Tag Archives: branding

Brand Like Your Life or (Liquid) Death Depends on It

Tuesdays With Coleman

You are always thinking of ways to get more listeners. How to best promote your talent. Which contests to run. How to make your brand “sticky”. We often see in our research that sticky brands–brands that do memorable things and become top of mind for those attributes–are more likely to grow their audience.

You can generate lasting, memorable images of your brand with great brand marketing. And the best part? Much of the brand marketing you can do to build those images is free or low-cost. The imaging on a radio station. The cover art you choose for your podcast. The name of a streaming channel. The home page on your website. These are not just opportunities to promote your brand, they are opportunities to build your brand.

Every piece of imaging you produce, every video you record, every photo you release, every blog you write should go through your brand filter. Does this support my brand and will it build my brand?

Enter Liquid Death Mountain Water.

Liquid Death Mountain Water

At liquiddeath.com, you’ll see:

  • A memorable, in-your-face positioning statement: “Murder Your Thirst”.
  • The “Contact Us” button is labeled “Summon Us”.
  • Their rewards program allows you to “Earn Skulls”.
  • There’s a blue button on the top right that says “HELL YES”. I didn’t know what the hell it was, but I had to find out.
  • And….

I’m not going to leave out the best part: the Killer Baby Namer. Enter your last name, gender (or select the “death to gender” option), pick from a list of hilarious desired occupations for your child, and you’ll discover your baby’s name. (If I was going to have another kid, Rock Murderdome Nachlis sounds pretty sweet). Scroll down, and you’ll see that the company will send you an 18-year supply of Liquid Death if you upload a copy of the birth certificate with their killer baby name.

This brand knows exactly who and what it is, and you can only imagine how much fun they had putting this together.

What if your audio brand barreled in with this kind of chutzpah on the website? What brand-building game could you put on your site that’s not “Enter your name and listen for it?” How would you relabel your navigation tabs? What fun outfits could your talent wear in photo shoots?  What memorable hashtags (like Liquid Death’s #DeathToPlastic) could you come up with?

Read the “About” page and check out their description of unnecessary things (“Jumping over 14 Greyhound buses on a vintage motorcycle”, “Cat videos”) and necessary things (“Breathing”, “Colonoscopies”).

This makes me want to write a promo right this second.

To be clear, your brand may be (and probably is) way less “aggressive” than Liquid Death. The lesson here isn’t to be like Liquid Death. It’s to be your brand and all the essence that goes with it. Be your brand bigger, better and stickier. And maybe, just maybe a little more fun. Couldn’t we all use a little more of that right now?

Liquid Death doesn’t have the advantage of having been around long. Liquid Death doesn’t have a 100,000 watt transmitter. You can’t tell Alexa to play Liquid Death. Liquid Death doesn’t have an app, or a roster of amazing talent that have cemented a bond with its listeners.

But you might have one or two of those things. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to have all of them.

Now brand like your life or Liquid Death depends on it.

Early Observations of Apple Music Radio

Tuesdays With Coleman

As many of you may already know, Apple Music revamped its live global radio offerings three weeks ago. Its flagship station Beats 1 was renamed Apple Music 1, and it debuted two new stations: Apple Music Hits and Apple Music Country.

Apple Music Radio

In her recent column, “Spotify and Apple Music Disagree on the Future of Radio. Who’s Right?,” Cherie Hu observes that while Spotify seems to be all-in on on-demand, Apple Music is “leaning more, not less, into linear radio experiences than ever.”

To be clear, “linear” means a shared experience for all listeners at that moment. You tune in from London at 2 PM local time, I tune in from Raleigh at 9 AM local time, and we hear the exact same thing. It’s live and there’s no skipping ahead. Just like listening to your favorite local radio station…except for the “local” part…and a few other things…

Traditional Format Lanes

For the most part, Apple Music has positioned its three live radio stations in traditional format lanes:

  • Apple Music 1 (“The new music that matters”) is their Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) station.
  • Apple Music Hits (“Songs you know and love”) is their 80s/90s/2000s Classic Hits station.
  • Apple Music Country (“Where it sounds like home”) is their Country station.

