Author: Warren Kurtzman

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.

Contemporary Music’s Report Card

Tuesdays With Coleman

While most students are out of school as the fight against COVID-19 continues, my Coleman Insights colleagues and I are preparing a report card. On Thursday, we will release the results of our Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, a test of the most-consumed songs in 2019 conducted with 1,000 respondents across the United States and Canada. (If you have yet to sign up for our free webinar when we will release our findings, you can do so here.)

As its name implies this is the second time we have conducted a Contemporary Music SuperStudy; roughly a year ago, we released the findings of our inaugural study in a keynote presentation at the Worldwide Radio Summit. That first edition of the study provided many important insights, including how Hip Hop/R&B had a sizeable fanbase but generated highly polarized responses from consumers, that Pop titles performed best overall and were popular among fans of other genres and how Country fared much better with daily radio listeners than with daily streaming listeners. We also reported fun facts, including how “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars was not only the most popular song of 2018 (even though it was released in 2014), but it also was rated highest by supporters and detractors of Donald Trump.

Warren Kurtzman delivering the Contemporary Music SuperStudy at Worldwide Radio Summit

Here’s me delivering the inaugural Contemporary Music SuperStudy results at 2019’s Worldwide Radio Summit (in front of an actual live audience!)

Why are we doing this again? Perhaps the most common questions clients ask us are about trends in the tastes of audio entertainment consumers, especially when it comes to music. “What’s the next big sound?” “Is Country making a comeback?” “Are Pop fans more or less accepting of Hip Hop than they used to be?” “Does Dance/Electronic music have staying power?” While we are fortunate to see enough research prepared for radio stations, streaming services, etc. to be able to answer these questions with a high level of confidence, replicating the Contemporary SuperStudy gives us the opportunity to do so with an even greater level of objectivity and from a broader vantage point than studies conducted for individual clients provide. Comparing how a representative sample of Americans and Canadians responds to some of the most-consumed songs of 2019 to how they did so with the songs they consumed the most in 2018 will provide deep insights into how contemporary music tastes are changing.

The key to this, of course, is taking a very consistent approach with how we complete the Contemporary Music SuperStudy each year. We not only use the same research methodology (utilizing the platform we use for the FACT360SM Strategic Music Tests we complete for radio stations) and the same sample design, we follow a consistent set of rules for building the list of songs we test. Our partners at MRC Data/BDSradio provide us with data detailing the most consumed songs via radio airplay, streaming and sales over the course of the previous year. 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 so that each of the major genres that make up the world of contemporary music receive adequate representation.

In our webinar this Thursday and through subsequent Tuesdays With Coleman blog posts and social media posts, we will share a wide array insights from the Contemporary Music SuperStudy. Some will consist of fun facts, such as the best- and worst-testing titles overall. I can reveal to you now that Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was last year’s most consumed song via on-demand streaming and sales according to MRC Data/BDSradio, while Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” ruled the roost in radio airplay. Will either of those titles finish at the top? In a similar vein, Post Malone has ten titles in this year’s study, more than any other artist. Which Post Malone title do consumers like the most?

Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" was 2019's most-consumed song via on-demand streaming and sales

Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was 2019’s most consumed song via on-demand streaming and sales according to MRC Data/BDSradio

More importantly, some of the findings we release will update important findings from last year’s study. For example, last year we revealed that the Pop genre outperformed Hip Hop/R&B, Country, Alternative/Rock, Dance/Electronic and Latin. Will that be the case this year and will any sounds experience significant improvements or declines? We will also share with you how genre performances vary by a wide array of factors, including gender, age, ethnicity, geography and audio platform usage.

You can probably tell by now that I am excited for releasing our latest report card on contemporary music. (Probably not as excited as those of you with kids at home are about the prospect of schools reopening, but my colleagues and I are really looking forward to sharing our insights with you!) After all, music tastes change; that’s why we track them.

I hope you can join us for Thursday’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy webinar.

