Author: Warren Kurtzman

Stop Chasing Meters, Build A Brand – A Follow-Up

I was surprised—and flattered!—at the amount of feedback I received to my “Stop Chasing Meters, Build A Brand” post three weeks ago. In hindsight, I guess I shouldn’t have been, but that feedback warrants additional thoughts and clarifying points.

Before I get into those, I want to acknowledge and thank those readers who took the time to email me about the original post. Among my favorites:

“Great piece! Thanks for this.

  1. Build a great brand that solves a problem that people have.
  2. Wisely use tactics that are brand-congruent to simultaneously spike ratings and further build the brand.

It’s so damn simple. How are we all not killing it every single day???”

“As usual, you are spot on! I hope industry CEOs read this.”

“I think the headline would suffice as a blog, itself!! Great.”

There were also a handful of responses to my post that appeared on industry news sites and company blogs. Inside Radio gave Nielsen Audio’s John Synder an opportunity to point out the oversized impact that heavy listeners have on most stations’ ratings, while former Nielsen executive Ed Cohen authored a story in his column on that pointed out that while John’s analysis was correct, considerable obstacles exist to targeting such heavy listeners. I want to go on record by stating that John and Ed are both correct; we should never underestimate the value of heavy listeners but should also acknowledge that the ability to target such a small group of meter carriers in a station’s target demographic is akin to “finding a needle in a haystack.”

Targeting a small group of meter carriers in a station’s target demographic is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Research Director’s Steve Allan posted on his company’s blog about their success with building tactical campaigns targeting PPM panelists for their client stations. Steve’s comments echoed feedback I received from more than one of Research Director’s competitors that provide similar services. I did not intend in my original post to imply that such services can’t deliver results; to the contrary, well-executed microtargeting tactical campaigns can boost the usage of a product or service in the short run.


My Coleman Insights colleagues and I still stand firmly behind the point of the original post—building brands is a far more effective and cost-efficient way of attracting listeners to your station, podcast, or stream than relying on tactics designed to generate short-term usage. My colleague Sam Milkman wrote about this in a post last year in which Westwood One’s Pierre Bouvard discussed the work of Les Binet and Peter Field, who have demonstrated the higher ROI long-term brand building generates relative to short-term sales activation.

Tactical efforts should absolutely be a part of your marketing mix—most research suggests they should make up between 30% and 40% of your marketing spend, depending on the state of your brand and the goals of your marketing—but if they are the only thing you’re doing, their impact will be short-lived.

Without contradicting any of the points referenced above by John Synder, I also want to comment on the idea of targeting heavy listeners with your marketing efforts, especially when it comes to radio stations. Tactical efforts targeting them can and often do lead to ratings increases, but in my experience, the biggest issue radio is dealing with today is the decline in the number of people who are heavy listeners. If stations that only engage in tactical marketing effectively market to a group of people that keeps getting smaller, the dollars they spend will have negligible impact on bringing listeners to the medium in the first place. We see in our research that consumers are aware of fewer radio stations than they were in the past; the industry needs more external marketing that makes consumers aware of more stations and the benefits they can derive and the needs they can have fulfilled by listening to them.

So what should you do with your station, podcast, or stream? Here are a few closing points:

  • Gain an understanding through perceptual research of what your marketing goals should be, especially in terms of balancing branding and tactical efforts. If consumers are aware of your brand and what it offers, explore ways you can effectively use tactical marketing to generate more usage of it, while remembering that you will need to return to brand maintenance on a regular basis. If, however, your brand is not well-known, you should lean on brand-building efforts that make consumers aware of it and communicate why they should use it.
  • Understand that if you only have the budget to conduct tactical marketing, you will need to return to it over and over to sustain the audience gains it hopefully delivers to your station, podcast, or stream.
  • Weave brand building into your tactical marketing, especially when your budget limits you to a tactical-only approach. For example, if you’re a music radio station that has underdeveloped music images, conduct a tactical contest designed to increase consumers’ association with the music you play with your brand rather than a contest that does not.






Stop Chasing Meters, Build a Brand

A little more than two years ago, a music radio station with more than two decades of heritage in its format was struggling. According to the latest PPM data from Nielsen, the station failed to finish among the top ten stations in its target demographic and—as a result—advertising revenue was down precipitously. The station hired us to conduct a Plan Developer perceptual study with the goals of determining why the station’s performance was weak and identifying strategy changes that could reverse its fortunes.

