pop is the one mass appeal genre that crosses demographics, genders, ethnic groups, and consumption habits. After that, we see a number of interesting differences.

Country is more prevalent in the best testing songs of women and consumers 35-54. Hip Hop/R&B is more prominent among consumers 12-34 and men.

Country represents 18% of the Top 100 of women, but only 8% among men. 12 to- 34-year-olds have almost no Country (4%) in their Top 100, but Country represents 33% of the Top 100 among 35 to- 54-year-olds. 30% of the Top 100 among men is comprised of Hip Hop/R&B, compared to a solid 23% for women. Consumers 12-34 have 43% Hip Hop/R&B titles in their Top 100, while 35 to- 54-year-olds have only 11% Hip Hop/R&B.

The most popular songs among Black and Hispanic consumers are Hip Hop/R&B, with very little Country. Caucasian/Asian/Other consumers have lots of Country, far less Hip Hop/R&B, and more Alternative/Rock.

Hip Hop/R&B comprises a massive 70% of the Top 100 among Black consumers, while Country represents only 2%. Though Pop is the top genre for Hispanic consumers, Hip Hop/R&B is a strong #2 at 31% and Country also only represents 2% of their Top 100. Country represents the second biggest genre among Caucasian/Asian/Other consumers behind Pop (28% of their Top 100), while Hip Hop/R&B trails well behind at 14%. Alternative/Rock at 13% is most prevalent with this ethnic group.

Country is huge with Rural consumers, but not with Urban or Suburban this year. Hip Hop/R&B goes the other way; big with Urban and Suburban, not with Rural.

Rural consumers have 43% Country in their Top 100. Last year, Country represented 27% of the Top 100 among Suburbanites, but this year it drops to 7%. Urban consumers have even less Country in their Top 100 (5%). Pop is tops with Urban and Suburban consumers, but Hip Hop/R&B is #2 with these groups at 30% each. Rural consumers in contrast have only 15% Hip Hop/R&B titles in their Top 100.

Liberal leaning consumers have a large amount of Hip Hop/R&B but almost no Country in their Top 100. Conservative leaning consumers prefer Country and have only a small number of Hip Hop/R&B titles in their Top 100.

Country music and political orientation appear to go hand in hand.

Daily streaming service listeners are more likely to have Hip Hop/R&B in their Top 100 and less likely to rate Country highly.

Pop represents 40% of the Top 100 of streaming service listeners, followed by Hip Hop/R&B at 29%, and Alternative/Rock at 12%. Country trails with only 9% of the Top 100, tied with Dance/Electronic.

While Pop is king among daily AM/FM Radio listeners, the balance of their Top 100 includes equal amounts of Country and Hip Hop/R&B. FM Radio listeners love Pop the most, at 41% of their Top 100. But for these consumers, Hip Hop/R&B and Country are tied for second place, at 20% each.

The tastes of daily smart speaker listeners are very similar to daily AM/FM Radio listeners.

Interesting correlation that we plan to spend more time studying in the future.

The tastes of daily podcast listeners are very similar to daily streaming service listeners.

Like the previous correlation, likely worthy of greater investigation.

Consumers who prefer Apple Music and YouTube have a large percentage of Hip Hop/R&B in their Top 100, but very little Country.

Apple Music and YouTube partisans are the two consumer segments that have a larger percentage of Hip Hop/R&B than Pop in their Top 100. It is particularly notable that streamers who prefer Apple Music have a Top 100 made up of nearly half (48%) Hip Hop/R&B titles. Country makes up a miniscule portion (3%) of Apple Music listeners’ Top 100, while Country makes up 8% of the Top 100 of streamers who prefer YouTube.

Consumers who prefer Pandora and Amazon Music have a large percentage of Country in their Top 100, but significantly less Hip Hop/R&B.

Pandora is the most pronounced example of Country’s dominance with this platform. At 35% of the Top 100 among streamers who prefer Pandora, Country even exceeds Pop at 29%. While Pop is the dominant genre for streamers who prefer Amazon Music, Country comes in second. Hip Hop/R&B represents only 11% of the Top 100 with Amazon Music listeners.

Consumers who prefer Spotify have lots of Hip Hop/R&B and less Country, but are also more likely to have Alternative/Rock in their Top 100.

Mirroring its large popularity, Pop performs best among Spotify listeners, representing 44% of their Top 100. Hip Hop/R&B is second at 24%. Alternative/Rock is third with Spotify listeners, which is notable because the 16% of Alternative/Rock songs in their Top 100 is quite a bit more than the percentage among other streaming service partisans.

Of course, this doesn’t mean streaming charts will stay within these defined taste parameters. This past week, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” by Lil Nas X led the Spotify Top 200 Chart and “Astronaut In The Ocean” by Masked Wolf topped the Pandora Top Spins chart. Having a larger understanding of music tastes within each platform should help you better understand the charts and provide some clarity in navigating the numbers.

Later this spring, active Coleman Insights clients will receive the song-by-song data this spring as part of our Coleman Complete promise.

Up next, we’ll dig deeper into the numbers with the Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 Deep Dive webinar, Thursday, May 13th at 2PM EDT/11AM PST. Register now.