COVID-19 Lessons from Superstorm Sandy

Tuesdays With Coleman

I grew up in Island Park, New York, a very small island town in one of the bays off Long Island’s south shore. When Superstorm Sandy struck the Northeast in the fall of 2012, my little hometown—where my parents still live in the home they raised my sister and I in—was devastated.

Looking back, I can classify each of the roughly 3,000 homes in my hometown into four different groups. The first group was the small number of homes that suffered little damage. Group two included my parents’ house, which suffered considerable damage, but which was covered by flood insurance and eventually repaired. A third group consisted of severely damaged homes that required significant reinvestments by their owners to not only be habitable once again, but which required improvements to reduce the risk of being damaged again in future storms. The fourth group was the most upsetting; it included severely damaged homes owned by people who had insufficient insurance coverage and lacked the means to repair them. Many homeowners in this fourth group were forced to sell their damaged homes at steep discounts, and some of their homes remain uninhabitable today.

Warren Kurtzman's dad in front of a flooded playground during Superstorm Sandy

Here’s my dad standing in front of the flooded schoolyard where I made my Little League debut.

It struck me this week that there are clear parallels between what my hometown went through as a result of Sandy and the financial challenges so many radio stations are facing as advertisers cut spending due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are some companies whose radio stations are predominately located in areas that have been minimally impacted by the pandemic and where businesses have not been ordered to close. As with the homes in my hometown, there are very few examples of this; the impact of the pandemic on the radio business has been severe and my Coleman Insights colleagues and I feel the pain that many of our clients are suffering.

A second group of companies have some degree of insurance against current conditions, much like how my parents didn’t skimp on the coverage they had on their home. Sure, their stations’ revenues have plummeted like many of their peers, but they are poised to emerge from the current crisis stronger than most because they have spent years investing in their people, conducting research, externally marketing their stations and connecting with their local communities. These broadcasters have a stable of strong brands that listeners are most likely to return to when their listening behavior more closely resembles what consumers were doing before the pandemic.

Group three is like the second group, but their commitment to building strong brands has been less consistent, with more voice-tracked air shifts, fielding research studies only when necessary, sporadic external marketing and unpaid interns handling community outreach. These broadcasters have, however, responded to the challenge of the pandemic by recognizing the important role they can play in their listeners’ lives during this crucial time and have dedicated their stations to being sources of important information and doing things like working with advertisers to help medical personnel and those who have lost their jobs during the crisis. Besides taking their commitment to serve their communities seriously, the managers at these stations are betting on the goodwill their efforts are generating to benefit them when some sense of normalcy returns.

By now, you know where I am going with the fourth group of stations. Few of the unfortunate people who worked for them have avoided being laid off, leaving the remaining staff members to cover multiple roles. Nearly round-the-clock automation has become the norm and all investments in the future—research, marketing, etc.—have not been put on hold, they have been cancelled. For those with cash burning holes in their pockets, many of these stations should be available at bargain prices in the not-too-distant future.

I recognize these are challenging times for many of you reading this. Much as we are facing at Coleman Insights, the damage to your businesses caused by the decline in economic activity during this crisis is severe, even if we successfully “flatten the curve” and get the economy moving again by the third quarter. Massive amounts of revenue have been lost and it is likely that the revenue will not only not be made up in the second half of the year, but that the second half of the year will feature less revenue than called for in everyone’s annual budgets.

For many, the initial—and very understandable—inclination in such an environment is to make as many cuts as possible. While some cuts are unavoidable, there is ample evidence that firms that invest in their businesses during economic downturns outperform their peers during times of recovery. Some quick reads I can recommend on the subject include a great piece from Fortune last September and an outstanding blog from my friend and former colleague Pierre Bouvard of Cumulus Media/Westwood One. Much as these pieces align with the efforts that many radio salespeople are making right now to convince advertisers of the need to keep spending or be prepared to spend in advance of their businesses reopening, radio stations need to follow the same advice and be ready to invest in people, research and marketing to the greatest extent possible so that their brands can thrive when the economy recovers. In other words, radio has an opportunity to set the example for its clients.

