Author: Warren Kurtzman

Winning by Embracing Nostalgia

As we pass the one-year point of the COVID-19 pandemic you may have noticed that the Nielsen audience shares of many Gold-based music radio stations have grown. Some suggest this is the result of a downturn in contemporary music. Others point to this as evidence of an increase in the pace with which younger consumers—and those with presumably more contemporary music tastes—are abandoning radio.

There may be some truth to both ideas, but I have a different theory. I believe that good Gold-based music stations provide nostalgia for their listeners and that such an elixir has been highly valued by consumers during these difficult times.

Clay Routledge is a professor of management at North Dakota State University, a faculty scholar at the Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth and a senior research fellow at the Archbridge Institute, and as he recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, there should be no shame in remembering the good old days. In fact, research suggests that nostalgia is something to be embraced in many situations.

This runs contrary to a lot of conventional wisdom about nostalgia, which some see as a sign of mental weakness or a way to escape reality. Some go as far as suggesting that those who reflect nostalgically on the past often stand in the way of progress. As recently as the 19th century, nostalgia was regarded as a medical condition requiring treatment.

Modern behavioral science, however, has revealed such thinking to be wrong. In fact, as Routledge wrote in the Journal, “…nostalgia doesn’t cause distress. Instead, distress causes nostalgia.” Basically, negative feelings like sadness, loneliness, a sense of meaninglessness, and uncertainty trigger reactions in people that make them experience nostalgia.

Now I don’t know about you, but I certainly experienced—among other things—sadness and uncertainty over the past 12 months. Sure, I feel fortunate that those closest to me have avoided the worst of the pandemic so far and that I’m not among the millions experiencing severe economic hardships during this crisis, but there were enough moments in 2020 when experiencing nostalgia gave me some comfort. It provided me with what the behavioral scientists have found in their research on the impacts of nostalgia—happiness, love, gratitude, and hope.

I am clearly not alone in this, as demonstrated by how the television and movie businesses have embraced nostalgia during the pandemic. A list compiled by Insider includes more than two dozen reboots, remakes, and spin-offs—ranging from a new take on the late 60s/early 70s series “Bewitched” to a reprise of the more-recent “Sex And The City”—that are in the works. It doesn’t even include nostalgia trips like “Cobra Kai” that have already launched; for a child of the 80s like me, this TV-series sequel to the “Karate Kid” movies provided much-needed nostalgia during the height of the pandemic.

Cobra Kai nostalgia

Netflix estimates 41 million viewers watched at least part of Season 3 of “Cobra Kai” in its first month of release.

Even the world of sports is embracing nostalgia. A great example is how NASCAR has introduced Throwback Weekends, featuring races scheduled at nostalgia-inducing venues like Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.

If you oversee a Gold-based music radio station or any other audio brand that can tap into the potential of nostalgia, it is important to do so in a meaningful way. While simply playing a “Class Reunion” featuring ten titles from 1982 may evoke positive emotions from your listeners, you can and should go much deeper and truly strike a chord with them. In the Wall Street Journal piece cited earlier, Clay Routledge discusses how nostalgia is often experienced through “meaningful social memories of experiences such as weddings, holidays, vacations with family or friends, family gatherings, and religious rites of passage.” Thus, think about how much more effective a Class Reunion feature can be with hosts and/or listeners sharing brief funny, uplifting stories about events in their lives that are connected to each of the songs.

A great example of making nostalgia meaningful is how Chicago’s Classic Rock station The Drive celebrated its 20th anniversary on the air last week. Rather than simply airing “celebrating 20 years” promos, the station not only played all of the same songs in the same order as they did on day one of the station’s launch in 2001, it featured its listeners, hosts, and even former hosts telling stories on-air about the beginnings of the station and what it meant to them. It was truly great radio that likely generated positive vibes for those listening to it.

Longtime Coleman Insights clients and readers of this blog know of our advocacy of Outside Thinking. A major component of that philosophy is that consumers turn to audio brands to instantaneously meet at least one of five major needs—to energize and improve their moods, to relax, to avoid boredom, to stay in touch, and to relive memories. Nostalgia arises from reliving memories; if you think of it less as a source of escape but as a source of inspiration and meaning for your listeners, it can provide your audio brand with a major advantage.