Aside from 80s/90s/2000s being a more modern era focus than is heard on most Anytown, USA Classic Hits stations at the moment, these are three formats that will feel pretty recognizable and comfortable to programmers and listeners alike. In this regard, Apple Music does not seem to be trying to reinvent the wheel.

One thing I wonder about is whether there might be some initial listener confusion related to the branding of Apple Music Hits. I’m not arguing whether or not the songs they play from the 80s, 90s and 2000s are technically “hits.” But, in many markets, consumers may have been taught that the word “hits” in radio means contemporary hits (e.g., Z100 – New York’s #1 Hit Music Station). So do some listeners tune in expecting new music hits from Apple Music Hits instead of Apple Music 1? And are some fans of 80s/90s/2000s music left on the table because they do not realize that Apple Music Hits is where they should go to hear such music?

Collections of Distinct Shows

The three Apple Music radio stations have highly structured schedules, consisting primarily of one- and two-hour-long shows. And while each station sits in a general format lane, there is quite a bit of diversity from show to show. These shows are distinctly branded and programmed, with prominent hosts (e.g., Zane Lowe, Strombo, Ty Bentli) and unique content elements (e.g., artist interviews, special music features, countdowns).

Zane Lowe is a prominent host on Apple Music Radio, as well as Apple Music’s Global Creative Director.

As a listener accustomed to music radio stations that, by and large, are consistent in programming outside of perhaps a high-profile morning show and an occasional music feature, the structure of Apple Music’s radio stations can at times be jarring. For example, one hour of Apple Music Hits may give you Easy Hits Radio, in another you may hear Rock Classics Radio, and later you may come across Hip-Hop/R&B Throwback Radio.

Speaking personally, The Apple Music 1 List (“hear our current obsessions and new discoveries making waves”) and The Chart Show (“Brooke Reese hosts chart countdowns from around the world along with the biggest guests in pop music”) feel very much “on brand” and consistent with my expectations of Apple Music 1 (“The new music that matters”). But the string of throwbacks I heard earlier on The Rebecca Judd Show and the in-depth interview Zane Lowe had with Metallica’s Lars Ulrich were not what I was expecting when I turned to Apple Music 1.

This is not to say that any of these things are examples of unappealing content. It’s really a question of brands and expectations. What happens when you go to McDonald’s and there are no hamburgers on the menu for an hour? I may love the alternative, or I may go across the street to the other burger joint.

One more thing: maybe it’s my expectations that need to change. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel after spending more time getting accustomed to this structure.

The Human Touch

With these three radio stations, Apple Music has put the human touch front and center. As noted in their launch announcement, “Throughout its evolution, Beats 1 [now Apple Music 1] has established an inherent camaraderie with the artist community and championed human curation and discovery — an approach that will continue across the three stations.”

Both hosts and artists are prominently featured, with the latter sometimes playing the role of the former. Zane Lowe, who also wears the hat of Global Creative Director for Apple Music, has a deep passion for the music that comes through in his interviews with the artists who make it. Ebro Darden, who in addition to his Apple Music duties is the morning show host of Hot 97 in New York, brings the global audience to the streets of the city; you may hear him highlight influential Hip Hop classics or you may hear him trash the local police department for endorsing President Trump. These are not easy-to-miss background voices. And that’s the point, right? Give interesting, entertaining people a chance to shine, promote them accordingly, and hope it attracts an audience.

I’m not sure how this will eventually play out for Apple Music 1, Apple Music Hits and Apple Music Country—but it’s fun to see both some old things and some new things being tried.

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.

Three Reasons Why the HQ Trivia App Failed

Tuesdays With Coleman

When the HQ Trivia app was released in the summer of 2017, it was an instant sensation. It was #1 on Time’s 10 Top Apps of 2017. Partnerships with brands including Nike, Google and Warner Brothers brought in millions in revenue. The popularity of HQ influenced internal discussions about what lessons radio shows could learn from it.

HQ Trivia app shuts down

My family was so addicted to the app in the summer of 2018 that we set our alarms to 8:55 PM, giving us five minutes to prepare for the daily 9 PM start time. We even stopped what we were doing on vacation–I specifically recall playing the game on a bench at Spruce Street Harbor Park in Philadelphia, because that was the night we won. A whole two dollars and seventeen cents.