As nearly everyone in the audio entertainment space faces tough decisions about managing their businesses during this challenging time, we urge those making those decisions to learn from what we have learned during past downturns and from what my hometown learned from Superstorm Sandy. If your business hasn’t been severely damaged or if you’ve insured it as much as possible against the challenges presented by crises like these, congratulations. If, however, you are scrambling to figure out how to get through this period of unprecedented challenge, look past the next few weeks and focus on actions you can take—and investments you can make in your people and your brands—to emerge as strongly positioned as possible and better prepared to withstand the next storm on the horizon.

How to Connect With Your Audience in a Crisis

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

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

  • Recognize unusual times call for unusual measures.

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

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

Understand the need your brand fulfills.

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

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

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

  • Recognize that listening patterns are likely in significant flux.

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

Reduced commuting will have a significant effect on listening patterns

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

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

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

  • Provide increased authentic and actionable listener engagement.

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

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

Anthony Fauci is the director of the NIAID

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

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

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

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

  • Rally your community.

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

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

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

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

Here’s to Local Radio and Waffle House

The Power of Radio in Tough Times

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

We’re all in this together.

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

Outside Thinking Gives the XFL a Better Chance to Succeed

Tuesdays With Coleman

The North American sports landscape is littered with failed launches of major leagues to compete with the established players. In basketball, the ABA collapsed, and four remaining viable franchises joined the NBA in 1976. A similar thing happened in hockey three years later when the WHA failed in its effort to take on the NHL.

No sport, however, has seen as many failed professional major leagues as football, as the NFL has fended off competition from many upstarts, including the WFL in the 70s, the USFL (featuring Donald Trump as a franchise owner) in the 80s, the UFL roughly a decade ago and the very recent AAF, which was shut down after eight weeks of play in 2019.

When Vince McMahon, best known for his leadership of World Wrestling Entertainment, announced his intention to launch the XFL, many rolled their eyes in anticipation of the next major football league failure. (Full disclosure: My wife, pictured here with wrestling legend Hulk Hogan, worked in sales marketing for what was then known as the WWF 30 years ago.) Increasing the skepticism of many was the fact that McMahon launched and failed with a previous incarnation of the XFL in 2001.

Sharon Kurtzman and Hulk Hogan of the WWF

Yet, here we are four weeks into the inaugural season of this new incarnation of the XFL and—while it is far from a runaway success—there are numerous signs that the league is off to a good start. Television ratings, which provide a quick, early read, reveal that the games are attracting roughly two million viewers each on the major broadcast networks and about half that on cable networks. These audiences are comparable in size to college and NBA basketball games that have aired nationally in recent weeks. Not surprisingly, ratings—as well as game attendance—have declined since the opening week, but they remain decent. Furthermore, the XFL is generally receiving coverage from the sports media as a credible entity and even the often toxic world of social media is not rife with posts and tweets criticizing the league.

XFL New York Guardians opening day against the Tampa Bay Vipers

Before I outline the positive moves the league has made, let me take you back to 2001 and the first version of the XFL. It featured tons of WWE-style “attitude” and cast itself as a macho, hardnosed alternative to the NFL (which XFL executives derided as “the No Fun League”) and its recently-initiated rule changes designed to enhance player safety and promote greater sportsmanship. The XFL celebrated the violent, in-your-face side of football and threw in sexy cheerleaders as a bonus. It was created by people reacting to anecdotal negative comments they were hearing from football fans, and as a result, these people vastly underestimated the strength of the NFL and miscalculated what fans wanted out of football. In other words, the first incarnation of the XFL was a classic case of Inside Thinking, with its backers rolling out a strategy based on what they believed the public thought of the NFL and they craved as an alternative.

Today, however, McMahon and company seem to have learned from their previous failure. They are acting like Outside Thinkers, viewing the potential opportunity for another professional league from the perspective of the fans.

What has the XFL gotten right?