 

 

 

 

 

What I’ve Learned After Six Months of Voice Tracking

In the past, I have used this blog to write about WVBR, the first stop in my radio career. The station, in Ithaca, New York, has a commercial FM license and is owned by a non-profit corporation consisting of students at Cornell University, where I earned my undergraduate degree. I spent four years as an air personality on WVBR and I was the station’s general manager from 1985 to 1987, where I had a team that included iHeartMedia’s Tom Poleman, SiriusXM’s Steve Blatter, CNBC’s Jessica Ettinger, and syndicated host Todd Schnitt helping me run the station.

WVBR Ithaca

WVBR is still going strong today, staffed by a dedicated group of Cornell students and community volunteers, and offers an Alternative music format during the week and a wide array of weekend specialty programming. I have remained an active alumnus of the organization and—after serving on its board of directors from 2006 to 2014—currently serve in an informal advisory role.

When the pandemic lockdowns hit, WVBR faced a crisis, as many of the student volunteers who normally hold down air shifts would be unable to do so. This created an opportunity for alumni and other non-student volunteers to step up and provide at least a minimal level of personality for the station’s now-automated programming via voice tracking. With a lot more time on my hands while the pandemic kept me working from home and not spending my usual eight to ten nights a month in hotel rooms while traveling for business, I decided to seize the opportunity. Thus, more than three decades after I hung up my headphones, I was back on the air, hosting a weekly four-hour show of Alternative music from my home more than 500 miles away in North Carolina!

Warren Kurtzman WVBR Cornell

A picture of a much younger version of me, when voice tracking didn’t exist

I am pleased to report that “Wednesday With Warren” is still growing strong and tomorrow marks the 29th week in a row I’ve hosted the show! As I reflect on the past six months, I’ve learned a few things about using voice tracking:

 

  1. It takes a lot more time to do a good show than I realized. When I volunteered to do this, I incorrectly assumed that it would not require much of a time commitment. I quickly learned, however, that if I wanted to do the show right—in other words, go beyond reading liners, station promos, and song introductions and talk with knowledge about the music I’m playing and relevant events in the community—it required a good deal of preparation. I am getting more efficient as the weeks pass, but I still find that I must put a minimum of two hours into the show each week, even if recording the breaks themselves takes me less than 30 minutes.

 

  1. Nothing replaces listening to the show live. I can listen to my recorded breaks repeatedly before I upload them to the station, but nothing helps me get better at this than listening to how they fit into the overall live flow of the radio station. Since work commitments often prevent me from listening to my show live, I use DAR.fm to record all four hours of my show and listen to the full playback, critiquing myself along the way and making notes for things I should try to do better the follow week.

 

  1. It can be a lot of fun! I find myself talking about my show with many of my friends, describing it as my “passion project.” Even when my crazy business travel life resumes, I intend to keep the show going for as long as WVBR needs me to do so.

 

  1. I made a very smart career decision in 1987. This experience has added to my respect for air personalities; it is hard to do this well and only the most talented and dedicated people can create compelling content, especially when using voice tracking. There was a time when I naively believed that an on-air role was going to lead me to my career goals. Thank goodness I made the move to the research side of the business all those years ago!

 

I don’t believe anything will ever be as powerful for radio stations as truly compelling and highly entertaining personalities who are “live and local,” but I am enough of a realist to recognize that voice tracking is here to stay. My experience with it over the last six months has convinced me that with effort and preparation, any air personality dedicated to their craft—and possessing more talent than me!—can use the technology to create compelling radio.

You can listen to “Wednesday With Warren” on WVBR between 9AM and 1PM Eastern time on 93.5 FM in the Ithaca area, wvbr.com, Live365, or TuneIn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Research Complete?

Tuesdays With Coleman

In 1978, when Jon Coleman started Coleman Insights, he had a clear vision of the kind of company he wanted to build. As he recounted in this video forty years later, he wanted to “go beyond just providing information and provide insights that yield to real actions.” Jon also wanted to help clients formulate and monitor tangible action plans for the radio stations that made up the core of our business for most of our first four decades.

Jon’s philosophy still governs the work we do for what is now a wide array of audio brands. That’s why today we are launching a new initiative called “Coleman Complete,” that encapsulates our approach and spells out specific benefits for radio clients in the United States and Canada who use our Plan DeveloperSM perceptual studies, FLIP format search studies, and FACT360 Strategic Music TestsSM.

