Author: Warren Kurtzman

The Year Ahead, Part 2

Tuesdays With Coleman

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

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

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

WARREN KURTZMAN:

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

JOHN BOYNE:

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

WARREN KURTZMAN:

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

SAM MILKMAN:

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

JOHN BOYNE:

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

WARREN KURTZMAN:

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

SAM MILKMAN:

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

JOHN BOYNE:

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

SAM MILKMAN:

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

JOHN BOYNE:

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

WARREN KURTZMAN:

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

SAM MILKMAN:

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

WARREN KURTZMAN:

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

JOHN BOYNE:

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

SAM MILKMAN:

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

 

 

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.

SAM MILKMAN:

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.

JOHN BOYNE:

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.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

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.

JOHN BOYNE:

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.

WARREN KURTZMAN:

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.

JOHN BOYNE:

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.

SAM MILKMAN:

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

JOHN BOYNE:

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.

SAM MILKMAN:

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.

JOHN BOYNE:

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.

SAM MILKMAN:

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?

WARREN KURTZMAN:

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.

JOHN BOYNE:

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

SAM MILKMAN:

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.

JOHN BOYNE:

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.

SAM MILKMAN:

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?

A model of the Butterfly Effect

 

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?”

Edward Lorenz The Butterfly Effect

Edward Lorenz posed the “Butterfly Effect” concept, which illustrates how a small change in one state of a system can set off big changes elsewhere in a later state.

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.

Who is the New Voice for Talk Radio?

Tuesdays With Coleman

With everything going on in the world, you would think it’s a great time for Talk Radio. Politics, the U.S. Supreme Court, public health, economics–it has all taken center stage, dominating our conversations. Try talking to one of your friends without mentioning the pandemic. It’s almost impossible. Is this an amazing time for talk? Or is it all being filtered through the lens of the same old voices and perspectives, homogenized into white noise?

In my experience, big changes in our world usher in new stars in all media. Someone rises to the occasion, sparks or captures the emotions that we are all feeling but struggle to express, and a star is born. A spokesperson for a new generation arrives. Suddenly, the clock runs out on that older, stately looking guy on CBS and somebody new picks up the ball and runs with it.

In music, Madonna’s “material girl” perspective was right in tune with the 80s. She epitomized the free spirit of that decade, but felt somewhat out of place in the 90s. In radio, Z100 moved away from the “Morning Zoo” format and gave us Elvis Duran’s more authentic, less “produced” perspective.

Elvis Duran Z100

The unprecedented Iran hostage crisis gave birth to Nightline. We were no longer satisfied with 2 minutes on the crisis inside the nightly news, we wanted to talk about it for an hour or more every night. The show would eventually turn Ted Koppel into a star.

Rush Limbaugh started commenting on the news on KFBK/Sacramento in 1984, launching a new era in Talk Radio.

Kurt Loder became our trustworthy news source while mom and dad had that talking head going in the other room.

Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show from Craig Kilborn in 1999, but it was George W. Bush’s presidency that drove Stewart’s biting political satire and made him a star.

Anderson Cooper took on the federal response to Katrina–and became a national voice for “keeping them honest.”

My question is: Who is the person to become “the voice” of this moment? To break from the tried and true, say enough is enough, clear the desk and say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” (Wait, that’s been done, we need a new call to action.)

Because I worry that today’s voices have all taken their positions. We know what they stand for, we see their baggage, we can almost predict what they are going to say. And it’s falling on deaf ears.

Regardless of their specific ideological viewpoint, my hope is that someone will stand up, take the challenge, and become the voice of this moment. Embrace the different world we woke up to this morning, make sense of it for us, shed new light on the road forward, and speak to this time in America.

I loved the 2012 Chrysler Super Bowl ad, “It’s Halftime in America”. Maybe it failed because it was perceived as too political, supporting the auto-industry bailout. But it sure feels like halftime now. (Or worse, the clock is frozen.)

Who is going to pick up the ball?