There are always behind-the-scenes and internal reasons that can contribute to a company’s failure, and this is not a referendum on that dynamic. It is, however, a first-hand observation from a regular user who stopped using the app long before its demise last week, on Valentine’s Day.

When tactical strategy overwhelms brand strategy, brand growth is stunted. Ultimately, HQ was a game built heavily on tactical content rather than brand strength. Here are three reasons why the HQ trivia app failed:


I play three games on my phone: Words With Friends (my favorite), Jeopardy and Family Feud. In the case of all three of these games, I win nothing but pride. They are strongly branded apps that focus on the strategy and the joy of playing the game.

While trivia is fun, the carrot dangled by HQ was the prize, the amounts of which varied. Usually around $5,000, sometimes as high as $100,000. Unfortunately, if you actually got through all the increasingly difficult questions to win, it was a share of the jackpot (like my $2.17 windfall).

It’s hard to not be disappointed when a brand markets huge jackpots as the selling point, but you can’t actually win the whole jackpot.


A live trivia game show played on a mobile device is an ambitious idea but a highly risky proposition. If there are no technical issues on HQ’s end and everyone is on super-fast Wi-Fi, it should be a seamless experience! Unfortunately, there were sometimes technical problems on HQ’s end that required delaying game times or interrupting within games. As for the end-user, if you had a connection dropout or the picture started pixelating, you were out of luck and unceremoniously dropped from the game. With a stronger likable brand, perhaps players may have given HQ more leeway and forgiveness. There are only so many times you’ll put up with that.


Instead of focusing on making HQ a world-class trivia app, the company hitched its wagon to line extension. They launched HQ After Dark, HQ Sports, HQ Words, HQ Tunes and HQX.

More often than not, line extension is a trap.


While brands across industries can find takeaways from HQ’s failure, brands (including radio stations) that spend a great deal of their focus on tactical strategy like contesting should use caution to ensure this does not come at the expense of brand building.

While tactical may bring a consumer in, your brand is why they will (or will not) stay.








Three Branding Lessons from the Campaign Trail

Tuesdays With Coleman

“Don’t write a blog about politics!!”

That’s my inner voice talking. And my wife. And maybe a co-worker or two.

But here’s the thing. Although there’s plenty about politics I loathe, there’s a lot about “the game” I enjoy following. When there are twists and turns (maybe it’s the researcher in me,) I want to know why there are twists and turns.

So when news broke last week that Elizabeth Warren is leading an Iowa Democratic Primary poll for the first time, I found it interesting.

A little digging indicates her surge isn’t isolated to Iowa.

If we look at an aggregate of three sources of polling data: Politico, Economist/YouGov and The Hill/Harris X, according to national surveys conducted the week of May 27 – June 4, the top three candidates were:

Joe Biden: 33%

Bernie Sanders: 17%

Elizabeth Warren: 9%

According to the same polling sources conducted the week of September 7 – September 15, the top three candidates were:

Joe Biden: 28%

Elizabeth Warren: 18%

Bernie Sanders: 17%

I wanted to know the answer to the question, “What’s behind Warren’s rise?” While only research can effectively answer that, in digging for reasons behind what may be fueling her poll numbers, I found some branding takeaways I feel are worth sharing,

It’s truly a sign of the times that I went back and forth on whether or not to share them. It might anger people! It may make us appear like we’re endorsing her!

So, here’s the disclaimer. Neither I nor Coleman Insights is endorsing any candidate. We acknowledge Elizabeth Warren is not the only candidate deploying noteworthy strategies. My hope is that we can set partisan politics aside to appreciate some branding strategy you may borrow with the understanding that there’s no agenda attached.

Here are three strategic moves Elizabeth Warren has made that are worth noting.


According to Democratic consultant Doug Rubin, who worked on Warren’s 2012 Senate campaign, she was depicted as someone detached from the average voter – someone who “dined with the intellectuals at Harvard.”

She developed a reputation for being stand-offish with the press.

She is a “policy wonk” – someone who knows a lot about many things, but perhaps gets in the weeds too much for the average voter.

Remarkably, Warren has turned her nerdiness into a strength with one simple phrase:

“I’ve got a Plan for that”.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that

Negative perceptions can hold a brand back from progressing and linger for some time. What if you had market research to inform the positive and negative perceptions of your brand? What could you do to turn your perceived negatives into positives?