I will not, however, use this blog to sing the praises of Coleman Complete. If you would like to learn more about its benefits, please visit this page on our website.

Instead, I want to share with you what went into the development of this campaign, because I believe it could be instructive for many Tuesdays With Coleman subscribers. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that when we set out to launch a new marketing campaign for our company, it started with research.

During the height of the pandemic lockdowns, we conducted in-depth interviews with roughly three dozen decision-makers randomly selected from our client base. These interviews followed a scripted pattern designed to have these customers give us blunt, objective assessments of our work, including what they valued the most in their relationships with Coleman Insights and what they thought we could do better. When we completed the interviews, we coded all the responses we received—even as going as far as categorizing responses as positive, negative, or neutral—and analyzed the data for patterns and recurring themes.

I can’t overstate how valuable this process for us. It gave us ideas about unmet needs that many of our clients have, some of which will drive enhancements to our services and the launch of new products you will see from us in the coming months.

What was most encouraging, however, was that what Jon Coleman set out to do more than forty years ago was what most of our clients told us they most value about working with us. Our clients told us that while they have confidence that we have excellent services and that they trust us to collect data “the right way,” what they really valued was how we go beyond delivering data and help them formulate strategies for their radio stations to succeed. They felt that we are invested in real partnerships with them and are always available to collaborate on the refinement or implementation of the strategic plans we develop together.

Thus, a marketing idea was born. To be honest, when the value you offer your clients consists of intangible attributes like “trust,” “relationships,” “follow-up,” and “partnerships,” communicating that value through marketing can be challenging. We feel that the idea that the research Coleman Insights delivers is “complete” communicates that value and differentiates what we do from competitors who conduct research as inexpensively as possible or who do little more than dump a lot of data on their clients. Our goal is for our clients to know that when their research is Coleman Complete, they have the insights, tools, and guidance they need to succeed.

For our long-time clients, the idea of Coleman Complete is a formal statement of what they already thought of us. For those reading this blog who haven’t worked with us before, we hope this increases the likelihood that you will consider building a relationship with us. After all, the best marketing campaigns reinforce a product or service’s value to its existing users while making non-users more likely to consider using it.

It’s like the radio station that stays focused on communicating that it’s “Number One for Hip Hop and R&B”; its likely not telling its existing audience something they didn’t already know, but it invites non-listeners who like Hip Hop and R&B to check it out. To our existing customers—especially those who answered our interview questions—we hope this reinforces how you already think of us and you appreciate some of the new benefits we are offering. If you don’t work with Coleman Insights yet, but you like the idea of a strategic research partner as opposed to a research vendor, we would appreciate the opportunity to discuss how our insights can help you.

 

 

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.

 

Content Is King…Except When It’s Not

Tuesdays With ColemanYou likely heard last week’s story about Quibi’s decision to shut down later this year. Quibi is a streaming service focused on short-form video content to be consumed on mobile devices. It launched in April after 18 months of build-up, as founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman successfully raised $1.75 billion from investors and recruited an impressive array of partners to create original content for the platform.

Quibi fails

No matter how you look at it, Quibi has been a flop. Downloads of the app never came close to expectations, and while the company sold out its first year of advertising inventory generating $150 million, it was unable to convert a meaningful number of consumers who signed up for a free trial into paying subscribers. As of a few weeks ago, Quibi reportedly had about 500,000 subscribers paying $4.99 per month, pacing well below their target of seven million subscribers by the end of the service’s first year.

This blog post, however, is not about bashing Quibi. (To the contrary, Katzenberg and Whitman deserve a lot of credit for being forthcoming about their failure, most notably when they made a joint appearance on CNBC last Thursday.) It is also not a full post-mortem on what went wrong with Quibi; instead, I want to focus on what lessons we can apply from Quibi’s failure to the audio entertainment world.

Quibi CEO Meg Whitman and founder Jeffrey Katzenberg raised $1.75 billion from investors

Let’s start with what Quibi did right—it invested in creating world-class content. The company reportedly spent over a billion dollars on content creation; in fact, some of the content was strong enough that it garnered two Emmy awards and ten Emmy nominations overall. Furthermore, its user interface generally received positive reviews.

However, as we often see with podcasts, streaming services, and radio stations, having great content often is not enough for success. When appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America last week, IndieWire television editor Kristen Lopez summed it up perfectly, stating, “It’s not enough to have stars. It’s not enough to have original content. You need to be very aware of what the market will hold, what your audience is, and what they’re willing to pay. What are they watching? What are they talking about?”

