There’s nothing more sobering than watching a focus group of your radio station’s listeners talking about your beloved product. You might watch in horror as they:
- Refer to your station by its previous brand name;
- Are unable to name any of the people on your year-old morning show;
- Are certain your station plays 70s music, even though it evolved and stopped playing 70s music three years ago.
Why are listeners—the real-life consumers of your radio station who are responsible for your brand’s success and your very livelihood—not aware of changes that seem so obvious to you?
Because they aren’t paying close attention.
Sounds harsh, I know. But the reality is that listeners have busy lives that are full of distractions, and your radio station isn’t getting their full undivided attention. They’re not listening all the time, and even when they are listening, they’re not soaking in every little thing that they hear and they’re not totally discerning what they heard on your station from what they heard on another station. It’s all a blur.
Because listeners aren’t paying close attention, messages need to be delivered clearly and often—especially when you are attempting to develop an image.
Images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, slow to erode.
Let’s take that music example from earlier. Say your Classic Hits station no longer plays 70s music and has added a lot of 80s music. You assume, because you dramatically decreased the percentage of 70s music and increased the percentage of 80s music, that listeners will pick up on it.
But just playing the music isn’t enough. You need to clearly and repeatedly tell listeners about it. Remember, images are like icebergs. The audience may be slow to forget that you play 70s music and slow to learn that you play 80s music. No one is keeping track of which songs they hear on your station versus which songs they hear on your competitors. If you fail to educate them about your music changes, then you could get hit with the double whammy of (a) not fully satisfying those who are tuning in to get 70s music while (b) not attracting those who love 80s music.
This is why marketing strategy and programming strategy must work hand in hand. We need marketing plans that help us align listeners’ expectations with our well-thought-out programming plans.
By the way, it’s not just radio. Images are like icebergs in other industries as well.
- Remember how annoyed people were when MTV phased out music videos? That came from programming that was evolving faster than expectations.
- Arby’s has been working really hard to teach us that it sells more than just roast beef.
Donutsis hoping to expand the image of its brand by shrinking its name.
So, for every image you’re looking to build or erode, have:
- A proper assessment of tastes, expectations, the competitive lay of the land and your available resources. Is there a path to get to where you want to go, and is it a lot better than where you are now?
- A marketing strategy in place for how to communicate your changes clearly, with the proper weight and to the right audience.
- A strong stomach for how long it is going to take.
After all, images are like icebergs.