Author: Warren Kurtzman

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.

What in the World is Going On With Contemporary Music?

The state of contemporary music is an ongoing topic of conversation among many of Coleman Insights’ clients. Questions about it have become more pressing for our radio clients, as the ratings leaders in many markets are Gold-based music stations targeted at older listeners, perhaps to a greater extent than in the past.

In 2022, however, this topic resonates beyond the community of those in the audio entertainment industry, as mainstream media like CNBC and The Atlantic have raised questions about the state of contemporary music tastes and how they have been impacted by the pandemic.

Therefore, the upcoming release of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4, a preview of which we are presenting at this week’s virtual All Access Audio Summit, could not come at a better time. Last year, when we delivered the third edition of our now-annual assessment of the state of contemporary music tastes in the United States and Canada, we very clearly documented how in 2020—a year with almost no live music performances and when many artists held back their releases of new material—consumers’ appetite for contemporary music “stood still,” leading us to liken things to the classic movie, Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character lives the same day over and over again. While COVID-19 continues to create great challenges, it will be interesting to see if the gradual reopening of our society and the return of live music performances and new music releases have allowed us to break out of the Groundhog Day cycle.

Will this year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy have another Groundhog Day vibe?

If you’re not familiar with our Contemporary Music SuperStudy series, let me give you a quick primer. We compile a list of the most-consumed songs from the previous calendar year and then test those songs with 1,000 consumers in the United States and Canada using the same platform we use for delivering FACT360SM Strategic Music Tests to our radio station clients. The list is built with help from our friends at Luminate (formerly MRC Data) and is based on consumption via radio airplay, streaming, and sales. (A shoutout also goes out to our friends at Hooks Unlimited, who provide the music hooks we test with consumers.) We drop any songs that are at least five years old and then add songs that are among the most consumed from each major genre that make up the world of contemporary music so that each of those genres receives adequate representation. The 1,000 consumers who participate in the study are representative of the population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and geography.

The consistent methodology we use every year has allowed the Contemporary Music SuperStudy to become the benchmark of contemporary music tastes. If you work in the radio, music, or streaming business, you may often get glimpses of how music tastes are changing through the many individual audio brand studies, music tests, and new music research reports you may see over the course of the year. The Contemporary Music SuperStudy, however, provides a truly objective view of those changes on the macro level.

At Coleman Insights, when the data from Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4 began to roll in, we were eager to see if and how the reopening of society impacted consumers’ appetites for contemporary music. Among the questions we wanted to answer were:

  • Will “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran test #1 for the third straight year?
  • Did any new songs released in 2021—and therefore appearing in the study for the first time—break into the top ten?
  • Will Pop titles continue to outperform their presence in the test list?
  • Will Country rebound after a disappointing performance in last year’s study?
  • Will the strong showing for Hip Hop/R&B in Contemporary SuperStudy 3 continue this year?

The answer to these and many other questions are on the way. If you are attending the All Access Audio Summit this week, be sure to join us at 2PM Eastern/11AM Pacific this Thursday, April 21st when John Boyne, Sam Milkman, and I will reveal many of the topline findings from the study. Our presentation will cover the best-testing titles overall, how this year’s most popular songs compare with previous years in terms of genre and era, and how music tastes vary across demographics, geography, political persuasion, and media habits.

Could Ed Sheeran top the Contemporary Music SuperStudy again? Hmmm. (Credit: Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock)

In addition, we will devote the next three weeks of Tuesdays With Coleman to more detailed discussions of the study’s most important findings, culminating in a free, publicly available webinar on Wednesday, May 11th in which we will take a deeper dive into our findings. (Registration for the webinar will open later this month.) Furthermore, I will deliver a “Canada-centric” version of our findings in a presentation at Canadian Music Week’s RadioActive ’22 conference on Wednesday, June 8th. Finally, later this spring, we will provide online access to the song-by-song data from the study to all active Coleman Insights clients as part of our Coleman Complete service.

Music tastes change and we track them at Coleman Insights, with the Contemporary Music SuperStudy 4 providing a lot of useful and informative insights over the next few weeks. My colleagues and I look forward to your feedback on the latest and most comprehensive assessment of the state of contemporary music tastes.

Why You Should Plan For Focus Groups In 2022

Regular readers of Tuesdays with Coleman may recall when we made a big deal about our introduction of CampfireSM Online Discussion earlier this year. This service, which allows us to deliver qualitative insights to the audio brands we work with, utilizes an innovative online platform through which we deeply engage with a group of carefully screened consumers over the course of a week. We have delivered numerous Campfires already this year and have been gratified by the positive reactions we have received from the clients who have used our newest service.

