October 15, 2015

Every Song You Play Is A Marketing Decision

Coleman Insights recently introduced the FACT360 Strategic Music Test. FACT360 is online music testing done right through the latest sampling techniques and data collection capabilities, and includes the same benefits that Coleman Insights has provided through its FACT Strategic Music Tests for more than 20 years. These benefits help radio stations build the most appealing and strategically on-target libraries possible.

In the spirit of our launch of FACT360, we present the first in a series of five blogs authored by Coleman Insights executives covering important considerations about music testing and music strategy. This first blog is written by president/chief operating officer Warren Kurtzman and covers the most basic, but most important things he has learned about music testing after working alongside chief executive officer Jon Coleman.

When you work with someone for more than 20 years, you should learn a lot from that person. I’ve enjoyed such a relationship with Jon Coleman, from whom I’ve learned enough things to fill hundreds of blog posts. Today, however, I will focus on one of my favorite Jon Coleman statements, “Every song you play is a marketing decision.”

What does Jon mean by that? He means that the decisions about whether or not to play a song and how frequently to expose a song should be driven by a lot more than how appealing that song is to your station’s listeners. It’s why I believe the often-stated mantra of “play the hits” fails to do justice to the complex decision-making process that highly strategic radio programmers employ when it comes to selecting and scheduling music. Radio stations shouldn’t simply “play the hits,” they should play the right hits.

To be right for your station, a song should absolutely be popular among and familiar to your target audience. It should also, however, reinforce the brand essence of your station or at least the essence of the brand you’re trying to build. For example, many listeners in the target audience of a contemporary Hip Hop station may love to listen to R&B throwbacks on occasion, but if the station plays—for example—“Come & Talk To Me” by Jodeci, will it cloud its audience’s understanding of what the station is all about? Similarly, if a Hot AC station has built its brand on “picking you up and making you feel good,” will exposure of too many downtempo ballads in its music mix undermine why its listeners use the station in the first place?

This does not mean that stations should never defy audience expectations. However, the degree to which you do this and how far you stray from what your brand stands for should be guided by the strength of your music position. If your station’s music position is strong, you have more leeway to stick your neck out on a popular song. If your music position is still a work-in-progress, it’s vitally important to stick to songs that will help you develop the brand essence you seek.

The songs you choose to play shouldn’t be on your station just because your listeners like them. They make a statement; they tell the audience—along with all of the positioning and imaging efforts you employ—what your station is all about and what it stands for. The next time you’re implementing music testing results and struggling with the decision about whether to play a title that tests well but doesn’t “feel right,” think about it like a marketer. Forget “play the hits”; instead, channel your inner Jon Coleman and keep in mind that “every song you play is a marketing decision.”

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