How Platform Choice Impacts Contemporary Music Tastes

Tuesdays With ColemanOver the last couple of weeks, we’ve learned quite a bit about the current state of contemporary music. Among many other findings, this year’s study of the current tastes of 1,000 12- to 54-year-olds across the United States and Canada has indicated a rise in the appeal of Country, a slightly older lean to the best-testing titles and a downtrend for Pop, Hip Hop/R&B and Dance/Electronic. This week, we’ll focus on how the genres of the best-testing songs vary based upon consumers’ choice of platform. For example, the best testing genres among radio users look different than those of streaming users. Pandora fans look different than those consumers who prefer Spotify. Why do we find these differences so interesting? Because programmers are barraged with data from different sources every day. A song’s amazing number of streams on Spotify, for instance, might be used as an argument why it belongs on your radio station. Or the fact that “everyone” on Pandora is flocking to a particular style suggests that you should move your programming in that direction.

But is it really that simple?

The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights”, which has strong radio airplay, is #1 on the Spotify Top 200 Chart. “D4L” by Future, Drake & Young Thug debuts at #1 on Pandora’s Top Spins chart. “The Scotts” by The Scotts (Travis Scott and Kid Cudi) which debuted during a live virtual Fortnite event that attracted over 27 million unique participants, bowed at #1 on the Billboard streaming chart last week.  Does that mean these are the most popular songs in North America—or that they are popular among people who listen to your format? Not necessarily, particularly if the people who are using radio or streaming on a daily basis have different music tastes.

Travis Scott and Kid Cudi’s collaboration debuted at #1 on Billboard’s streaming chart with a boost from a live Fortnite event.

That’s why understanding the different profiles of consumers of these various platforms should matter to you. It should help you appreciate what all those stats being thrown at you really mean.

For starters, the best testing songs of people who use radio every day look a lot different than those of daily streamers. What’s the big difference? The Top 100 among daily radio listeners contains a large percentage of Pop and Country, and a smaller amount of Hip Hop/R&B. About a third (32%) of the Top 100 of Daily Radio Listeners is Pop and 29% Country, but only 19% Hip Hop/R&B. Daily Streaming Listeners, on the other hand, have much more Hip Hop/R&B (29%) and far less Country (only 15%).

Does that mean Daily Radio Listeners don’t like contemporary Hip Hop? No. It means when we look at Daily Radio Listeners as a group overall, they gravitate toward Pop and Country among contemporary genres. You are more likely to find interest in Pop or Country when you take a broad look at regular radio users.

We see other notable differences when we compare the Top 100 of Pandora, Spotify and YouTube fans. Consumers who prefer Pandora over other streaming services have a tremendous amount of Country in their Top 100—39%. They also have 26% Pop but significantly less Hip Hop/R&B at only 17%. Those who prefer Spotify go in the opposite direction. They have a very large percentage of Pop (39%) and a good amount of Hip Hop/R&B (26%)—but very little Country, only 9%. YouTube fans look very similar to Spotify fans.

The point is that people who prefer Pandora have much more Country in the songs they rate best; those who prefer Spotify and YouTube have more Pop and Hip Hop/R&B in their Top 100 songs. We sometimes tend to think of streaming users as homogeneous, but they are not. The profile of consumers who prefer different streaming services are distinct—and it is important to keep this in mind when we look at data coming from various sources. And that’s true of almost every different platform we analyzed.

Dan + Shay’s “Tequila” tested #22 overall in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 with those who prefer Pandora over other streaming services, #48 with those who prefer Spotify and #55 with those who prefer YouTube.

Next week, we’ll dive into the political fray–to discover the respective taste differences between supporters of President Trump and Joe Biden. In an environment in which common ground and bipartisanship can be hard to find, can these two polarized groups find musical consensus?

Don’t miss next week’s Tuesdays With Coleman to find out.

Christmas in the Time of Corona

Tuesdays With Coleman

A logical approach to programming strategy during just about any time other than the present would likely suggest that playing Christmas music in March would be a pretty dopey idea. But if one were to adopt an Outside Thinking philosophy–considering your brand from the viewpoint of your consumer–it may not be quite as nutty as it seems.