The most important finding in our Plan Developer study was that the station’s music mix and the music expectations its audience and the broader market had of it were considerably more contemporary than where the best opportunity in the market was focused. Thus, we recommended moving the station’s music mix five to seven years older on average. We also recommended employing tactics to change consumers’ perceptions of the station’s music to reflect that older approach, including on-air imaging, features and specialty programming, and external marketing.

Within weeks the station made the music adjustments, updated its on-air imaging, and offered a series of specialty weekends that were hyper-focused on the older sounds for which it needed stronger imagery. The results in PPM were immediate and substantial—within three months, the station’s share in its target demographic grew by nearly 50%, vaulting the station into the top five.

Problem solved, right? Unfortunately, it was not.

While our client made the music adjustments and followed other recommendations, they failed to employ external marketing designed to change listeners’ perceptions of the brand’s music mix. Their conclusion, based on the first three months of ratings following the music adjustments, was that their problem was solved and there was no need to use the money they previously committed to spending on external marketing. (The more likely result was that the novelty of hearing some of those older sounds generated short-term excitement among the station’s audience, whose tastes were generally more contemporary than where the opportunity lay in the marketplace, and this excitement was not sustainable.) You probably can guess what happened next.

Within another three months, PPM reported shares for the station that—while slightly better than when we first began working with it—represented a give-back of more than half of the gains that were made in the first three months. The market manager immediately began questioning the wisdom of the music strategy change and began pushing the program director to reverse course. Fortunately, she resisted the pressure from her market manager, but when he also pushed for spending a relatively small amount of money on an off-air tactical contest a vendor promised would effectively target meter carriers in Nielsen’s PPM panel, she gladly accepted the opportunity to do anything on the marketing front.

Portable People Meter

Targeting PPM meter carriers at the expense of brand building is not a viable long-term strategy

Over the ensuing three months, when the station offered the tactical contest, its ratings bounced back modestly, at least to the point where the market manager was satisfied and felt that his decision to spend a small amount on tactical contesting versus a more significant investment on a strategic marketing campaign was vindicated. Unfortunately, the station’s second ratings recovery was short-lived, and its share dropped to roughly the same levels as when we first began working with it once the tactical contesting ended. A post-mortem on the ratings data revealed that its audience shot up when a new heavy user of the station joined the PPM panel; it subsequently dropped when another heavy user in the panel “aged out” of the station’s target demographic.

Fast forward 18 months and I’m happy to report that the station has now turned in its sixth consecutive month in the top five of its target demographic. How did this happen?

A new market manager took over and she—with a lot of prodding from the station’s program director—successfully lobbied corporate for a strategic external marketing campaign that creatively and effectively communicated to the market what the station’s music mix was all about. She also secured funding for a second Plan Developer perceptual study we recently completed, and we were able to detect significant progress with the station’s music images and measure a strong correlation between those improved music images and listenership to the station. More progress needs to be made—and the station is tentatively budgeted to repeat the external marketing campaign early next year—but everyone involved with the station has the same strategic vision and is dedicated to the long-term process of strengthening its brand.

There are many takeaways from this music radio-centric story that also apply no matter which audio-based media— including public radio, spoken word radio, streaming, podcasting, or the music industry—you work in and no matter what metrics you rely upon to measure usage. They include:

  • Interpreting changes in listenership to your station, stream, podcast, or music is nearly impossible without research-based insights into why those changes occur.
  • The impact of contests and other tactics designed to drive increased usage without also strengthening your brand will be short-lived.

For radio stations, targeting meter carriers is a fool’s errand; build a brand and deliver great content and the ratings will take care of themselves in the long run.

Demonstrate the Power of Audio Advertising With a Brand Lift Study

You may have seen this announcement last week when Coleman Insights introduced our AscendSM Brand Lift Study service. This marks the culmination of more than a year of work with clients who came to us looking to demonstrate the effectiveness of the advertising campaigns their clients conducted with them.