While Campfire represents an exciting innovation in the world of qualitative research, this blog is going to focus on one of the oldest tools in the researcher toolkit—focus groups. The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from doing any of our 20/20 Focus Group studies for clients over the last 18 months, and even with a great new tool like Campfire available to us, I still think there are insights that only focus groups can deliver. My hope—obviously for many reasons besides this—is that it will be safe soon to gather consumers together to talk about the audio brands they consume and delve into the emotions that are the drivers of their behaviors. Focus groups have been derided by many for being “old school,” prone to the biases of those who moderate them, and far too often being driven by one or two participants who dominate the conversation and influence the softer-spoken attendees. Yes, they have been around a long time, but when they are moderated by someone who has been trained properly, they can unearth things that no other form of research I have seen in my nearly 35 years in this business can find.

One of my favorite focus group stories is truly old school; more than a half-century ago, General Mills learned via focus groups that their new line of Betty Crocker cake mixes was not selling well because homemakers felt guilty about how easy they were to use. When, based on that qualitative insight, the product was changed so that instead of just requiring the addition of water, the mix required that consumers also had to add eggs, the sales took off and the product became a staple of American kitchens.

A few years ago, I attended focus groups moderated by a colleague of mine for a Hip Hop station that was curious about a new sound that seemed to be testing well in their new music research. The clients and I sat with our mouths wide open behind the glass when we heard every Hip Hop fan in the group use a term to describe this genre that was clearly widespread “on the streets” but had not been heard by any radio programmers yet. By the next morning, there was imaging on the station using the term the focus group respondents taught us!

A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story, “Why Companies Shouldn’t Give Up on Focus Groups”[subscription required], that echoed many of the themes I am sharing here. It spoke of how in the rush to embrace big data—which, in many cases, can be very valuable—many large companies ended up looking the same and offering similar products and services because they were relying on the same input, behavioral data. The parallels in the audio business are looking at metrics such as Nielsen ratings, podcast downloads, and streaming channel user counts and trying to strategize based on the same data that everyone else has. In the WSJ article, a branding consultant named Martin Lindstrom, who has worked for firms ranging from Lego to Burger King to Swissair remarked, “The few companies that decide to go the opposite way of looking at the qualitative data, the small data, time after time discover insights which lead them to something profound, and that’s where you have true innovation take place.”

While the term “in these unprecedented times” is drastically overused these days, I can not imagine a time when the kinds of qualitative insights focus groups provide could be more useful. Another compelling quote in the WSJ article concerns the impact of the pandemic on consumers and how “It cannot be understated what a big shift has occurred. Companies should understand and study that because we’ve been altered in a way that is pretty profound.” The article goes on to state that “adapting to that new reality will require understanding the relative depth of people’s fear and fatigue. And that can’t be found on a spreadsheet.” The way people consume audio—which was already undergoing changes that were accelerated by the pandemic—is changing so dramatically that we need all the qualitative tools at our disposal to grasp the implications of these changes.

Focus groups are hard; they are also time consuming and expensive. Our Campfire Online Focus Groups provide an easier and somewhat less expensive way to gather qualitative insights, and while I applaud the clients who have invested in such studies with us this year, I hope that many of them—and clients who have not done much qualitative work in recent years—recognize that focus group research should be in their plans as soon as it is safe for us to conduct such studies.

As one of my heroes, Ferris Bueller, memorably said,  Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”










The (Not So) Strange World of Strategic Alliances

Strategic partnerships are not new.

Usually, a strategic alliance between two companies involves two very different businesses. For example, Pottery Barn is not a paint company, and Sherwin-Williams is not a home furnishings store. But the two businesses collaborate on an exclusive line of paints. Customers can coordinate the Sherwin-Williams colors with Pottery Barn furniture, creating a win-win for both businesses.

Other times, an alliance is between businesses in the same market segment that serve a similar consumer. Two years ago, Kohl’s announced the availability of Amazon Returns. The department store allows Amazon customers to visit their local Kohl’s store to return eligible Amazon items, without a box or label, for free. The partnership between the two retail companies provides neighborhood convenience for Amazon customers, while driving new potential customers into Kohl’s stores.

This past year, the pandemic has inspired us to evaluate many components of our business, especially as many of our clients faced tremendous budgetary concerns­­. Was there a way to make sure our clients had access to high quality research even when Coleman Insights was not an option?

These conversations led to the strategic alliance announced last week between Coleman Insights and Advantage Music Research. It is a unique one because we both offer music tests for the radio industry.