As we pointed out in a special Thursday edition of Tuesdays With Coleman last week, “unusual times call for unusual measures” and “listening patterns are likely in significant flux.”

What’s a more polar opposite to chaos and uncertainty than the comfort and joy of Christmas?

Christmas music in March

On March 15th, Milwaukee Brewers play-by-play broadcaster Lane Grindle tweeted,

It’s turned into a thing on houses around the United States, with many users adopting the hashtag #CoronaChristmas. Media outlets have picked it up. The Hallmark Channel ran a Christmas movie marathon this past weekend.

A few stations, including WNIC/Detroit and KEZK/St. Louis, have added Christmas music as part of their current offerings.

It’s not right for most brands, but for some that are already utilized for comfort and escape, maybe it’s not the craziest idea.

Inside Thinkers do things the way they’ve always been done, the way they know how.

Outside Thinkers think like their consumers, recognizing that whether they like it or not, Coronavirus is dominating their lives.

When you have a deep understanding of your brand and the need it fulfills, and you adapt that to the current lifestyle of the consumer, amazing things can happen. Even in the most uncertain of times. Maybe it’s time for your stations to spread some cheer!

 

How to Connect With Your Audience in a Crisis

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

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

  • Recognize unusual times call for unusual measures.

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

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

Understand the need your brand fulfills.

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

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

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

  • Recognize that listening patterns are likely in significant flux.

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

Reduced commuting will have a significant effect on listening patterns

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

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

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

  • Provide increased authentic and actionable listener engagement.

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

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

Anthony Fauci is the director of the NIAID

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

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

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

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

  • Rally your community.

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

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

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

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

Here’s to Local Radio and Waffle House

The Power of Radio in Tough Times

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

We’re all in this together.

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

The Seven Deadly Sins of (Non) Strategic Thinking

Tuesdays With ColemanWe consider ourselves fortunate to work with some of the most strategic minds in the audio entertainment space. But even the most seasoned strategists fall into the trap of what we call “Inside Thinking”—when you get too close to the product for your own good and are unable to see it through the lens of your customers.

In contrast, “Outside Thinkers” adopt a more strategic perspective. They understand that customers lead busy, distracted lives and their products are generally not nearly as important as Inside Thinkers may believe.  While this is an ongoing challenge for those working in every industry, not just radio, we see examples of Inside Thinking continue to manifest themselves in the radio industry. Many are simply force of habit.

Radio station

We have collected a list of things Inside Thinkers tell us. We call them deadly sins because if you really believe them they will lead you to damnation as a programmer. Radio people have said these things for decades and just continue to do so. But these examples are also dangerously unstrategic and create unnecessary friction and obstacles to growth.

So, without further adieu, here’s a countdown of the seven deadly sins of nonstrategic thinking (as Casey would say, we’re working our way to #1!):

  1. “As soon as we did that, our numbers went up.”

There are some pretty fantastic tools to analyze your ratings, and it’s just human nature to want to prove in short order that something worked. You added a new song category every hour. You ran a social media campaign. You debuted a contest. You put a new jock on the air.

There are instances of clear correlation and causation between on-air product and ratings. Major weather events often result in bumps for news stations. Local sports teams in playoffs and championships often result in a ratings kiss for sports stations.

But far too often, a correlation is made between more subtle moves and ratings success in which no causation exists.

  1. “But it tested great in our music test.”

If “Stairway to Heaven” tests great for an Urban station, should the station play it? Should an AC station play “Sweet Child of Mine” if it tests?

You should not just throw anything into your music test. Ideally, the songs you choose to test will be guided by a strategy determined in perceptual research. But even in the absence of perceptual research, the songs in the test should be guided by your vision or strategic design of the station. Just because it tested great does not mean listeners want to hear it on your station.

  1. “The morning show is gaining traction. I can feel it.”

Programmers generally should (and do) have an instinctual feel for whether or not the shows on their stations are hitting the mark or not. But when this phrase is uttered just weeks or months into a show’s development as it relates to ratings results, it is unstrategic. Shows take time to develop and the true measure of whether or not a show is gaining traction will take at least a year or two.