On the surface, the launch of Ascend may seem a bit out of character for our firm. After all, for more than 45 years we have built a reputation for providing programming-oriented insights to clients in the radio, podcasting, and streaming industries. You may see Ascend as a tool for the sales department and I would not dispute such a conclusion.

So why did we launch Ascend? Beyond the obvious goal of growing our business, there are two reasons that drove this decision.

Ascend Brand Lift Study

First, our “superpower” is helping our clients build strong brands and develop great content through high-quality research. Such a skill set is a perfect match for our clients’ selling efforts, as we can provide insights into how well a campaign strengthens an advertiser’s brand and how the spots it features communicate messages to consumers. We have done this in the past when helping radio stations get consumers’ responses to their external marketing efforts; much of what we have learned from doing so translates into providing feedback on the campaigns of other advertisers.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, we are big believers in the power of audio advertising. I have remained bullish on the future of radio even as the audio landscape has fragmented, and radio’s share of the listening pie has declined. Why? Quite simply, well-executed radio advertising campaigns continue to deliver impressive results for advertisers. In many cases, radio campaigns do so more efficiently than other advertising platforms.

Radio station microphone

I have also seen other approaches to audio advertising through streaming and podcasting deliver great results. When radio, streaming, and podcasting are components of well-coordinated campaigns, the results are impressive. And again, those results are often delivered more efficiently than other advertising solutions.

That’s why Ascend offers two approaches designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of audio advertising depending on the mix of platforms used in a campaign. One involves surveying consumers before and after a campaign runs and providing insights on how the advertising impacted key brand measures, including awareness, favorability, and likelihood to purchase. The other involves inserting a pixel in a digital campaign and comparing the brand perceptions of consumers who were exposed to the advertising to those who were not. With both approaches, we offer the opportunity for advertisers to get consumers’ direct opinions about the content of a campaign as well.

Thus far, the work we have done in this space prior to last week’s formal launch of Ascend has been with radio, streaming, and podcasting companies who have included our brand lift research in their offering to advertisers who commit to sizeable campaigns. Advertisers are increasingly demanding insights from audio companies about the impact their campaigns have. We hope that through our Ascend Brand Lift Study service, we can help your station, cluster, group, network, streaming channel, or podcast provide these insights to your clients and demonstrate the power of audio advertising soon!



Why You Need to Go to Radiodays North America in 2024

I am very fortunate to have frequently traveled to Canada to collaborate with our outstanding clients and other Canadian audio entertainment industry colleagues. For more than a decade, a highlight for me was attending Canadian Music Week and specifically the RadioActive conference that was held in association with CMW each spring.

I always loved that conference; it felt like the entire Canadian radio industry attended and everyone seemed to put aside their competitive differences for a couple of days in the spirit of collaboration and advancing the medium. The bar at the host hotel was always filled late into the evening, as friendships that transcended company affiliations were celebrated. It reminded me of the great American radio conferences that I fondly remembered from when I first got in this business in 80s and 90s.

Then, the pandemic happened, and when the CMW RadioActive conference returned in 2022, it was less than ideal. The format was a hybrid of live and virtual sessions, attendance was lackluster, and the content was subpar. I left last year’s conference fearing that my favorite conference was going to experience the same fate as the R&R, Gavin, and other conferences that are missed so badly today.

I am pleased to report that my fears were unfounded.

Kudos to Neill Dixon and his colleagues at Canadian Music Week for having the foresight to partner with Peter Niegel and his team at Radiodays—who have put on successful radio conferences in Europe and Asia in recent years—to reimagine and rebrand this year’s conference as Radiodays North America. It was nothing short of a smashing success. In fact, it was so good that I am writing this as I fly home from Toronto with renewed energy for our business, and I feel compelled to tell everyone—and especially my clients and colleagues in the American radio business—to set aside the time and budget to attend Radiodays North America in 2024.