Need to convey the message that the country is on the wrong track?

“Make America Great Again”.

Make America Great Again hat

Hope and optimism?

“Yes We Can”.

Like other simple messages on the campaign trail, “I’ve got a Plan for that” conveys that Warren has considered everything that might come her way. It conveys stability.

And, it repositions negative perceptions of her as a policy wonk into a strength against an incumbent president who many perceive is lacking in preparation and planning.

Do consumers clearly understand what your brand is about? Can they regurgitate it back to you?

Could Elizabeth Warren have changed the narrative from “Oh, Elizabeth Warren – she’s that know-it-all” to “Oh, Elizabeth Warren, she’s the one with a plan for everything” without a simple slogan like “She’s got a Plan for that”?

In what ways can you simplify your messaging so consumers can easily describe what you stand for?


Have you heard of “The Selfie Line” yet? At a rally last week in New York, Warren hung around for four hours after her speech to take a picture with anyone who was interested. The campaign estimates that over 60,000 pictures have been taken. And it isn’t some website you have to visit to get the pics. You get it taken on your phone. Within minutes, rally attendees are posting their photos with a presidential candidate all over social media. Their friends, of course, like and share it.

Elizabeth Warren selfie line

Now, every campaign manager knows paid social media advertising is an integral part of a strategy. Meanwhile, here’s Elizabeth Warren spending a few hours meeting fans and hearing feedback, while racking up organic social media exposure worth far more than any paid campaign. She decided to ditch the traditional “rope line” at campaign stops for something more intimate.

As noted in #1 above, what better way to shed an image of being detached, cold and stand-offish than by hanging around for hours to take photos with everyone that wants one?

Your brand, too, has fans and potential fans. Do you have a “rope” between you and your fans? What can you do to create more intimacy and generate more buzz?

As the U.S. presidential election season continues, we’ll surely find other examples of impressive branding and content strategy. If there’s one thing we can count on between now and next November, it’s that anything can happen.



10 Quotes from 100 Blogs

Tuesdays With Coleman

On October 10, 2017, we started our Tuesdays With Coleman blog series as a way to share branding, content and research strategy. Last week’s entry, “Seven Solutions for the Podcasting Brand Challenge,” was the final of three consecutive blogs about podcasting, centered around the increasingly popular Podcast Movement conference in Orlando.

It was also our 100th Tuesdays With Coleman blog.

We love a good benchmark, and 100 blogs feels like an opportunity to look back and mine some nuggets from the past couple of years. Since 100 quotes seems excessive, here are 10, curated from a wide range of topics, strategic advice and members of our team.

“We sometimes get too close to the product for our own good, and are unable to see it through the lens of our customers.”

Warren Kurtzman, in “Is Inside Thinking Blurring Your Strategic Vision?” explains the Coleman Insights principle of Outside Thinking and how to achieve results by changing your mindset.

“If Bill Belichick showed up to a station remote, what would he think of a station banner hastily hung behind a bored jock eating a cheeseburger?”

One of our most-read blogs, “What if Bill Belichick Programmed Your Radio Station?” features Jon Coleman imagining New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick as a radio station program director.

New England Patriots Bill Belichick

An aircheck session with Bill Belichick as your PD could get pretty intense.

“We’ve all become so hyper-focused on the now, the instant gratification of numbers, that it is easy to take your eye off the big picture.”

After attending a talk by marketer Seth Godin, I wrote “Direct Marketing Is Easy. Brand Marketing is Hard” to reinforce the value of brand marketing, despite its lack of trackability.

Seth Godin Internet Summit

Marketing expert Seth Godin

“The Trader Joe’s lesson is that you beat a leader not by being better. You win by finding the inherent weakness in their strength and creating your points of differentiation.”

In “The Branding Genius of Trader Joe’s,” Sam Milkman explores why Trader Joe’s is so profitable in an industry with traditionally low margins and how to apply the lessons to your brand.

Trader Joe's Hawaiian Shirts

“TV is looking for talent in new places and banking on that talent. Why can’t radio?”

In “When it’s Time to Hunt (for Talent), Go Outside,” Jessica Lichtenfeld makes the case that radio should look outside the industry to find fresh, new, memorable stars for the medium.


“Don’t confuse the lack of 90s music exposure with the desire for hearing 90s music.”