You also need to build a brand. Despite all the hype and firepower around Quibi, awareness of the service paled in comparison to other streaming video platforms, including YouTube, TikTok, Snap, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. Even among those aware of Quibi, we suspect that few understood what Quibi was or at least didn’t see it as something meaningful to them.

This means that you can create a podcast with outstanding content, but if few people know about it or think of it as something that meets a need for them, your chances for success are limited. This also means that you can launch a streaming channel that has the most perfectly curated playlist of songs for fans of a particular genre, but if another brand already occupies that position, you likely won’t attract many listeners.

We see this phenomenon play out with radio stations as well. Too often radio programmers will listen to a station and decide they can offer the same format in a superior manner, with better music and stronger personalities. This may be completely true, but if the station with the theoretically inferior content owns a position in the minds of consumers, it is going to be very difficult to win such a battle.

Beyond the need for brand building, there is an additional lesson applicable to audio entertainment from Quibi’s demise—the importance of distribution. A lot has been written about Quibi’s timing; launching a mobile streaming service during a pandemic when people aren’t mobile certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster. But what is perhaps more important is the decision to make Quibi available only via mobile devices. In an age where consumers want the content they desire on an on-demand basis, this sounds like a short-sighted decision. You couldn’t watch Quibi content on your laptop or the big screen in your living room (although, paradoxically, Quibi announced its availability on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Google TV on the same day it announced its closure), which presumably made the service far less attractive to consumers than it could be otherwise.

Whether you work in radio, podcasting, or streaming, keep the lessons of Quibi in mind. It is commendable to create the very best content you can, but if you don’t put as much effort into building a brand around that content and make sure its distribution allows your audience to consume it how, when, and where they want to, you are only doing half of the job.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ongoing Tension Between Brand and Content

Tuesdays With Coleman

This week’s blog features international intrigue, from Brazil to Japan to Lebanon. It also involves alleged financial crimes totaling in the tens of millions of dollars. The story I’ll describe even includes smuggling a fugitive in an audio equipment box aboard a private plane in a daring overnight escape.

Do I have you hooked yet? The big idea I just presented is designed to do just that; my challenge now is to deliver content as satisfying as that concept. My goal is to make clear that aligning a big idea with the details of execution is often a difficult challenge.

That challenge is exactly what I imagine executives at CNBC faced back in January when the story of Carlos Ghosn dominated business news.

If you’re not familiar with the Ghosn story, I’ll share the highlights first. Carlos Ghosn, a citizen of Brazil, Lebanon, and France, is a legend in the international automotive industry. His incredibly successful run began to come apart a few years ago, when—while living in Japan and serving as chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance—Ghosn was arrested and charged by Japanese authorities with under-reporting his earnings and misusing corporate assets, charges that Ghosn vehemently denied. The story captured the attention of the business world and came to a head last December when Ghosn hired an American private-security contractor who successfully smuggled him out of Japan in a private plane and eventually got him safely to his home in Lebanon, where he has remained since.

Carlos Ghosn, former CEO of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, is an internationally wanted fugitive

On January 8th, Ghosn held his first press conference since his escape. As a voracious consumer of business news and a long-time admirer of Carlos Ghosn, I couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say. Also, the dominant nature of the CNBC brand as the leading source of televised business news left no doubt in my mind where to turn for coverage.

As the press conference unfolded, however, something funny happened: it was dreadful. The event was poorly staged, poorly lit, and Ghosn droned on in heavily-accented English heaving accusations at obscure figures in the Japanese automotive industry and government. In simplest terms, the content was awful.

I will share with you that I start virtually every weekday watching CNBC; I stream it on my iPad, which I carry around my house as I go through my pre-workday rituals. The morning of the Ghosn press conference was one of the few where I turned off CNBC; if I were a member of Nielsen’s PPM panel, this would have been the perfect example of a “tune out.”

At Coleman Insights, we often talk about the tension that exists between brands and content. The Ghosn-CNBC example epitomizes this perfectly. As the leader in business news, CNBC had to cover the news conference to deliver on its brand promise; however, as the content it offered by doing that was so poor, the network managed to turn away a superfan like me.

