Author: Warren Kurtzman

What Content Creators Can Learn from Welcome to Wrexham

Like many Americans, I love sports. Unlike many Americans, I love soccer, particularly the football played in Europe. I am up early on weekend mornings to watch English Premier League matches and I regularly gather with supporters of my beloved Tottenham Hotspur to watch our side play in a local pub.

As a result, when there’s content about English soccer available for me to consume, I usually do so. Most Americans will not, however, because the inherent appeal of soccer in my country is limited.

That thinking has been flipped on its head by the success of Welcome to Wrexham, the FX series about a soccer club from the small city of Wrexham in Wales. The series will debut its third season on May 2nd, and it is widely expected to be renewed for a fourth season.

Welcome to Wrexham

For the uninitiated, soccer in most countries outside of North America is organized into levels, with teams being promoted and relegated from one level to another based on their performances each season. Think of it like a minor league baseball team such as the Durham Bulls or the Toledo Mud Hens getting promoted to play Major League Baseball or the New York Yankees being relegated to the minor leagues.

Welcome to Wrexham documents the incredible story of a soccer club from a small, working-class city that had seen better days. The club, which was formed in 1864 and is the third oldest professional association soccer club in the world, was on the brink of financial disaster before it was purchased by two Hollywood actors, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. For 15 years, Wrexham FC was languishing in the National League, the fifth tier of the English football system, one step below the top four leagues widely thought of as the professional levels of English football.

This past weekend, Wrexham clinched their second consecutive promotion and will be making the jump to the third tier of English football next season, after being promoted from the National League to the fourth tier the previous season. It is an amazing sports story.

But it is still just a sports story. And, for many of you reading this, likely not something you will find interesting unless you are a soccer fan. So, how has this television series succeeded in attracting a sizeable audience?

Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney on a Wrexham AFC bus parade (Credit: WXM Photography/Shutterstock)

Coleman Insights customers and regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Image Pyramid, a core philosophy that governs the research and strategic advice we provide to our clients. Originally developed for radio stations, the Image Pyramid applies to most products and services because it emphasizes how brands that are multi-dimensional attract more users than those perceived as offering little more than their core purpose.

Welcome to Wrexham works because it is more than just a show about a soccer team. It is also about the people of Wrexham—everyone from the owner of the pub adjacent to their stadium to the 226 men who lost their lives in a 1934 mining disaster to the teenage fan with autism and her special bond with the team’s top player, whose son is also autistic—and the impact the club’s ups and downs have had on their city. When you add the presences of Reynolds and McElhenney, the people they have hired to drive the club’s transformation, and Ryan and Rob’s celebrity friends, you have a show that has a deep texture that appeals to many people beyond hardcore soccer fans like me. (My wife, who likes soccer but is not the kind of fan who would watch any show about the sport, has watched every one of the 33 episodes that made up the first two seasons of Welcome to Wrexham.) The show’s Image Pyramid is also wrapped in a brand essence that is funny, warm, and—as my wife points out—full of hope.

If you oversee an audio brand or create audio content, Welcome to Wrexham provides valuable lessons about how to maximize your audience. While it is vital that consumers have a clear understanding of the core of your content (a Classic Rock station, a podcast about Italian cooking, a streaming channel dedicated to exposing music from new R&B artists, etc.), if that is all they think of your brand, it is unlikely consumers will become loyal users. Welcome to Wrexham is a show about so much more than a soccer club; make your radio station, podcast, or stream mean more to your audience than just its basic premise and you will be rewarded like the fans of Wrexham FC have.

 

 

 

Why You Should Get to Know Wade Kingsley – Part 2

Last week I wrote about my admiration for Wade Kingsley, the Australian-based consultant from whom I’ve learned a great deal in the short time I’ve known him. Most of last week’s piece discussed creating future demand versus harvesting existing demand, terminology that comes from the Masters of Advertising Effectiveness course offered by the World Advertising Research Center, which Wade has completed and highly recommends to others.

Even if you follow Wade’s recommendation to focus more on creating future demand versus harvesting existing demand and you design your marketing campaigns with plans that cover paid media, owned media, and earned media, you’re not necessarily maximizing your campaigns’ impact. Wade argues that if your campaigns don’t connect with consumers on an emotional level—and “get people to fall in love with the thing,” as I quoted him last week—you may not see the results you want.

That’s why for this week, in part 2 of my thoughts on why you should get to know Wade, I will focus on what he is especially passionate about: creativity. Without creativity, it’s extremely hard to make an emotional connection with others through marketing.

Wade Kingsley The Ideas Business

The Ideas Business Founder Wade Kingsley

Creativity can be a funny thing because many people don’t think they are creative. Wade recently shared with me a funny observation—whenever he is speaking to a group and asks people to raise their hands if they think they’re creative, one-third of the audience doesn’t do so, and this two-to-one ratio is consistent every time he asks the question. If you’re in that one-third, don’t despair, because Wade can point you to steps you can take to enhance your creativity.

First, everyone should dispel their beliefs about not being creative. Wade feels that everyone is creative; it’s just that some of us don’t give ourselves credit for the everyday acts of creativity we do. We may feel that being creative requires doing things like authoring a novel, playing a musical instrument, or hosting a radio show. The reality is that these things are applications of creativity and one’s ability to do them is no greater an indicator of being creative than—for example—your decision to add another vegetable to a meal you are cooking.