A packed session room at Radiodays North America

Here’s why the conference was a worthwhile investment for everyone who attended:

  1. The content was excellent. A steering committee of industry professionals assembled an agenda that touched on many of the threats and opportunities that everyone working in radio, podcasting, and audio face every day. I was honored to be included among the impressive roster of speakers and panelists who led roughly 30 sessions over two packed days.
  2. Everyone attended the sessions. This is not a conference where people show their faces quickly and then retreat to private meetings behind closed doors; to the contrary, the session rooms were always filled with engaged audiences who asked great questions.
  3. The broad perspective is tremendously valuable. While most attendees were Canadian broadcasters, the presence of podcasting and other digital media professionals and numerous attendees from the United States, Europe, Australia, and elsewhere contributed to an exchange of ideas that was exciting and refreshing. Opportunities to learn from those with different experiences than your own are always good; Radiodays North America provided those opportunities in spades.

I am publicly committing Coleman Insights’ presence at the 2024 edition of Radiodays North America, and I challenge you and the companies you work for to do the same. Greater support for the conference will not only provide our industry with the in-person, annual exchange of ideas about programming, branding, music, journalism, and management it sorely needs, you and your colleagues will return home from it reinvigorated and better informed.

Let’s make a date to meet up in Toronto next spring!

When Should You Sacrifice Short-Term Performance for Long-Term Benefit?


When my Coleman Insights colleagues and I consult the brands we work with, one of the biggest challenges we face is convincing a client when they need to sacrifice short-term performance for their brand’s long-term benefit. Perhaps the classic example with one of our music radio clients is when we advise them to make their brand multi-dimensional by adding layers to their station’s Image PyramidSM, often by adding a personality-driven morning show to their music station.

The foundation of the Coleman Insights Image Pyramid is the Base Music or Talk Position, but the most successful radio stations add multi-dimensional layers

We do this knowing that this may undermine the station’s performance in the short run, as listeners who are tuning in for the music-intensive nature of the station may be turned off by the introduction of nonmusical content. Even those listeners who enjoy morning show content may initially spend less time with the station until they get more comfortable and/or come to appreciate the content the new morning show offers.

Essentially, we are suggesting that our clients take one step back as an investment that should allow them to eventually take two steps forward. If their station becomes known for its entertaining morning show in addition to the music it offers, the station’s performance will be stronger in the long run. The process requires patience and a long commitment—especially if the station’s ratings slide downwards in the first few months after the morning show’s launch—but if the new show is truly compelling to a large number of listeners, such patience and commitment will pay off.

This type of strategic thinking applies not to just audio brands, but a wide array of businesses—those that understand that short-term performance is not necessarily a proxy for brand health are usually the most successful. A recent story I read in the New York Times about Arapahoe Basin, a Colorado ski area that tops out at 13,050 feet and offers some of the highest skiable terrain in North America, drove this point home for me.

A decade ago, Arapahoe Basin was always packed with skiers, many of whom were visiting via Epic Pass, a program that provides access to hundreds of ski areas for a full ski season. In the Times article, the resort’s chief operating officer said, “Business was fantastic—we were having record years;” in other words, Arapahoe Basin’s short-term performance was excellent.

However, their very strategic-minded COO, Alan Henceroth, also knew that skiers were leaving Arapahoe Basin dissatisfied with the crowded conditions. Lift lines were long and there were few opportunities for skiers to find solitude and peace in the otherwise spectacular setting Arapahoe Basin offered. Some days things got so bad that Arapahoe Basin did not have enough parking spots for the customers who wanted to ski there. As Henceroth told the Times, “[We] thought the brand was really being damaged and the foundation of our business was crumbling.”

How did Henceforth react? He turned away customers, undermining the resort’s short-term performance. In 2019, Arapahoe Basin left Epic Pass and instead affiliated with other multi-mountain pass programs that placed limits on the number of days pass holders could ski Arapahoe.

Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin sacrificed short-term performance (fewer skiers) for long-term benefit (higher customer satisfaction)

The result was a 69 percent decrease in the number of skiers the resort hosted by early 2020; as Henceworth proudly shared in his blog, “The experience is way up. The skier days are way down.” He also told the Times, “We are focused on creating quality of experience.” Essentially Arapahoe Basin turned away the “easy money” generated by a large number of skiers on cheap passes using its amenities; it invested in its brand and now caters to skiers who are willing to pay more for a better experience.

Today Arapahoe Basin is performing better than it ever has financially, allowing the resort to invest in modernization and upgrades. Sometimes you must step back to move forward.

Have you registered for Coleman Insights’ first Ask Me Anything webinar? It’s this Wednesday, March 1st from 2P-2:15P EST and registration is open now.