In “The 90s Music Research Conundrum,” John Boyne explains how compatibility, not appeal, influences 90s airplay on many Adult Contemporary and Classic Hits stations.


“It’s possible while you’re programming on intuition alone, your competition is making data-influenced decisions.”

In “How Research Won The Super Bowl,” Sam Milkman debunks the myth that Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was a crazy risk-taker in winning the 2018 Super Bowl, when in fact he used a combination of research and instinct to take down the Patriots.

Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson uses a blend of research and instinct

“There are a few iconic brands in every category and there isn’t much changing going on.”

In “Don’t Change Your Radio Station,” I explain how the instinct to “freshen things up” can be detrimental to brand growth.


“Chipotle doesn’t sell pancakes. Hip Hop stations don’t play Taylor Swift.”

In “Should I Play That Song On My Radio Station,” Jon Coleman warns that playing popular songs or even songs that test strongly on your station that don’t fit your brand is a slippery slope.


“The ultimate success of the industry will depend on its ability to build brands.”

Warren Kurtzman, in “Joe Rogan and the Podcasting Brand Challenge,” writes that while producing great content is very important, listeners won’t discover it if the brand isn’t strong.

Thanks for reading Tuesdays With Coleman. If you haven’t yet subscribed, we invite you to do so. If you have an idea for a topic you’d like us to cover, feel free to reply and let us know. It may just show up in one of the next 100 blogs.





Media is for Branding, not Commoditizing

Tuesdays With Coleman

I spotted a billboard this past week for a cable company that claims you can run a TV campaign for as low as $250.

For less than half the price of a Toro lawn mower, you too can run a TV campaign!

Would you rather have a Kenmore Elite vacuum cleaner?

Or a TV campaign for your business??

Because they’re both the same price!!!

Kenmore Elite 31150 vacuum cleaner

You can buy a TV campaign for $250, but it won’t pick up pet hair like this baby

I’m comparing the $250 TV campaign to household items because claiming you can have a television campaign for 250 bucks on a billboard immediately turns television advertising into a commodity.

Is that really a good idea?

The campaign may get the desired results for the cable company. If sales volume is the goal, then on paper, attracting a bunch of new clients that wouldn’t have otherwise spent money seems like a good idea.

Plus, it’s on a DIY platform of sorts, where clients can build their own schedules and even create the spot online. Great!

Anyone out there think a business can run a successful TV campaign for $250? Click below for the answer.

OK, fine. For the sake of argument, let’s just pretend a business can run a branding or tactical campaign the client will consider a success for $250.

Is that really how we should be selling the value of television advertising?

Every form of media advertising has the potential to be wildly effective, with the right message and delivery.

But it should never be treated as a commodity.

At Coleman Insights, we help media properties build strong, long-lasting brands that listeners keep coming back to because the brand means something important to them.

They’re not thought of as commodities.

It’s natural in the face of increased competition to want to find a way to win at any cost—but selling TV campaigns for $250 can only devalue the product.

Not to mention that it puts the focus on the price, not the results.

As I wrote back in December’s “Direct Marketing Is Easy. Brand Marketing is Hard,” brand marketing takes patience and discipline. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Just as programmers carefully craft the positioning of their radio stations based on strategic research to give them the greatest chance of success, sales teams carefully craft campaigns and schedules designed to yield the greatest returns over time for their clients.

Our work is all about increasing the perceived value of media brands. We encourage the sales departments of those brands to engage in the same mission.

4 Lessons From the Last Blockbuster Video

Tuesdays With Coleman

There is no reason why a Blockbuster Video should still be in business.

But in fact, there are quite a few reasons it is.

And when you’re the last one standing in a business segment that many might perceive is from the Mesozoic era, it’s probably a good exercise to ask the obvious question…

How is the last Blockbuster still in business, and what can I learn from it?

The last Blockbuster Video on Earth is in Bend, Oregon—population 94,520.

Last Blockbuster Video

This is the last Blockbuster Video on Earth.

No kidding, if you go to Blockbuster.com, there is a link that says, “Blockbuster Store Location” that pops up with only the Bend store.

Just 15 years ago, there were 9,000 Blockbusters on Earth, and generally speaking, we all know what went wrong.