  1. They conducted research. XFL executives have been open about the fact that they took the time to ask football fans what they were seeking in another football league and they learned that the quality of the play was more important than the attitude, violence or sexy cheerleaders the first version of the XFL delivered.
  2. They invested in the product. Based on what it learned in the research and knowing it would be working with a lower caliber of players than the NFL, the XFL had more than 1,000 players converge in Houston for 18 days of intensive training camps before the season began. Having the camps for all eight XFL franchises in the same city allowed for greater quality control, improving the chances that each team would put its best foot forward when the season began.
  3. They took care of distribution. All XFL games are airing on major television networks, with weekly games on ABC and FOX and remaining games on their ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 and FS2 cable networks. The league is also offering a streaming video option via fuboTV.
  4. They didn’t directly challenge the dominant player. The XFL season started immediately after the NFL season and, perhaps more importantly, the league did not repeat its earlier mistake and waste energy on bashing the NFL. Instead, the league is trying to ride the coattails of the dominant player and get the most passionate football fans to keep following the sport after the NFL season ends.
  5. They innovated appropriately. Part of what is capturing fans’ interest are the differences between the XFL and the NFL. This includes subtle things like the broadcasting of play-calling by the coaches, in-game sideline interviews with players and embracing gambling. It also includes bigger rules changes, such as the XFL’s attempt to bring back excitement to kickoffs without risking player safety and the options for one-, two- and three-point conversions after touchdowns.

One can argue that the first incarnation of the XFL only did one of the five items above, as it was a joint venture with NBC, which aired its games during primetime.

Will the XFL survive? I honestly do not know, but its embrace of Outside Thinking makes me believe its chances of being around five years from now are infinitely better than any of its predecessors.

 

Doing Well by Doing Good

Tuesdays With Coleman

A common theme in this blog is how brands should learn as much as possible about what its consumers expect from them and—if those expectations are in line with what those consumers want—deliver on those expectations as often as possible. I like to think that we’ve done that since launching Tuesdays With Coleman more than two years ago. The audio entertainment industry professionals who come to our blog expect us to deliver insights into trends in marketing, branding and the consumption of radio, podcasts, music and streaming audio.

For our last installment of Tuesdays With Coleman in 2019, however, I am going off-brand to discuss something very different: corporate responsibility. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, there is little denying the polarized nature of our society and the increasing difficulty with which governments—here in the United States and elsewhere around the globe—can get things done and improve the lives of their citizens. It is easy to sit back and lament that fact by complaining on social media and blaming others for this predicament; the hard work is doing something to help communities and the needy.

In August 2018, Coleman Insights announced that it was joining Pledge 1%, a global movement by companies to integrate giving into their DNA. Specifically, we pledged to donate 1% of our profits, 1% of our employees’ time and 1% of our services to community and charitable organizations. Since we started this initiative, we have donated thousands of dollars and our employees have given hundreds of hours to a wide array of organizations that help people in need and make our communities stronger. We even delivered a research project on a pro bono basis to a college radio station so that the students could get “real world” exposure to the process before pursuing careers in media. To learn more about our Pledge 1% efforts, I encourage you to visit the page devoted to them on our website.

Coleman Insights employees volunteered at a food pantry as part of its Pledge 1% initiative

Coleman Insights employees recently volunteered at a local food pantry

I was inspired to send our company in this direction by Marc Benioff, the chairman and co-CEO of Salesforce. Coleman Insights uses Salesforce to drive many of our business operations, and while the decision to use their products and services was initially made because of the value we thought they would deliver to our business, we are incredibly loyal to Salesforce and continue to increase our investment because of the company’s commitment to giving back. Marc wrote about this in an excellent New York Times Opinion piece in October, and even if you do not agree with his politics, I challenge you to not admire the man for his commitment to philanthropy and equality for all.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff commits the company to donate one percent each of time, profit and product to charitable causes

Much like how Marc writes about how companies can be more successful by engaging in activities that help their communities and by providing equal opportunities for their employees, we are feeling the same kind of impact at Coleman Insights. Thanks to a solid economy and strong commitments to research-based strategies by our clients, I am happy to report that we have achieved strong financial results while also taking our Pledge 1% game to a high level. In other words, we are doing well while also doing good.