Why Brands Need Research in the New Remote Reality

Like many companies when the COVID-19 lockdowns began in March 2020, Coleman Insights transitioned to a remote environment. The nearly 7,500 square feet of office space more than 25 of our employees (including those employed by our Integr8 Research “sister” company) had worked out of for years sat unused for months, including the new conference room with all the latest display technology we added to our office just two years earlier.

As I’m sure was the case for many others reading this, being away from the office gave me a weird feeling. Our team had worked hard to create a sense of “place” in those 7,500 square feet, and suddenly, that place that we spent so many hours in every week was no longer a part of our lives. It was unsettling, especially amidst all the other uncertainties that accompanied the pandemic.

Then, a funny thing happened—our staff adapted, and most found that not only were they more productive working from home, but they preferred it. That led me to decide that having a remote workforce permanently was the right move for us, and earlier this year, we successfully negotiated a lease termination with our landlord. As of October 1st, the only centralized physical presence of our company is in an office-sharing facility in Raleigh, where we occasionally gather for meetings and social functions.

The last few weeks before we moved out felt strange and elicited surprisingly emotional responses from many on our team, including me. We spent weeks selling and donating furniture and other office equipment—I’m proud to share that the 85-inch monitor in our conference room now hangs in the conference room of the Exchange Family Center, a non-profit our company supports through our Pledge 1% initiative, and that some public school teachers in our area have new desks courtesy of Coleman Insights—and seeing the dismantling of what we had built drove home for me that things were never going to be the same.

The remnants of Coleman Insights’ dismantled cubicles

What we did at Coleman Insights was the right thing for us, but I acknowledge that moving to a remote environment is not for every company or every employee. Nonetheless, there is no denying that there has been a significant and likely permanent shift to working from home, and companies like ours are not alone in eliminating the requirement that employees come to an office or other jobsite every day.

This means that when, how, and where a sizeable portion of the target audience of your radio station, podcast, or streaming platform uses your brand has changed. That does not even consider how your target audience’s tastes, needs, and what they are seeking from your brand have changed, even if many of those consumers have resumed the patterns their lives followed prior to the pandemic. In other words, if there was ever a time to conduct strategic research, it is now.

In a recent Plan Developer study we delivered to one of our radio station clients, we identified that the presence of radio listeners in the station’s target audience who primarily worked remotely had doubled from 16% to 32%. Other estimates suggest that even as many companies have “returned to normal,” the increase in the number of employees working remotely at least part of the time is substantial and likely permanent.

Even as many aspects of our lives have “returned to normal,” things will never be the same as they were before 2020. Your target audience may be in different work situations, their commuting patterns may have changed significantly, and they have likely used the last two-plus years to sample new media in quantities never seen before. Their opinions on the world may have shifted, along with their music tastes. Perhaps most significantly, for many of those in your target audience, the number of shared experiences they have with others may have declined substantially, adding to an even more fragmented media landscape than existed before the pandemic.

If your radio station, podcast, or streaming platform has not updated its strategy based on new information on the behaviors, tastes, and perceptions of your target audience, you are likely falling behind competitors who have. While we may not be 100% past the pandemic as I write this, there have been enough permanent changes to the world your target audience lives in to make updating your strategic plan based on fresh data a necessity right now.

Be Like “The New Voice Of Baseball”

This has been a tough baseball playoff season for New York Mets fans like me. Our team was expected to compete for a World Series championship, but a disappointing first-round loss to the San Diego Padres left us having to wait until next year…again.

One person who will be there no matter which teams make it when the World Series opens this weekend is Joe Davis. Even if you’re a rabid baseball fan like me, that name may not ring a bell. Joe Davis is the successor to Joe Buck as FOX’s lead baseball announcer and he will be handling the play-by-play duties when the Astros and Phillies face each other in this year’s Fall Classic.

Fox Sports Major League Baseball play-by-play announcer Joe Davis (Photo credit: Fox Sports)

Davis was previously the television voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but has now moved up to the national stage, which began when he called the All-Star Game this past year. That marked the first time in 20 years that Buck didn’t handle All-Star Game play-by-play responsibilities; while many missed not hearing Buck call the game, most reviews of Davis’s work were positive.