  1. “Ratings went down, so we made some music adjustments.”

First, you should generally not make any programming decisions, whether in regards to music or talent, based on one ratings period. Always keep your strategy in mind and make decisions based on that design. Ideally it will be informed by strategic research, but either way, ratings should be evaluated over a longer stretch of time that accounts for wobbles.

  1. “We just play the hits, that’s what I was taught!”

Similar the point in #6, it’s far more complicated than playing the hits. Not every hit will fit your station’s strategic design. Yes, you want to play the best songs. But you want to play the right best songs. “Hits for who?” one of my favorite bosses used to ask.

  1. “My wife/daughter/brother doesn’t like it.”

Think twice before saying this to someone in the programming department at a radio station as your rationale for wanting something changed, like a song, contest or piece of imaging. Sure, organic feedback is great. But using an example or two, especially if it is a relative, as a reason for a programming change, is a big no-no. Conducting “unfocused” groups at your dinner table will only ensure that the real target audience is overlooked.

  1. “Of course the audience knows that.”

A classic mistake of Inside Thinkers assumes your consumer is aware of something because you are. Your listeners spend far less time with your radio station than you and are less likely to know the names of your air talent, be familiar with your contests, recognize a benchmark, be aware of subtle branding changes, and so on. All the audience really knows, if you are lucky, is they turn on this station for Rock or that one for Country. Never assume they are sitting on the edge of their seat waiting to hear what you have to say next.

 

There you have ‘em, the Seven Deadly Sins of Nonstrategic Thinking. The sin of it is, we have all said something along these lines over the years.  Our hope is that we all go “outside” and eliminate these phrases, shall we? I promise nobody will miss them.

Add Long-Term Thinking to Your Strategic Plan

Tuesdays With Coleman

Do you make short-term or long-term decisions?

Short-term decisions regarding your business can be short-sighted, impulsive, and detrimental to the growth of your brand.

Long-term decisions are more thoughtful, focused, calculated and help grow brands—but often require a great deal of patience.

Wall Street is full of people who make emotional short-term decisions based on the daily, weekly or monthly performance of stocks. This is in direct contrast to what we know about stock market performance and behavior—that it is a long-term game.

That’s what makes the development of a new stock exchange called The Long-Term Stock Exchange so unusual. The basic idea: List companies that don’t report or react to earnings on a quarterly basis. Its mission is to bring together companies that are looking at the long-term picture.

Sanjay Bakshi, Managing Partner at ValueQuest Capital, subscribes to this philosophy. In fact, he stopped looking at Yahoo and Bloomberg because it was too much noise. Not only does he not look at stock prices or buy shares every day, he doesn’t even look at quarterly financial statements. While Bakshi says you should look at earnings each year, the real value is looking at long-term performance.

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway holds losing companies too long according to many financial analysts and fails to cut their losses. But their goal is to build the Berkshire Hathaway image as a long term player. By not dumping a loser, it reinforces its brand as being a long-term holder of value and thus attracts businesses to sell or invest with them precisely because of that image or reputation.

Warren Buffett Berkshire Hathaway long-term stocks

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman/CEO Warren Buffett

Doesn’t reacting to short-term results with short-term thinking sound like another industry you may be familiar with?

Misinterpretation of Nielsen ratings is a perfect example of how radio companies fall into the trap of short-term thinking. When quarterlies become monthlies then become weeklies and now even dailies, it is incredibly tempting to make decisions based on “the latest book.”

What if radio station managers adopted the long-term view of Bakshi and Berkshire Hathaway?

Programming strategy is a long-term proposition. There is no way to “game” the system just to deliver ratings this month or quarter. That isn’t how it works. Ratings are built upon a long-term bond with your audience. Every day, every way, you build a relationship, a positive image in their minds, and they will come back to your station over and over and deliver long-term ratings as well. That’s why we spend time with our clients on building their Image Pyramid—fortifying their base position then building brand depth.

Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

The Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

Does every song you play today matter? Of course it does. Every song is a marketing decision, as we like to say. But it is the sum of many decisions over a long period of time involving layers of the Image Pyramid including music, personalities, marketing and specialty programming that add up to a brand, an image, that will serve your station for years to come.

From the long-term perspective, does it make sense to look at Nielsen ratings every week or month and make decisions based upon that small timeframe? We think not. Look at six months or a year of ratings to identify a real trend.

Think strategically, execute based on that strategy, then give that strategy time to take hold. Research and refine the strategy.

Over time, we think you’ll find long-term vision and planning is far better for your brand (and your mental state) than short-term decisions based on “today’s news.”

 

What If Your Radio Station Lived Like It Was Dying?

Tuesdays With Coleman

Like you, a lot of us listened to the last few days of WPLJ and Mix 107.3 and marveled at the emotional impact of those farewells. And as the Nielsen PPM data shows, listening levels for WPLJ/New York rose from a 2.5 share in April to a 3.1 in May (its final full monthly), its strongest overall performance in two and a half years. This doesn’t even include the final week on-air, which was chock full of tributes, reunions and memories.

WRQX (Mix 107.3)/Washington, D.C. experienced a similar bump, rising from 3.5 in April to 4.1 in June. WPLJ and WRQX were two of the stations that flipped formats on May 31st as a result of their sale to Educational Media Foundation.

The staffs of each of these stations handled their transitions in compelling, personal, engaging ways. There were special guests including my hero Scott Shannon*. There was exceptional listener engagement. And integration with social media, as listeners could experience live encapsulated moments of the final days and hours.

Scott Shannon Todd Pettingill WPLJ New York

Scott Shannon (L) hosted mornings on WPLJ for more than 20 years with Todd Pettingill (R)

*As an aside, I think Scott Shannon still has me confused with Sam Malone (KRBE)—after more than 30 years— for at least two reasons: 1) we’re both from Philadelphia, and 2) because Scott will never believe my real name is Sam Milkman. But that’s for another blog.

When we look back at the final days of each of these stations and the profound and clearly effective methods they used to generate interest, we can’t help but wonder:

What can radio do to generate profound emotional connections when they’re not flipping formats?

We understand that much of the final weeks of these stations can’t be duplicated. Both were established brands with many years of heritage that allowed listeners to create lasting memories with them. More people watched the final M*A*S*H, Cheers or Friends episodes than ever watched the shows on a regular basis. These are “moments” that people just don’t want to miss.

But the way each station went about saying goodbye is notable. Listeners heard the stations presented in ways they weren’t used to hearing. The jocks presented the stations in ways they weren’t used to presenting. The façade of “our regular format” came down. The rules went out the window. It reminded me of what I might do if I were told I had 30 days to live.

The result: a higher level of interest and authenticity. When air personalities are real and authentic, listeners can tell. So what if every radio station “Lived Like It Were Dying” once in a while?

Tim McGraw Live Like You Were Dying

Time for radio stations to take Tim McGraw’s advice?

Maybe the typical formulaic content would go out the window. We know that format changes like PLJ’s don’t happen every day (thankfully), but there will be moments in your market that will allow your station to get real and make a high level emotional connection.

  • There will be a gun-related scare or worse at a local school, unfortunately. Local officials are preparing and practicing for it. Maybe your station should too.

 

  • There will be UFO sightings (hundreds will be reported this year in your state).

 

  • Some of your core artists may get sick or die.

 

  • There will be heatwaves, droughts, fires, floods or another one of the ten plagues.

 

  • Somebody in your town will do something heroic.

 

You get the idea. The story will be there if you open your eyes to the possibility.

Listeners love a great story. Great stories build emotional connections. While we can’t recreate the natural lightning in a bottle that the format flip of a heritage radio station generates, we can look for ways to generate powerful personal connections and tell those stories.

The emotional lever is out there every day, and radio has always been and still is the perfect conduit for connection. We see time after time that memorable, personal emotional connections translate into positive perceptual images in our research.

So, how will you pull that lever today? And next week? And next month? And next year?

You don’t need to wait for a station flip to get started.