Blockbuster missed the move to DVD-by-mail (it even passed up the chance to buy Netflix for $50 million in 2000. Oops). Blockbuster missed the move to DVD in a box (Redbox). It missed the move to streaming. And, perhaps the biggest self-inflicted wound was the dreaded customer-service killing late fee.

So, we know why Blockbuster closed. What’s the last one doing open?

Is it because Bend is such a small town? Doesn’t hold water. Bend is a Nielsen rated market (#196), and what about all the smaller areas that had Blockbusters?

Is it because Bend doesn’t have high speed internet? No. It does.

Well, what? What is it then??

LESSON 1: Promote what differentiates you

When you walk into the last Blockbuster on Earth, the employees wear gear and they sell t-shirts that scream, “Last Blockbuster in America!”. You can buy a “Last Blockbuster” sticker for $2.

Last Blockbuster Video merchandise t-shirt

It could very easily just be the last Blockbuster on the planet and not tell anyone about it. But what’s the fun in that?

Media brands make subtle changes to their strategies and hope the audience notices. Or, the positioning doesn’t cut through. That’s not how you build an image.

A great exercise for any brand is to think about what truly makes it different. Why consumers choose it over other brands. You may find it’s not what you’re promoting now.

Once you determine what that differentiator is, you hammer it like you’re the last Blockbuster on Earth.

LESSON 2: Use memories and nostalgia

A man drove 1,000 miles to the last Blockbuster because, he said, he “just wanted to relive [his] childhood”.

Its social media is littered with photos of customers taking pictures of themselves at the last Blockbuster on Earth.

Blockbuster brings back memories.

You know what else brings back memories? Music. Funny, radio can be pretty good at capitalizing on emotion too when it remembers to tap into it.

LESSON 3: Make your brand easy to use

We’ve covered the paradox of choice too many times to count in this blog. Today’s consumers are overwhelmed with choices and “subscription fatigue”. A customer at the last Blockbuster on Earth compares Netflix to a dating app. “You’re on it for hours, it’s almost overwhelming.”

No, it is overwhelming.

Customers appreciate the incredible customer service and recommendations provided by the staff at the last Blockbuster on Earth.

Radio is free and already curated. Make the listening experience as easy, painless and personal as possible.

LESSON 4: Make it a fun place to work

When I was a radio program director, you could always tell which station in the cluster was mine. The studio of the last station I programmed was the one with the inflatable couch and the autographs of the station’s celebrity guests on the orange wall that the air staff painted on a Saturday while listening to the new Kings of Leon on repeat.

Just as listeners can tell if your team is having fun, so can customers of every business.

The employees at the last Blockbuster on Earth clearly love working there.

There are pictures of them through the years in the owner’s office.

They write handwritten notes, have been known to offer home delivery, and host movie trivia nights and movie dance parties.

If the last Blockbuster on Earth can thrive, your radio station can too.

Just run it like it’s the last Blockbuster on Earth, and you’ll be just fine.

The Palessi Brand Fit Lesson for Radio

Tuesdays With Coleman

Do listeners visit your radio station or podcast for the product or the brand?

While you chew on that, let’s visit the story of Palessi.

A couple of weeks ago, Payless ShoeSource opened a pop-up boutique store at a former Armani location in Santa Monica. The company invited groups of upscale fashion gurus and social media influencers to a grand opening event, complete with gold mannequins, soft lighting and models. The name of this new store?


Palessi Branding

And so, this fashionable, trendy new brand in town brought in their target crowd where they could get a good look at the merchandise.

The customers loved what they saw. Influencers used words like “elegant,” “classy” and “sophisticated” to describe the shoes, which attendees guessed cost between $400 and $600.

The shoes were from Payless. Actual retail price? $19.99 to $39.99.

The stunt brought the Payless brand a great deal of publicity, but perhaps more important is the larger branding lesson.

Would it have worked if the store was opened, same mannequins, same lighting, same models, same pricing….using the name Payless?

Would it have worked if the store was opened, same mannequins, same lighting, same models, same pricing….using a line extension? Like Payless Premium?

Of course it would not have, because fashionistas have a preconceived notion of what Payless Shoe Source is and it is not for them. It is not a brand match.

But what about the product? Could Palessi have gotten away with selling $20 shoes for $400?