How could CNBC have handled this better? For one thing, they could have ended the live coverage of the news conference after a few minutes and then reported any new revelations that came out during it after-the-fact. That this coverage went on for as long as it did makes me wonder what the executives at CNBC were thinking to this day.

The audio brands we work with deal with this tension all the time, and as a result, we have developed a concept we call the Brand-Content MatrixSM.

Brand Content Matrix

Brands should aim to be in the upper right quadrant of the Brand-Content Matrix.

Doing things that simultaneously enhance your brand and deliver a great content experience for your listeners is always preferable. What differentiates the best managers is the ability to handle those situations that fall in the upper-left or lower-right quadrants of the matrix. The Carlos Ghosn press conference was an upper-left quadrant event for CNBC—right in line with its brand but poor content for its audience.

Music radio stations often struggle with finding enough strong-testing titles to play from genres they know are important to their brands. Podcasters and radio talk hosts conduct interviews with experts on the subject matters that are at the very core of their brands, but sometimes find that those experts are not compelling personalities. Radiothons that support charities often feature content that drives listener tune-out but delivers great brand value.

Making sure you never lean too heavily on only brand- or content-enhancing activities is crucial to the success of most programming managers. Doing so requires deep insights into what your brand means to your listeners and what content they truly find compelling.

 

Reflections on 25 Years With Coleman Insights

Tuesdays With Coleman

In May, I celebrated 25 years since joining Coleman Insights, providing me with an opportunity to reflect on the last quarter century. When Jon Coleman, one of the smartest—and more importantly, one of the most decent—people I have had the privilege of knowing, offered me the chance to join his company, I was flattered. Sure, the 29-year-old version of me already had more than a decade of experience in radio including six years at Arbitron, but it wasn’t long after I began working for Jon that I realized that I had a tremendous amount to learn.

This photo of me, Jon Coleman and Chris Ackerman was used extensively in Coleman marketing.

So, what have I learned? Far more than I can cover in one blog post, but a few key items stand out.

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is the importance of collaboration. When clients place their trust in me and my colleagues, it is vital to recognize that we don’t know everything and the best way we can help them is to listen closely when they share their goals and concerns. When we are truly collaborative and exchange ideas with the brilliant programmers, marketers and managers who we are fortunate to have as clients, we achieve even greater outcomes than we would without their input. I am sure I still don’t listen and collaborate as well as I aspire to, but I hope I’m getting better at it!

Another thing that I’ve learned working with clients is how to build brands. Strong, long-lasting brands almost always start with a great idea and then take a long time to build. I find it so gratifying when I can help our clients develop their great ideas into great brands and have seen first-hand the benefits they enjoy when this happens. Great brands allow those who manage them to avoid short-term thinking and chasing the latest “flash in the pan” trend; if they consistently deliver compelling content within the parameters of their brands, these managers win on a consistent basis.

I’ve also learned that doing research the right way is hard and is always evolving. There is a right way to acquire respondents, there is a right way to ask them questions and there is a right way to analyze the data we get from them—all of these elements are required to deliver the insights our clients need. Furthermore, the right ways to do these things in 2020 look a lot different than they did in 1995. I’ve also learned not to get frustrated when low quality research options enter the marketplace; there will always be a market for good work, and if we stay focused on delivering high quality insights, we will be rewarded with the loyalty of our clients and their ability to recognize our value.

Another thing I’ve learned is that a research company is only as good as the people it employs. Products, services, methodologies and technologies are important, but it is the people who design, analyze and deliver research projects and then help clients implement strategies based on them that truly make a difference. This has been driven home to me countless times over the years when clients tell me that they choose to work with us not because we have the best widget; they choose Coleman because they want the best brains on the job. Those brains—including mine, but also those of the many talented people I am fortunate with whom to work—have benefited from years of experience working with a dazzling array of audio brands in almost every situation imaginable and from the expertise that has been passed along by people like Jon Coleman, Chris Ackerman and Pierre Bouvard who built the company.

Obviously, I owe a great debt to Jon for the opportunity he gave me 25 years ago. I also want to thank my colleagues—past and present—for all they have taught me. We have an amazing team at Coleman Insights and the fact so many of my colleagues have been with the company for a decade or more is a testament to Jon’s philosophy of investing in people and giving them opportunities to learn and grow.

Today’s Coleman Insights consultant team (L-R): Me, Jon Coleman, Jessica Lichtenfeld, Sam Milkman, John Boyne, Meghan Campbell and Jay Nachlis.