Here’s the crazy part: Joe Davis is only 34 years old. He was 28 when he started calling Dodgers games on TV and by age 29, he replaced the legendary Vin Scully on a permanent basis.

So, how does someone so young achieve so much success in the competitive world of sports broadcasting? In Davis’s case, I believe it comes down to (1) preparation, (2) self-critique, and (3) studying storytelling.

Back in July, prior to the All-Star Game, the New York Times published an in-depth profile of Joe Davis entitled “Meet the New Voice of Baseball.” The Times claimed that “…nobody, at any age, has prepared more diligently for the chance…” that awaited Davis.

Davis does his homework, including spending time taking notes on what other sports broadcasters do well and don’t do as well. He also records and then reviews his broadcasts—a habit he started while in college, spending evenings listening to his play-by-play calls instead of chugging beers with his friends—so that he can learn from mistakes he makes while being careful to avoid beating himself over them. Perhaps most impressively, Davis transcribes some of his broadcasts so that he can study his words and think about ways to make them more concise.

My favorite part of learning more about Joe Davis is that he has read books on story structure. Storytelling separates the great sportscasters from the rest; Davis’s effort to hone his ability to tell compelling stories is part of the commitment he made to himself early in life to pursue this career path.

Doing play-by-play on a national television baseball broadcast is quite different from hosting a live radio show, voice tracking, or hosting a podcast. I believe, however, that every radio, streaming, and podcasting personality can benefit from emulating Joe Davis. Here’s how:

  1. Find other people who excel at what you do and study them closely. There’s a big difference between admiring someone and identifying what makes them especially good at their craft.


  1. Don’t view your job as done when your air shift is over, or your podcast is “in the can.” Record and listen to what you said and how you said it and consider ways to do it better the next time. Even if you work in an environment where no one is available to aircheck you, there’s no excuse for not doing it yourself.


  1. Recognize that storytelling is an art and a skill and commit to getting better at it. I suggest reading two or three books on the subject; Will Storr’s The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better is a good place to start.

For years, the mantra for athletes was “Be Like Mike.” If you’re on the air, hosting podcasts, or delivering any form of audio entertainment, I think it’s a good idea to “Be Like Joe.”




Personality on Music Stations: New Research on Social FM

This week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog was jointly authored by Coleman Insights president Warren Kurtzman and Alan Burns & Associates founder Alan Burns. Details on a new webinar covering this topic and findings from a recent research project can be found at the end of the blog.

As covered in last week’s Tuesdays With Coleman, a hot radio format from Canada—which Alan Burns & Associates has dubbed “Social FMTM”—has captured our attention, due to the greater emphasis it places on personality-driven content than most music stations. As a result, Coleman Insights and Alan Burns & Associates have collaborated on research on the format’s successful music outlet, Now! Radio in Edmonton, even though the station is not a client of either of our firms. The research involved 100 18- to 49-year-old Cume listeners to the station to gather mostly open-ended responses to questions about the motivations for listening to the station and the perceptions they have of the brand.

Based on these interviews, we reached three primary conclusions:

  1. Social FM is seen as a “hybrid” format. The format’s outlets play a sizeable quantity of music that is complemented by foreground personalities and high levels of on-air interaction with listeners, and as a result, most listeners think of it for music and talk. Relative to the Image PyramidSM philosophy Coleman Insights has espoused for decades, this means that the format’s base position consists of a combination of musical and nonmusical content, with the highest profile personalities providing a layer of personality on top of that base.

In the case of Now! Radio, we see this in the fact that the majority—55%—of listeners choose “both” music and conversations as their primary motivation for listening to the station. While those who do not say “both” are more than twice as likely to cite “music only” over “conversations only” as their primary motivator, the fact that both of these groups are smaller than the “both” group makes clear that the combination of these two forms of content drive usage.

In a similar vein, the majority—54%—of Now! Radio listeners mention music and conversations when asked to describe the station to someone who had not heard it before. This video provides a brief sample of listeners frequently referencing music and conversations when describing the station:

One final important note about the importance of communicating that Social FM stations offer music and conversations is revealed when we compare the motivators and perceptions of Now! Radio’s P1 listeners versus non-P1s who also listen to the station. As seen in the two sets of bars on the right of the following graph, 70% of P1s answer “both” as the primary reason for listening to the station. Among the Other P1s we surveyed, however, music—at 52%—is the primary motivator.