Need a Slogan? Bring the Sledgehammer.

For the past 12 years, Z104.3 has served Baltimore with Top 40 music. Prior to that, the frequency had gone through iterations of formats including Modern Rock, Smooth Jazz, Classic Rock, Classic Hits, and Soft AC.

Perhaps 104.3 was destined to return to CHR, a format that flourished when B104 ruled the Charm City from 1980 to 1992. Those who grew up in Baltimore in the 80s may remember B104 as a dominant brand that was part of their lives—and they almost certainly remember B104’s slogan:

B104 Means Music.

In 2021, it’s easy to write off “means music” as a generic, trite, and meaningless tag line. But in the early 1980s, many CHR stations were still on the AM dial, operating as full-service outlets with a lot of talk, interruptions, and noise. “B104 Means Music” spoke volumes about what listeners could expect from the brand—particularly when contrasted to the competition.

This doesn’t mean B104 didn’t have personality. Brian Wilson and Don O’Brien, known as Brian and O’Brien (there’s another branding lesson in the catchy name) regularly topped the morning ratings throughout the decade. But B104 understood that the first battle to win–to drive listeners to the station–was music, and it did.

There are powerful ways to add meaning to your brand and there are wimpy ways that never stick. Downplaying or soft-pedaling it, especially in today’s saturated world, is a recipe for disaster. You have to bring the sledgehammer.

Branding expert Laura Ries (daughter of branding legend Al Ries) explains this need for a sledgehammer in her book, “Battlecry: Winning the battle for the mind with a slogan that kills.” She details sonic tips to engage the brain when crafting a slogan, like rhyming: “Roto-Rooter, that’s the name. And away go troubles down the drain.” Or repetition: “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” While the “visual hammer” references she makes (like the Aflac duck or the Tropicana orange with the straw) are trickier for audio brands, the lesson of the message is the same. Say what it is, say it loud, and make sure it means something.

Battlecry by Laura Ries

Fast food may not be good for you, but the category sure delivers memorable slogans. Arby’s “We got the meats!” is stuck in my head these days.

Legendary programmer and voice talent Mark Driscoll whimsically positioned the original Rhythmic CHR incarnation of Q102/Philadelphia with the slogan “What the hell, here’s another hit…” The words came out of nowhere, magically setting up the off-center attitude of the station, and stuck in people’s heads like that song lyric that just won’t go away. The “#1 Hit Music Station” slogan serves an important strategic purpose, but nobody is going to repeat it or laugh about it on a Zoom Happy Hour.

To this day, for thousands and thousands of people, when you say B104, they’ll say “means music” either in their head or out loud. They’re still buying the shirts on eBay.

B104 means music

So when it comes to your slogan, don’t come to the battle unprepared. Bring the sledgehammer.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



The Year Ahead, Part 1

Tuesdays With Coleman

In January 2018, when we last utilized our Tuesdays With Coleman blog to offer our outlook for the coming year, we had no idea how easy we had it. Observing trends in consumer behavior, tastes, and perceptions is our bread and butter and has always allowed us to project future happenings in the audio entertainment world.

That was pre-COVID, and we admittedly approach our look ahead to 2021 with less confidence than we have in the past. We won’t let the uncertainty of our times stop us, however, as our Senior Consultants—Warren Kurtzman, John Boyne, and Sam Milkman—share their thoughts over a roundtable discussion as we begin 2021.

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

This is the first of a two-part blog series in which we focus on the impact of 2020’s upheaval (the social justice movement, the election, the pandemic, etc.) and what it means for how people consume and what they want from audio entertainment.


I think before we get too far into this, we should state that we are extraordinarily empathetic to our clients’ challenges and we are thinking anew about those challenges.


Yes, we are going to focus on the path forward in the belief that things will get better at some point in 2021. That said, we are not turning a blind eye to the difficulties that many of our clients are facing.


Which is why we are emphatic that if you are involved in audio entertainment—radio, streaming, podcasting, etc.—you must make sure to really understand the short- versus long-term impacts of the pandemic. It may create the need to reintroduce your brand; it may make you rethink your role in your listeners’ lives.


Coming out of the pandemic, things may be different in ways that we can’t anticipate right now. But historically when we have big events, things change. We should be on the lookout for changes that will impact all forms of audio entertainment.


These changes may not only impact the quantity with which people use your brand, but also how and why they use it.

More broadly speaking, the pandemic will likely cause long-term changes to the way people use audio entertainment and it is incumbent on us to understand those changes. There are many people now just discovering streaming, podcasting, etc. because of the pandemic.


Our lives and behavior after all this won’t be the same, even if a lot of things return to pre-COVID normal. A lot of people will be going back to a workplace, but there’s little doubt that the number of people or at least the number of hours worked from home will be much higher than before, and that will have a big impact on how audio is consumed. Obviously, commuting consumption goes down, but there are also opportunities to reach those who no longer commute as they work from home; they have more flexibility and ability to listen to audio when working from home.


In every moment, media meets the challenge. Our challenge now is to pivot to the needs of the audience in this new world.