All of these things I’ve learned, however, would be relatively meaningless without the tremendous support of our clients. Listing the many clients who have helped make me better at what I do would make this post unreasonably long, but I can say with great confidence that I have learned something from every one of our clients, and for that, I am grateful.

My favorite part of hitting the 25-year milestone is that it is just a stop along the way. I intend to keep getting better at doing this for many years to come. That will only happen if I continue to learn from the many smart people with whom I interact, which leads me to one piece of advice—make a lifelong commitment to learning. If you are as fortunate as I have been to have clients, colleagues and other mentors as your teachers, you will be as rewarded as I have been and continue to be.

Is The Image Pyramid Evolving?

Tuesdays With Coleman

Last Wednesday, our friends and frequent collaborators at Jacobs Media Strategies referenced Coleman Insights’ Image PyramidSM in an excellent blog post. The post raised questions about the role of Community imagery for radio brands and the impact the COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice movement may have on that role.

The Image Pyramid is a concept we use to help guide strategic brand-building for radio stations. Most important—as evidenced by it being the foundational layer of the Image Pyramid—is that the target audience understands your Base Music or Talk Position (for example, “the Hip Hop station” or “the Sports station”). From there, upper layers of the Image Pyramid can be thought of as brand depth, with Personality—having known and appreciated personalities who attract listening above and beyond what your Base Position alone would attract—being particularly important for many stations. At the top of the Image Pyramid is Community—being known for community involvement activities, such as raising money for a local charity or supporting local causes in other ways—and this is the layer discussed in Fred Jacobs’ blog last week.

Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

The Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

One of the many reasons why I feel fortunate for knowing Fred Jacobs for more than 25 years is that he and his colleagues are always questioning conventional wisdom and the status quo. That’s why we welcome this questioning of the current configuration of the Image Pyramid; our goal is to make sure it continues to be a tool for building the strongest brands possible. In fact, this isn’t the first time we have been down this road; in 2015, Fred and I collaborated on a blog on the evolution of the Image Pyramid for the age of increased digital media consumption.

Before I address the specifics of Jacobs’ most recent blog, I think it’s important for everyone reading this to understand the purpose of the Image Pyramid. It’s not designed to represent a ranking of what listeners find most and least important in a radio station. Instead, it’s based on what we learn from research regarding which areas of image development contribute the most to building strong brands, which—when coupled with strong content execution—is the biggest factor in attracting listeners and generating long-term ratings success for radio stations. Community has been the smallest layer of the Image Pyramid not because it is unimportant, but because our experience has shown it to be less important than other dimensions in terms of driving listenership. Sure, listeners like that a radio station is a good steward in the community, but they don’t choose radio stations based on that criteria alone.

Conversely, Contests is prominent on the pyramid even though listeners often tell us that contests are not very important to them. We repeatedly see in strategic research that stations with strong imagery for Contests that complements their stronger images for their Base Music or Talk Position, Personality and Specialty Programming tend to enjoy greater ratings success than those without Contest imagery.

The Image Pyramid as it currently stands represents our best thinking based on what we have observed about recent research results and radio station ratings. We have never shied away from updating it and it has changed since Jon Coleman initially developed it decades ago. For example, Specialty Programming has a more prominent role than it used to, and the Marketing layer did not exist in early incarnations of the pyramid.

So, do we have Community in the right place? We’re certainly giving that a lot of thought, as demonstrated by a blog we published right as we began feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In “How to Connect with Your Audience in a Crisis,” published on March 19th, we stated explicitly, “In times of crisis, Community surges to a higher level of importance on the Image Pyramid.”

Community has played an important role for many radio stations over the past few months through outreach initiatives. (Pictured: The KSHE/St. Louis Summer Blood Drive)

The big question, of course, is what happens when the crisis subsides, which we all hope will happen sooner rather than later. Will the pandemic, the social justice movement and—as Jacobs rightly pointed out in their blog post—the seemingly increased attention consumers are paying to where the brands they consume stand on important issues result in a permanent change on how much Community imagery has on the ratings performance of radio stations? Will stations that have increased their Community imagery during this crisis enjoy long-term increases in their ratings success or will those strengthened images have minimal impact after the pandemic is over?