For a short time, yes – while the store’s newness had a halo effect and word spread about how cool it was.

But before too long, the inferior quality of the shoes would probably have become apparent. Straps would fall off and soles would start wearing out long before they ought to for shoes that cost $400.

In a different decade, this ruse could have played out a little longer but not today. The Google reviews would be vicious, Instagram would be littered with photos of the disintegrated shoes, and someone would make a video outing the store for selling $20 shoes for $400 that would go viral. Then TMZ would show up, and well…you know the rest.

Back to the original question.

Do listeners visit your radio station or podcast for the product or the brand?

It is the brand that brings your listeners in – just as Palessi brought its customers in. It is the product that keeps them there. If your product is misaligned to the brand – as Palessi’s was – you will ultimately pay the price.


International House Of Branding Bewilderment

Tuesdays With Coleman

International House of Burgers. Not Breakfast. Not even Brunch. Burgers.

If you were able to tear yourself away from Singapore this past week and pay attention to something with slightly lower stakes, you’ve seen and/or heard about IHOP’s total branding switch to IHOb. No longer the place we think of when it’s 2am and we want some pancakes. Now IHOP wants us to think of them for… burgers.

IHOP becomes IHOb

National—nay, global—reaction has been pretty harsh, though bewildered might be a better word for it. Wendy’s used its stealthily snarky Twitter account to raise its proverbial eyebrows. Those of us who work with brands and branding for a living raised our actual eyebrows.

Back in March, our president, Warren Kurtzman, wrote in this blog about how restaurants can make changes while still staying true to their brand identities. It is similar to the way we encourage radio stations to keep their base music positions in mind when they want to make changes. When developing images, we believe a brand’s base position is most important, as indicated in our Image PyramidSM  below.

Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

Making changes to your brand is nuanced and not without its challenges, but it can certainly be done. And I can kind of understand why IHOP was feeling a bit old and tired and wanted to make a change. Pancakes aren’t exactly hip these days.

This change, however, boggles many minds. There are a couple of reasons why this has raised so many questions, both to the branding community and the general public:

First: It’s too abrupt. Start with more… burger promotion, if you will. IHOP has served burgers for years (don’t they have a pretty good tuna melt, too?), so promoting those instead of the Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘n’ Fruity might have made a welcome change. It would have allowed customers to remember that oh yeah, IHOP isn’t ONLY for pancakes. But they can still get their short stacks if they want them.

Second: The rollout isn’t complete. In the screenshot of the website on this page, the URL still reads “ihop”, and that tab on the top? “Pancakes, Pancakes, Pancakes.” Now, the company has since said this is simply a temporary stunt and wasn’t intended to stick. But then, why change the company’s Twitter handle? Why plan to use the name in promotions all summer? It’s just clunky. Either go all in with a re-brand, or run a well-thought-out promotion focusing on the burgers you already serve.

Third: It simply doesn’t make sense and it’s not true to the essence of the brand.

Let me elaborate on that one. In a few past lives, I’ve done a lot of work studying Millennials and how they operate. The one word that always comes up is “authenticity.” Millennials are very sharp and aware when someone or something isn’t authentic. This does not mean that a brand can never adjust or change, nor does it mean that Millennials expect products and brands to always “behave” the same way. What they’re looking for—what even we older-than-Millennials are looking for—is a brand that remains true to itself and doesn’t try too hard to appeal to some suddenly desirable yet different demographic. If Old Navy changed its name to Young Navy and stopped selling cheap jeans, that would be inauthentic. If Whole Foods started selling Heinz ketchup, that would be inauthentic, but if it started carrying a line of Heinz Organic Limited Edition ketchup, that would be more true to the Whole Foods brand. And customers are smart. They know when a brand is trying to be “too cool for school.” They especially know when a brand is turning its back on its base.

IHOP (oy, “IHOb”) is trying to be too cool for school. What is so wrong with pancakes? That’s what you’ve been known for since… well, forever. And even if pancakes aren’t chic or fashionable, being the International House of Pancakes makes you different from Applebee’s or Chili’s or Bob’s Big Boy.

Go ahead and promote your burgers. But please, don’t do it at the expense of your awesome, strong, iconic brand. As we like to say here at Coleman Insights, your base position is the core of your brand, and you should always be true to it.