This suggests that excluding or de-emphasizing music from how Social FM stations are positioned could significantly limit their Cume appeal and make them over-reliant on generating TSL from a small Cume base. In simplest terms, music brings in Cume and personality-driven content drives TSL.

  1. Listener passion for the hosts is crucial to the success of Social FM. While Now! Radio is seen for its combination of music and conversations, there is no denying that the hosts and the conversations they have with each other and their listeners are very prominent in the perceptions listeners have of the station. In fact, the frequency with which listeners mention hosts in general or specific personalities in their descriptions of the station and the things they like the most about it is higher than we have seen for any other music station. As revealed by the listener enthusiasm expressed in the following video, stations seeking to offer Social FM must build lineups of highly compelling personalities to be successful:

  1. Social FM is a Time Spent Listening-driven format. Now! Radio has led the Numeris Adults 25-54 ranking for 38 out of the last 40 quarters, and while the station has a sizeable Cume audience, its leadership is largely attributable to generating TSL from those who tune into it in the first place. We see this as well in our findings, as an impressive 56% of the Cume listeners we interviewed for this study name Now! Radio as their P1 station. Such a Cume Conversion Rate is well above the 40% benchmark Coleman Insights usually finds is an indicator of a station’s ability to generate high listener loyalty.

To learn more about these and other findings of our research on Social FM, please join us for a webinar presentation this Thursday, June 2nd at 2PM EDT/11AM PDT. Free registration is now open here.


The Hottest Radio Format Unknown to Most American Broadcasters

This week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog was jointly authored by Coleman Insights president Warren Kurtzman and Alan Burns & Associates founder Alan Burns. Details on a new webinar covering this topic and findings from a recent research project can be found at the end of the blog.

When you’re a researcher or consultant to radio stations one of the most common questions you’re regularly asked is, “What’s the next hot format?” We admit this is often an impossible question to answer; listeners are fickle, and we often don’t know when new trends emerge until we see objective evidence that they are taking hold.

However, we can state with confidence that there is a hot format—in Canada. Alan Burns & Associates is calling the format “SocialFMTM,” as it features substantially more personality content than one typically hears on a commercial music format. That content is built around foreground air talents, extensive on-air audience interaction, and storytelling.

By far the most successful of the Social FM stations is “Now! Radio” in Edmonton. We know that—outside of the hockey fans among us—few Americans are well-acquainted with Edmonton, but the fact that this massively successful station is not known to most American radio broadcasters is astonishing. According to Numeris, Now! Radio has been the number one station among Adults 25-54 in Edmonton for 38 out of the last 40 quarters.

Now! Radio airs a Hot AC-oriented music mix that is broader—especially from an Era perspective—than most North American Hot AC stations. It is anchored by the wildly successful Crash & Mars morning show, while managing to play at least ten songs in most hours after the morning show is over, despite giving its air talents in all dayparts wide latitude for delivering personality-based content.

We want to be clear: Now! Radio is not a client of either of our firms. However, amid all the discussions currently taking place in the radio industry about the need for more nonmusical content on music radio stations, we are intrigued by its success. Both of our firms have consistently espoused the value of compelling, entertaining personalities for our music radio station clients, but as more consumers enjoy music on other platforms that often provide them with more control and commercial-free experiences, the need for radio stations to provide content that consumers can’t get anywhere else is greater than ever.

Our interest in Social FM is also increasing because variations of the format have launched in other Canadian markets; the owners of the Edmonton station launched similarly formatted “Today Radio” in Calgary in 2019 and “Now! Radio” in Winnipeg in 2021, and another ownership group introduced the format branded as “Today Radio” in Toronto this past February. Despite their common ownership, the Calgary outlet carries the Crash & Mars show while Winnipeg does not, and the new station in Toronto is building its own airstaff. All four of these stations offer similar music, but there are nuances between the mixes each station employs.