The answer is that we don’t know yet. David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote a great Opinion piece this past Sunday in which he predicted—while admitting that he did not have the utmost confidence in his position—that the pandemic will be the most impactful event on our society since World War II and The Great Depression. At the same time, Leonhardt pointed out that, “The financial crisis of 2007-9 didn’t cause Americans to sour on stocks, and it didn’t lead to an overhaul of Wall Street. The election of the first Black president didn’t usher in an era of racial conciliation. The 9/11 attacks didn’t make Americans unwilling to fly. The Vietnam War didn’t bring an end to extended foreign wars without a clear mission.”

You have my assurance that Coleman Insights—working in concert with our clients, consultants like Fred Jacobs and other industry colleagues—will continue to track the changing factors in the ratings performances of radio stations, as we are continuously thinking about the way to help our radio clients build the very strongest brands. If Community’s place should be moved or if any other evolution of the Image Pyramid is warranted, we will make sure you are among the first to know.

The Musical Divide Between Trump and Biden Supporters

Tuesdays With Coleman

With the United States roughly six months away from its next presidential election, how similar or different are the most popular contemporary titles among the fans of the two major parties’ presumed nominees? In two words, the answer is “very different.”

In our final blog on the findings of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, we delve into findings we have yet to release regarding the relationship that exists between consumers’ political opinions and how they feel about contemporary music. In this time when common ground and bipartisanship can be hard to find, we observe similar differences when it comes to the contemporary music tastes of consumers.

Among consumers who have a positive opinion of President Donald Trump, Country reigns supreme—an overwhelming 50% of their Top 100 titles are Country songs. At 26%, Pop is the only other genre achieving a double-digit share of the Top 100 contemporary songs with Trump fans.

Musical tastes of those with positive opinions of President Trump and Joe Biden

The Top 100 songs among fans of former Vice President Joe Biden, however, look very different. They are led by Pop titles at 38%, followed closely by Hip Hop/R&B at 33%. Consumers with a positive opinion of Biden place a much smaller proportion of Country titles—10%—in their Top 100, which is interestingly almost the same amount as the 9% of Hip Hop/R&B titles than finish in the Top 100 with those who view Trump positively.

While these findings may be disconcerting for those who long for less division in American political discourse, our findings do provide a few rays of hope. For example, while the Trump fans’ selection of “Believer” by Imagine Dragons as their favorite among 2019’s most consumed songs is different from Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” as the choice among Biden fans, both of these titles finish among the top ten songs with both groups. Furthermore, there are three other songs—“Someone You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi, “The Middle” by Zedd & Maren Morris and “Can’t Stop The Feeling” by Justin Timberlake—that are among the top ten songs with Trump and Biden fans.

Perhaps the best example of bipartisanship, however, is that Trump and Biden fans have one clear thing in common: their hatred of “Baby Shark.” The Pinkfong song, which was the least popular title overall among 2019’s most consumed songs, was also the least popular with both groups.

Before we delve into our findings further, we should share more details about the political data in the study. We regarded fans of Biden and Trump as those who had “very positive” or “somewhat positive” opinions of each. Therefore, it is relevant to note that the research—conducted with 1,000 12- to 54-year-olds across the United States and Canada—was in the field between late January and early March, before Biden emerged as the clear front-runner in the race for the Democratic Party nomination and before the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects began impacting American and Canadian society. In our data, 41% of the respondents were Joe Biden fans; the corresponding figure for Donald Trump was 32%.

Not surprisingly, the differences we observe between the contemporary music tastes of fans of the two presidential candidates align with the differences we see when we break our respondents into groups based on their political leaning. Among the 39% of respondents who describe themselves as “liberal” or “moderate, who leans liberal,” Pop and Hip Hop/R&B titles make up a combined 68% of their Top 100 songs.

Music tastes of those leaning Liberal or Conservative

Those who describe themselves as “conservative” or “moderate, who leans conservative”—a group that comprises 28% of the sample—have a strong appetite for Country music, as 48% of their Top 100 titles are from this genre. Another 27% of their Top 100 consists of Pop titles.

At Coleman Insights, our expertise is focused on how people consume music and other forms of audio entertainment, so we are loathe to give out political advice. With that caveat, we believe there are some obvious lessons from Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 for the Biden and Trump campaigns, at least when it comes to the music that should accompany their candidates’ stage entrances at rallies (when and if those return) and be featured in their advertising efforts. No matter what, it should be an interesting race.