But all music tests are not created equal.

That simple, but true statement is the fundamental core behind the partnership. We know not every potential client we speak to can afford a FACT360 Strategic Music Test. Sometimes, competitive conflicts prevent us from working with a station. Other times, the client isn’t looking for a test with strategic guidance, recommendations, and help with implementation.

In the past, we would have simply wished that potential client well. But over the past few years, we’ve developed an informal collaboration with Advantage Music Research. Their Scorecard music test costs less than a FACT360 Strategic Music Test and is a more streamlined product. But we’ve learned they share our commitments to rigorous respondent recruitment standards and high quality data, and we’ve recommended a number of potential clients to them. Conversely, Advantage has referred potential clients to Coleman when a more comprehensive study is required.

This strategic partnership is a formalization of this informal collaboration. Perhaps in years past, two companies in the same segment working together would seem exceedingly bizarre. But these days, maybe it’s not so strange. Ultimately, it’s about what’s best for the consumer.

And there’s nothing strange about that.

Was the Field Of Dreams Game a Success?

I love baseball. I follow my beloved New York Mets religiously (and appreciate your condolences!) and I play softball three days a week every spring and fall.

I also love Field Of Dreams. It’s an all-time favorite movie of mine that I’ve probably seen at least 50 times. In 2012, I added an extra day to an Iowa business trip just so that I could spend an afternoon playing ball on the field in Dyersville where the movie was filmed.

Me, at the Iowa site where Field Of Dreams was filmed

So when Major League Baseball announced that the White Sox and Yankees were going to play a regular season game at the site, I was hooked. Even if the game featured a match-up of teams I don’t care about and hate, respectively, the spectacle of a real major league game in an Iowa cornfield was irresistible to me.

By all accounts, the game—which took place less than two weeks ago and was broadcast nationally on FOX—was a smashing success. The FOX broadcast was widely lauded for its beautiful production values, the game itself featured a thrilling ending, and the 5.9 million people who watched it represented the biggest audience for a Major League Baseball regular season game in 16 years. The positive vibes from the event were so strong that MLB has announced that they will do it again during the 2022 season.

So why do I think there’s a problem?

It’s no secret that interest in baseball is on the decline. Participation at the youth level is down and the audience for games is getting older. Major League Baseball has been eclipsed by the NFL as America’s favorite sports league, while MMA, soccer, and eSports are generating far more interest among young people.

You may be familiar with the Pareto principle, which states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes. Many businesses experience this by generating about 80% of their revenue or profits from 20% of their customers.

In radio, Nielsen Audio has repeatedly demonstrated how roughly two-thirds of the Time Spent Listening to a station comes from less than a third of its Cume audience. This has led to a focus on P1 listeners, those who listen to a station more than any other. Nielsen provides tools to stations that show how—in almost every case—stations generate most of their listening from P1s.

As a result, radio stations—and many other media outlets—correctly pay close attention to the tastes and perceptions of their P1s. However, when a brand becomes too focused on what its P1s think and want, it could miss changes that are going on with lighter and/or non-users and can end up super serving an increasingly smaller segment of the broader marketplace. Therefore, research should be carefully constructed and properly analyzed so that brands gain insights into what their core users want and perceive and how that compares with what is happening beyond their core users.

Major League Baseball’s Field Of Dreams game was perhaps the ultimate P1-focused event. For a rabid baseball fan like me—a 55-year-old white guy—it was awesome. However, I fear that it did nothing—and perhaps even hurt—the game’s ability to attract a younger, more ethnically-diverse audience. My 22-year-old son was home visiting with my wife and me when the game aired, and to my dismay, I learned that he had never even seen Field Of Dreams! (I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising, given that the 1989 film came out before he was born; fortunately, I was able to correct this omission in his movie-watching experience before his visit with us was over.)

I should be clear that I don’t think the Field Of Dreams game is necessarily a bad thing. While I fear it could reinforce attributes that prevent baseball’s lighter and non-users from consuming the game more, it could work if it is balanced with other events and efforts designed to appeal beyond baseball’s P1 audience. One way Major League Baseball is doing this is by staging games between its teams at the Little League World Series each summer, which strikes me as an excellent way to engage younger fans.

Does your radio station, podcast, or streaming service have a clear picture of what its core users want and what the broader marketplace wants? If not, you can find yourself in one of two undesirable situations—catering to an increasingly smaller group of core users or being so broad in your approach that you fail to develop a core group of heavy users. Brands that can balance the ability to attract a broad audience while also engendering loyalty from a core group of heavy users are the ones that repeatedly hit home runs.