For example, music has historically been influenced by societal changes. What will music look like in 2021 and even 2022? There is a sense that contemporary music across many genres was not very strong heading into the pandemic and then so much stood still in 2020; does that put us on the precipice of something big? Is there a new genre that will emerge? We don’t know right now, but more than ever, we should keep our eyes and ears open for the next big thing.


Some of the best Rock emerged from protesting the Vietnam War; Rock in general was a rejection of the way things were previously. That’s what made it cool.


Grunge emerged in the early 90s with a grittiness that seemed to be a direct and jarring counter-response to the glitz, glam, and excessiveness of the 80s. Of course, also around that same time, Hip Hop’s explosion seemed to reflect young people’s hunger for something real and authentic.


Who is going to take all that has gone on between the social justice movement, the economic distress so many are in due to the pandemic, and the political polarization of our times, and wrap that up and speak to this generation in music?


Music outlets are clearly responding to aspects of the social justice movement—for example, there have been very public efforts to feature more artists of color on Alternative radio stations and streaming channels and CMT launched an important campaign to highlight female Country artists—and it will be interesting to see if their responses have measurable impacts and capture the essences of the movement.


You can envision something coming out of this that is different from what we’ve had before.


I remember how there were certain songs or sounds that lost relevancy when the planes hit the World Trade Center on 9/11. There is going to be some artist or sound that will fall completely out of bed because of what’s going on.


Speaking to 2020 has been one thing; it’s mostly been heavy for obvious reasons. But speaking to 2021 could be completely different, especially if the vaccine rollout gets done early in the year and we emerge from lockdown. People may want crazy, mindless fun in that case. But, if there’s still a great deal of economic challenges or the pandemic doesn’t end as soon as we hope, people may want something very different.


Finding the right tone or voice with our audience is crucial right now. Our brands must reflect the new reality not just in the music we play, but in our take on the world. How we say things. How we package things.


Next week, our roundtable discussion will cover nonmusical content, podcasting, and the need for thoughtful innovation.


How the Butterfly Effect Can Change the World and Your Brand

Tuesdays With Coleman

If someone told me a year ago that a virus was sickening people someplace in China (in a place that I had never heard of) and that it would reach my little neighborhood, I would have said “you’re crazy!” Okay, full disclosure, my friend Elliot Segal from DC101 (who reads everything) told me last year that a deadly virus in China was coming here—and my reaction was “yeah right.”

Famous last words.

My naiveté aside, isn’t this the ultimate Butterfly Effect, the chaos theory concept that a small change elsewhere in the world can start a process in motion the leads to very big changes here in America?

The Butterfly Effect question was posed by Edward Lorenz at a 1972 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”

2020 certainly has been the year of chaos so we might as well learn from it.

One of the big lessons to me in all this is: We are all connected. Every one of us, all across the world, even people in places I never heard of. If I throw a plastic bottle in the trash here, it really does have an impact around the world. We are all in this together.

I also think there are some interesting lessons for media. Viruses spread, but so do great ideas. Create something innovative and provocative and with a little luck, word will spread. It could be something big or small—but done right it can change people. Maybe even change the world.

In his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, author Jonah Berger offers a number of examples of ideas that spread like wildfire.

One is Blendtec’s “Will It Blend?” videos. A company (Blendtec) took a pretty boring, run-of-the-mill household appliance (a blender) and turned it into a viral sensation. Noticing that founder Tom Dickson was always on the factory floor testing the durability and power of their blenders, marketing director George Wright got an idea. He took a fifty-dollar budget and bought marbles, golf balls, a rake, and a lab coat for Tom.

This turned into a series of “Will It Blend?” videos in which Tom blends everything from swords to Bic lighters to glow sticks. The video in which he successfully blends an iPad has been viewed over 19 million times. As Berger says about Blendtec, “even regular everyday products and ideas can generate lots of word-of-mouth if someone figures out the right way to do it.”

You can go ahead and make fun of “Friday” by Rebecca Black. But how much would it be worth it to you to have everyone know your name and your song? “Friday” was one of the most viral videos of 2011, and later videos by Rebecca Black (some of the songs aren’t bad at all) have racked up millions of views on their own.

“Wassssup!!!” instead of “What’s Up.” That’s it. But we all said it. It was a simple, silly idea from Bud Light that added a word and expression of that word to the English language, spreading like wildfire.

Speaking of silly, years ago while I was working for a Rock station, we wanted to “own” The Who tour coming to Philadelphia. We crafted a special “Double Shot Tuesday” promotion dubbed “Double Shot Tah-WHOs-day”—every time we play a double shot of The Who, you win tickets. Goofy, I know. But 20 years later, any time I mention the day Tuesday with the group of people who worked there, this promotion comes to mind.

“Are we having lunch Tuesday?”

“You mean ‘Tah-WHOs-day’ don’t you Sam?”

And the laughter erupts. One silly promotion, and we’re all connected for decades. Can we make the simple things just a little bit better by dropping them in the blender and seeing if we can get people talking about our content?

Maybe we can change the world today. Or at least make somebody laugh.