It seems inevitable that radio stations in the United States and beyond will take a close look at Social FM. That is why we are excited to share with you a collaboration between Alan Burns & Associates and Coleman Insights to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that drive the success of this format. As Now! Radio in Edmonton is the bellwether for the Social FM format, we have recently fielded a research project conducted with listeners to the station designed to determine what drives them to use it and their strongest perceptions about it and how those drivers and perceptions may vary across different segments of the audience. Among other things, the research will help us understand if Now! Radio looks like most successful music radio stations from an Image PyramidSM perspective, featuring a Base Music Position that leads listener perceptions, complemented by strong personality imagery.

Next week’s edition of Tuesdays With Coleman will feature a summary of our findings, including video clips of Now! Radio listeners sharing their opinions and perceptions of the station. Furthermore, we will offer a free webinar covering the findings of our research in greater depth on Thursday, June 2nd at 2PM EDT. Registration for that webinar is now open here; we look forward to sharing our insights with the radio industry and answering questions you may have about Social FM.

Pop Reigns Supreme (Again!)

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.

Last week we focused on the major finding of our Contemporary SuperStudy 4, which revealed that while American and Canadian society has gradually reopened from the pandemic-caused lockdowns, consumer appetites for the newest music releases have not rebounded. This week we will delve into our findings about how specific genres fared in our fourth annual study, which look reasonably consistent with our previous findings.

The most consistent finding with previous editions of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy is that Pop titles dominate the Top 100 titles of the most-consumed songs of 2021. At 44%, Pop’s share of the Top 100 is substantially larger than the 24% presence of Pop titles in the study.

The only other genre that “overperforms” relative to its presence among All Songs Tested is Alternative/Rock. However, at 11% of the Top 100, Alternative/Rock titles do not make up a substantial share of the 100 songs consumers rated highest.

Hip Hop/R&B and Country, while somewhat underrepresented among the Top 100 relative to their presence in the test list we used for the study, are heavily present among the 100 songs consumers rate highest. Nearly a quarter—24%—of the Top 100 songs are Hip Hop/R&B; Country titles make up 17% of the 100 best-testing songs.

The hierarchy of genre representation among the Top 100 titles—Pop well out in front, followed by Hip Hop/R&B, Country, and Alternative/Rock—mirrors our findings from last year. This means that the stronger performance of Hip Hop/R&B last year relative to the two previous editions of our study has been retained, while the recovery of Country’s place among the most popular titles has yet to take place.

Also noteworthy is the drop-off in the presence of Dance/Electronic titles among the 100 songs consumers rate highest. While failing to make up a significant proportion of the Top 100 in any of the four editions of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy thus far, the presence of Dance/Electronic titles has dropped from 12% three years ago to 4% in this study.

As we’ve seen in previous editions of our study, Pop’s dominance is the result of its strong performance across numerous segments of the population. For example, when we divide listeners by geography, Pop titles make up at least 40% of the Top songs with listeners who say they live in Urban, Suburban, or Rural areas.

The performances of Hip Hop/R&B and Country titles, however, vary significantly by geography, which is a consistent finding from previous years. At 42%, Hip Hop/R&B titles make up almost as large of a portion of the Top 100 among Urban consumers as Pop does; the same is true for Country—at 35%—among consumers who live in Rural areas.

These geographic findings—as they have in previous years—line up very closely with our profiles of the Top 100 songs among consumers with different political viewpoints. Pop leads with consumers who describe their political affiliation as Liberal-leaning or Moderate, while Country makes up the largest share with those who describe their politics as Conservative-leaning.

The performance of Hip Hop/R&B looks almost completely opposite from Country from a political standpoint. At 40%, Hip Hop/R&B titles make up 40% of the Top 100 songs with Liberal-leaning consumers, while 3% of the best-testing titles with these same consumers are Country titles. Among Rural consumers, only 9% of the Top 100 songs are Hip Hop/R&B. Moderates, not surprisingly, fall somewhere in the middle with Hip Hop/R&B and Country titles—at 23% and 22%, respectively—making up nearly the same proportions of the Top 100 titles.

Next week, Tuesdays With Coleman will wrap up our in-depth coverage of Contemporary SuperStudy 4 when my colleague Sam Milkman will break down our findings by age-, gender-, and ethnicity-based demographics. He will explore how consumers’ appetites for contemporary music vary based on their usage of different platforms for consuming audio entertainment.

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.