In other words, creativity “is a confidence game,” and the best way to be confident in your creativity is to be prepared to fail. Wade feels that many people working in audio have this confidence; they know that not every element of content they create or every promotion they do is going to be successful, but if a sizable number of these efforts resonate with consumers, they will win. You learn more things from when you fail than when you succeed, and if you’re willing to fail on occasion, your confidence to apply creative thinking to the challenges and opportunities you face will grow.

Another technique Wade endorses is to start small. Before musical superstars were performing in massive stadiums in front of tens of thousands of fans, most of them were performing in small clubs or rooms in their childhood homes in front of their families. You can test out creative ideas with audiences as small as one person whose opinions you trust. Wade says, “It’s about trying to minimize your risk, but it’s important to take a risk,” adding that “failure is critical to creativity.”

One last point about creativity is that its importance will only continue to grow, as the days of copying ideas that have been executed elsewhere are dwindling. Consumers have easy access to so much more content from so many more sources than they used to, making it difficult for you to connect with them emotionally by emulating ideas executed in other markets or countries. In other words, they’ve seen it all before, so you need to bring them something new or fresh to get them to love you.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t look elsewhere for inspiration. I think Wade summed this up perfectly for those of us in the audio entertainment business in our last conversation when he said, “If we can just accept that there is stuff to learn, as a starting point, no matter where you are in the world, and seek to learn it, and implement it, then that will make for a much healthier industry.” That’s a way of thinking that I can get behind and I am fortunate that I know someone like Wade Kingsley who espouses it.

 

 

 

Why You Should Get to Know Wade Kingsley – Part 1

I relish opportunities to meet new people, especially those with whom I have a common bond but who also expose me to innovative ideas and new ways of thinking. Thanks to having a mutual client, I’ve gotten to know Wade Kingsley over the past year, and I already believe every media professional can benefit from getting to know him.

For those unfamiliar with Wade, he spent 20 years in Australian radio and then left the day-to-day of the media business to start his own company, The Ideas Business. Wade’s company has a simple mission—to make the world a more creative place—and it pursues that in many ways, including consulting businesses on how to creatively solve problems.

We share a passion for helping clients market themselves more effectively, and what I really like about Wade is that he is a creative person who bases his advice on data. I have learned so much from Wade that I am going to use this week’s and next week’s edition of Tuesdays With Coleman to highlight key takeaways from my conversations with Wade.

Wade Kingsley The Ideas Business

Wade Kingsley, Founder/The Ideas Business

That Wade is a kindred spirit is affirmed for me when he describes the idea of harvesting existing demand versus creating future demand. This is not a new concept for me—my colleagues and I regularly encourage clients to think about how to use marketing for long-term brand building and not just for short-term listening activation, perhaps best exemplified by Sam Milkman’s “The Urgency of Brand Building: A Conversation with Pierre Bouvard” blog post in January 2022—but Wade’s framing of the concept really resonates. Wade cites research from entities such as the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, the World Advertising Research Center, and the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, whose analysis of over 20,000 campaigns over 20 years supports devoting 60% of a brand’s marketing to creating future demand versus 40% for harvesting existing demand.

What does Wade mean by “creating future demand” for radio stations, podcasts, and streaming services? Wade advocates for marketing that gives consumers who don’t use (or don’t even know) your brand a reason for doing so. That may not cause them to start using your brand right away, but when they decide they need what you offer, the chance of them consuming your brand will be significantly greater if your marketing connects with them on an emotional level. Wade is hopeful that marketers in the audio space are coming around to “emotionally promoting their brands, rather than [in the case of radio stations] just rationally hitting people over the head with a frequency, a positioning statement, and a format. We need to get people to fall in love with the thing.”

Wade and I agree that the recent emphasis—especially by radio brands—on marketing to harvest existing demand has been problematic. (An example of this is targeting PPM panelists, as I described in “Stop Chasing Meters, Build A Brand” in November 2023.) In fact, on how this shift in emphasis coincided with the explosion of other audio entertainment options over the last decade, Wade commented, “If radio as an industry had been doing more of the creating future demand…perhaps radio wouldn’t be in its current state.”

You may agree with the points above about creating future demand but may also feel that it’s an impossible task given the limited marketing resources available to many audio brands. Wade, however, segments the marketing landscape in a way that may give those of you with limited resources hope.

When most people think of marketing, they focus on paid media, where they pay someone else to advertise their message. However, Wade likes to point his clients to two other forms of media that are crucial to successful marketing efforts. Owned media are platforms that they control but for which they don’t pay to carry their messages. Examples of these are their websites, apps, and social channels. Brands can also use earned media, which doesn’t cost money but which they don’t control. Earned media includes “traditional” PR efforts (i.e., local TV coverage of a station event) and getting others to share your content on social platforms.

Wade is a big advocate for mapping out your paid, owned, and earned media for every marketing effort. It’s not enough to have these plans, however; a good marketing campaign also requires creativity, and in next week’s blog I will share more of what I have learned from Wade about fostering creativity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

“Great piece! Thanks for this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Chasing Meters, Build a Brand

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

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

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

Problem solved, right? Unfortunately, it was not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demonstrate the Power of Audio Advertising With a Brand Lift Study

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

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

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

Ascend Brand Lift Study

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

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

Radio station microphone

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

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

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

 

 

Why You Need to Go to Radiodays North America in 2024

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

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

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

I am pleased to report that my fears were unfounded.

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

A packed session room at Radiodays North America

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Brands Need Research in the New Remote Reality

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

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

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

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

The remnants of Coleman Insights’ dismantled cubicles

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

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

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

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

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

Be Like “The New Voice Of Baseball”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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