Why am I making this the subject of our last blog of the decade? Please be assured it is not to pat us on the back; instead, I have two goals. First, I want you, our readers (and many of whom are our customers) to know as much about us and our values as possible. If working with a company that is committed to giving to those in need is important to you, I hope we can enjoy a productive business relationship in the future. Second, and far more important, I urge you and the companies you work for to take a close, hard look at Pledge 1% or other models of giving to the communities you serve. If we all spent a little less time fighting over how to help people and improve society and more time doing the work required to make things better, the 2020s will be a little brighter than the 2010s.

On behalf of everyone at Coleman Insights, I wish you a happy holiday season and a safe, healthy and peaceful New Year. Tuesdays With Coleman will return on January 7th with our “regularly scheduled programming!”

Content Repeating Is Not Content Creation

Tuesdays With Coleman

I treasure all Coleman Insights clients, but a specific client of ours holds a special place in my heart. This client is a stand-alone FM music station in a small market that more than holds its own against multi-station clusters owned by some of the biggest groups in American radio. It would be nice to claim that their success is due to their commitment to research—despite their status as a stand-alone in a market outside of the Top 100, they do a Plan Developer strategic study or a FACT360 Strategic Music Test every year—but their consistent commitment to maintaining their station’s strong brand and delivering content designed to be as appealing as possible to their audience should be equally recognized. They also deserve credit for their long-term retention of one of the best programming consultants in the business.

This client’s passion for delivering great content resulted in an email exchange between the general manager, the consultant and me that highlighted a point that I don’t think can be reiterated too often: Radio programmers should not confuse content repeating with content creation. If they do, I fear their stations will become less relevant in the increasing competitive audio consumption landscape.

The exchange centered around how the station’s morning host handled contestant Blair Davis’s hilarious introduction of himself on a recent episode of Wheel of Fortune. Davis told host Pat Sajak about his “loveless marriage,” described “his old battle-axe” of a wife and claimed to have been “cursed” by having three stepchildren. It was a funny joke that Davis and his family were in on and the clip of his appearance went viral immediately.

Our client was thrilled that his morning host was on top of this viral sensation; I, unfortunately, had to play the role of wet blanket. The problem wasn’t the topic itself—it was timely and relevant. The issue was with how it was presented. Rather than generating fresh content based on the story, the host instead did little more than playing the audio from Wheel of Fortune, which many of the station’s listeners may have already heard or could easily find on their social media feeds. Sure, radio personalities should talk about things that are happening in pop culture, but if all they do is repeat content that was created elsewhere—or at least do not do something to add to that content—radio will be in trouble.

What could a radio personality do with content like the Wheel of Fortune introduction? Examples include having listeners call in and do their own version of a Blair Davis-style introduction. Or how about if a morning show did a bit with celebrity impressions where famous people did their own introductions using the Blair Davis approach? I am sure people who are more creatively inclined can come up with better ideas than mine, but the point that you should take away from this is that radio can’t be in the content repeating business and must be in the content creation business. The latter is a lot harder, but I believe it is essential for radio to continue to thrive.

In our research, we continue to see that music stations seen first for the music they play (the Base Music Position layer of their Image Pyramid) are the ones that tend to have the strongest ratings in the long run.

We also continue to see that stations that are perceived as more than “jukeboxes”—in that they have developed the upper layers on their Image Pyramids—engender greater loyalty from their listeners and therefore also enjoy greater ratings success. This development of additional imagery beyond their Base Music Positions is even more important today, as consumers have so many options for listening to their favorite music wherever they are. That’s why music stations have to create and not just repeat nonmusical content. The industry’s goal should be to get other media platforms to repeat the content radio stations create.

Too Many Messages!

