As we at Coleman Insights have learned from years of radio research, a station’s brand is vital to its success. Coleman Insights’ Brand Content MatrixSM illustrates our belief that the success of great radio stations is the result of two dimensions. First, the station’s brand strength—its top of mind awareness and perception. Second, its in-the-moment content strength—a function of how compelling the content is. The Brand Content Matrix shows the most successful radio stations marry high-quality content with a well-established brand.
The content we program should fit with the brand we’ve established or are trying to establish. For example, a Classic Rock station with a harder edge should consider whether playing Fleetwood Mac, even if it tests, fits the brand. The development of a station’s brand—and making sure the brand is considered in decisions from programming to marketing—plays a very important role in a station’s continued success.
The cable TV world, where I spent a good chunk of my career, understands this. However, a cable network, especially one with a carefully and well established brand, also concerns itself with the ads it airs. That is, if it wants to maintain its brand integrity with its audience, the brand’s objectives must be woven through advertising as well as content. Commercials have to make sense in a viewers’ experience or a viewer might, literally or figuratively, walk away. With the advent of minute-by-minute Nielsen measurement and new platforms for measuring viewer engagement, ad content fit has become part of the network brand equation. This is especially true for custom ad content, like sponsorships and integrations. Networks want to be sure that ad content flows with carefully selected programming content and doesn’t provide a misguided “jolt” that disrupts the viewing experience. Yet in radio, we don’t always take that approach.
In the radio world, we also talk about “fit”, but that addresses programming elements like music and personalities. It is rarely viewed in the context of whether advertising makes sense on a station. We don’t often concern ourselves with how well an ad integrates into the listener experience. After all, an ad is an ad, and stations need ads to survive, and people are used to hearing ads, so why make any changes?
PPM tells us that “in the moment” listenership diminishes during ad breaks (though, as we found in our 2011 and 2006 studies, not as much as the industry believes). When stations strive to provide their listeners with a seamless content-to-ad experience, they can cut down on this disengagement even further. Listeners shouldn’t get the aforementioned jolt when an ad break starts, cueing them to tune out either literally or figuratively. An advertisement won’t always sound exactly like a station’s regular programming, but if an ad makes sense within the framework of the station, it will likely maintain audience engagement while it plays. More engaged listening can lead to both a more engaged audience and better advertiser ROI.
The question, then, is how best to provide a listener with an experience that is as seamless as possible. One suggested method is through localization.
When a station’s hosts, who are already known quantities to their listeners, read ad copy that is customized for the station and its metro area, listeners connect it directly to the station’s content. The voices they hear are familiar, and listeners think of a station’s host as local. Therefore, the ads make geographic sense. Using a station’s talent is also great for business. Recent studies, like one from the USC Annenberg School of Communications and another commissioned by Cumulus Media, tell us that using familiar personalities in radio ads increases purchase consideration or purchase itself, and that familiar personalities influence listeners’ opinions.
Another method would be making sure the products advertised—and the style in which they’re advertised—make sense for a station’s brand. For example, a car dealership commercial featuring a country song might feel jarringly out of place on an Urban AC. You might not want a Motley Crue music bed under a spot on a Mainstream AC station, just as hearing John Legend could be confusing on an Active Rock outlet. If your station is perceived as “family-friendly”, are there clients with edgy spot content you need to turn away or spots you should at least daypart? Is the production quality to the station’s standards or will it reflect poorly on the product?
Not every solution will work for every station. Programmers who are fortunate to have the advantage of research—especially perceptual research—can glean a better understanding of what their brand stands for. Understanding what your brand means to your audience and the broader marketplace can empower you to view the product from every angle. This level of strategic knowledge allows savvy programmers to consider every song and piece of content. Sharing these brand insights and working collaboratively with the sales leadership at the radio station can help ensure that your station’s listening experience continues to engage your audience even when your programming is on a break.