Tuesdays With Coleman

Regular readers of Tuesdays With Coleman and loyal Coleman Insights clients know of our affinity for Outside Thinking, the ability to look at any business, product or service from the perspective of its customers or users. Furthermore, those of you who have listened to my colleagues and I espouse on Outside Thinking know that understanding the obstacles that often prevent businesses from communicating what they stand for and offer is vitally important. One of those obstacles is the concept of “Too Many Messages.” When brands—through their product, advertising and other communication efforts—communicate multiple messages about what they stand for, the result is a lack of consistency in the messages that get through to consumers.

A few years ago, my colleague Sam Milkman ran into this guy:

This t-shirt has too many messages on it

Even though Sam didn’t know him, he begged him to let him take his picture. Why? Because the radio station t-shirt he is wearing is one of the best examples of violating the Too Many Messages rule we’ve ever seen. The shirt inundates anyone who sees it with at least three major things it wants you to know about the Magic 101.7 brand: (1) it plays “Continuous Lite Rock,” (2) it features John Carter’s morning show and (3) it offers “the no-repeat workday.”

The point here is that this guy in the t-shirt could have walked past many people the day he wore it, and if we polled those people afterwards, each of them would have taken away different perceptions about Magic 101.7. Some would just remember the brand name, some would recall the kind of music the station plays, some would retain John Carter’s name and some would think about the station’s no-repeat workday feature. Very few of them would retain all four messages and the overall population of people exposed to the shirt would remember inconsistent mash-ups of the various messages.

Despite our efforts to discourage breaking the Too Many Messages rule, we see radio stations and other businesses do it all the time. Why? We can chalk up some of it to human nature; when advertising budgets are tight and you get that rare opportunity to tell consumers about your business, you want to tell them as much about it as you can. However, I think it mostly happens due to a lack of strategic thinking and understanding of how consumers’ brains process information. It probably also happens because some people just don’t buy into the Too Many Messages rule. I’m sure the Inside Thinker who designed the t-shirt above concluded that it wasn’t too complicated and that consumers would “get it.”

Fortunately, we have proof that consumers don’t get it via recent research from Millward Brown, a subsidiary of Kantar, the global research behemoth. Millward Brown’s specialty is measuring the effectiveness of advertising and they offer their clients a service called Link™, which measures how consumers respond to advertising copy across many dimensions.

Using Link, Millward Brown was able to determine how well ads featuring multiple messages manage to get any single message through to the consumer. As the accompanying graph reveals, not very well. Even by adding a second message to an ad, the likelihood that consumers take away either of them drops from 100% for a single-message ad to only 65%. By the time fourth messages are added to ads, the best likelihood of a message getting through to consumers drops to 43%.

The more messages you try to communicate the lower the likelihood of communicating any single message

What does this mean for your business? It means that you should focus on the most strategically-important message to get across to your target audience to the greatest extent possible. If you’re in radio, this should flow from knowledge you have on the state of your station’s Image Pyramid and which layer is most in need of development. If your music position needs development, focus your advertising solely on the music you play and resist also promoting your morning show or another benefit listening to your station offers.

If you’re trying to grow the audience for a podcast and you believe—as most research in the podcasting space has confirmed thus far—that there’s a large untapped audience consisting of people who aren’t aware of your podcast, keep the message focused on the “elevator pitch” for your podcast and don’t spend a lot of time explaining all of content elements of the show. If you own a hot dog stand that recently expanded its menu to include bratwurst, don’t advertise the addition of bratwurst until you know that your image for hot dogs is strong enough to support the development of imagery for other items on your menu.

I should stress that this applies well beyond what you do with your advertising, especially if you are in radio. Think about the messages your listeners are exposed to when they tune in to your station. Are they focused on helping your station develop the one image that is the next step in the construction of your Image Pyramid, or do they hear a music image promo in one break, followed by a promo for your morning show in another break, followed by another break in which your air personality encourages listeners to visit him at the station’s tent at the upcoming community festival downtown?

When he portrayed Curly in the classic 1991 movie “City Slickers,” I doubt Jack Palance thought his “secret of life” would apply to the “Too Many Messages” rule. My take? Nearly 30 years later, Curly’s recipe provides good marketing advice: