Tag Archives: Focus

What’s Your Word?

Tuesdays With Coleman

My favorite marketing book of all-time is “Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It” by strategist Al Ries, and one of the most important lessons in the book involves one simple question.

What’s your word?

Consumers make product decisions on words, not visuals.

When you look at or think about products, you don’t spend as much time evaluating them as you might think. You gravitate to the products that fit what you think you need and select the one that is most strongly associated with the need. This is where owning a word can drive a decision.

Words can determine how you’re perceived within your category or if you are perceived at all. In automotive, for example, Lexus is luxury. Volvo is safety. Despite the fact that many cars are just as safe as Volvo and some have done better in safety tests, Volvo still owns the word. My son just bought one, without even looking at other brands.

Sometimes a big brand owns the most important word for a category, like Starbucks for coffee. In that case, you need an idea that differentiates you and the best way to do that is with a single word, not a long drawn out concept.

Domino’s was second in pizza to Pizza Hut until it took the word “fast”. That was great until it got scared off by issues of driver safety. Jimmy John’s now owns the word “fast” for delivery because Domino’s gave it up.

Word association works for radio stations, too. For music stations, your word needs to be the first to come to mind.

There’s a reason why so many stations in the Adult Contemporary universe use the name “Mix”. The name itself can aid the perception of variety.

Whether in name or positioning, the word listeners use to define your station must be simple and clear. “That’s the variety station.” “That’s the oldies station.” “That’s the rock station.”

When your brand is strong and you own a word, it becomes synonymous with the category.

If your radio station is solidly known as the variety station, it will be extremely difficult for another station to take the position away.

If you don’t have a word, think about words that might still be available that radio stations have never pursued or walked away from. Words that were once considered “too narrow” may be perfect for our modern over-communicated world.

If the format leader owns the category word, there are other options. Your station can have a word to own for part of the category.

For example, two Adult Contemporary stations can’t own the Mix/variety image. So perhaps it’s a word like “soft” or “easy” or “lite” or “upbeat” (e.g., “makes you feel good.”)

It may be challenging to own the word “Rock” but perhaps you can own “Classic Rock,” or “Hard Rock” or 80s and 90s Rock.

Your morning show might well be served to own a word too, and it starts by determining what image you want it to own.

Do you want it to be thought of as the funniest? Most outrageous? The most authentic?

To do this, you have to use the same Outside Thinking principles that guide station images. For example, if your station has an image for playing 80s music and you’re trying to capture 90s images, adding an extra 90s song or two won’t do it. You must use specific language that tells the audience the station now plays 90s music.

In the same way, it is not enough for a morning show to be funny. The word needs to dominate sweepers, promos, the show open and close, and so on. It might be “the funniest morning show in Phoenix.” Or, “now, more from Denver’s laugh-out-loud morning show.” Or, “The (name) Morning Show. The one that makes you LOL.”

If the show is meant to be a friendly companion, say that. Controversial? Say that.

And, say it with enough regularity to matter. There is not enough time in your listeners’ busy lives to think they will pick up subtlety.

Once your show owns a word, a show that tries to compete for the same image will be seen as an inferior copycat.

The importance of owning a word is more important than ever.

As digital media consumption increases, you may find your word begin to show up in places other than AM/FM radio.

If you don’t defend your word…or worse, if you don’t have one at all, it’s time to head for the hills.

Lack of Focus = Lack of Greatness

Tuesdays With Coleman

Netflix just dropped the new season of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee on July 19th. Each episode of the show features Seinfeld selecting a vintage car, then driving a fellow comic in that car to get coffee for a very casual interview/conversation. Episode One of the new season features Eddie Murphy, and that caught my attention.

Much of the episode centers on the two comedians talking about the old days, when they honed their stand-up craft in the New York area around the same time. There’s mutual admiration, Eddie slings a fair share of jokes, reveals he is planning a return to stand-up and shares some very insightful behind-the-curtain stories about Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.

At one point of the episode in the coffee shop, Jerry and Eddie talk about the differences between the entertainment landscape back in the day and the present day. Eddie says, “You’ve got to put time in to creating something that’s worthwhile. Now you’ve got so many options, it seems hard to focus on something. So many options.”

To which Jerry replied, with emphasis:

“A lack of focus is why we have a lack of greatness.”

This astute observation got me thinking about focus in today’s environment and where the lack of focus is coming from. In other words, is it lack of focus on the part of the creator or the consumer?

It’s both.

From a consumer angle, the lack of focus is obvious. We are bombarded with more choice than ever before. More TV shows. More apps. More diets. More games. More news. More streaming. More podcasts. More social networks. More phones. More smart devices.

More, more, more!!

And you’re still expecting listeners to pay close attention to your radio station?

This is the foundation of Outside Thinking, a Coleman Insights philosophy that’s not new, but increases in societal relevance by the day. It instructs that listenership behavior is driven by numerous factors, many of them out of your control. When we adopt the mindset of our listeners, rather than the mindset of a programmer in a board room, we can more effectively reach and communicate with them.

But what about the creator angle? We know our consumers are losing focus. Are we?

Eddie gives an example of a comic he knows that has a specific niche. He’s known for a certain kind of comedy. Eddie explains, “Every Wednesday, this comic kills it. Then a different crowd comes in on Thursday and you can’t even get a laugh.” He follows this up with a remedy: “Just work the niche. You don’t think, ‘I wanna be able to kill on Thursday.’ You say I’m gonna kill every Wednesday.”

The point is, you can’t be everything to everyone. And you need to stop trying now.

We could recommend many books on this topic, but a perennial favorite at The House of Coleman is “Focus” by marketing genius Al Ries. A chapter that really illustrates Eddie’s point is Chapter 9: “Narrowing Your Scope.”

According to Ries, “More money has been wasted reaching out to a company’s ‘noncustomers’ than any other single endeavor.”

Radio brands are well-versed in the art of focusing on loyal customers. We’re taught to grow our ratings by growing the percentage of P1s (first preference listeners), as they provide the bulk of the listening.

Maybe the question to ask of our brands in the context of focus is, “Why does a P1 listener choose our radio station first?” Understandably, this answer varies. The reason a listener chooses a “Jack” station for an unpredictable variety of music is different than why, for example, a listener may choose a radio station with dominant personality images.

P1s choose your radio station because they love it for its niche. As Ries says, “All business is a niche business. The question is, what kind of a niche do you want to own?”

This mentality requires a shift in what being “best” means.

Should you want your radio station to be the best sounding? Of course. But the winning strategy is to have the best position. Build clearly defined, differentiated images, track them in perceptual research and dominate them.

Says Ries, “The power in business doesn’t derive from your products. It derives from your position in the mind. Focus is the art of carefully selecting your category and then working diligently to get yourself categorized. It’s not a trap to avoid; it’s a goal to achieve”.

The less focused consumers are, the more focused creators must be.

Like Ries says, “The future of your company depends on it.”

HBO and the Mass Appeal Trap

Tuesdays With Coleman

Why do listeners choose your radio station?

Why do listeners choose your podcast?

Why do viewers choose your TV show?

Why do diners choose your restaurant?

No matter what business you’re in, it’s important to be clear about why your customers choose to do business with you.

Today, we’ll focus on HBO, which was just taken over by AT&T as part of its acquisition of Time Warner.

According to the New York Times, John Stankey, the AT&T executive who now oversees HBO, envisions changes coming to the network. He suggested HBO will have to increase its subscriber base and the number of viewing hours. To do that, HBO will have to broaden its scope, past signature Sunday night shows like Game of Thrones.

So, why do viewers choose HBO?

The short answer is for high quality, compelling shows. There aren’t many signature HBO shows, but when they get a big one it’s really big. The Sopranos. Game of Thrones. The Wire. Six Feet Under. Entourage. Curb Your Enthusiasm. True Blood…and the list goes on.

Incredibly, HBO has traditionally focused on one night a week for its original programming – Sundays. So on the one hand, HBO is not top-of-mind Monday-Saturday. But it’s really top-of-mind on Sunday nights.

They’ve been able to get away with it (and charge a premium) for a long time as a result of the premium quality of its programming.

Now the game is changing. Competing pay channels, like Showtime and Starz, have upped their original programming games. Netflix is a binge factory. HBO was the destination for high production value and strong writing. Now, there’s more choice than ever – and just about every choice is less expensive than HBO.

While HBO should rightfully look to increase interest in the channel in this sea of choice, it risks the “mass appeal trap.” In the effort to broaden its appeal, it waters down its point of differentiation. The very reason(s) why consumers chose the brand in the first place.

The Tuesdays With Coleman blog “Don’t Change Your Radio Station” covered the value of not changing for the sake of change. Radio stations sometimes get the inclination to change things when they shouldn’t be changed. Clearly defined brand images are extremely desirable, and take a great deal of time to build. Any changes radio stations make should be carefully considered through the lens of their desirable images and whether those changes will be at the expense of their base position.

Alternative radio stations in the early 90s faced the challenge of broadening appeal while maintaining their credibility with an audience that liked the stations because they sounded and felt different. While playlists were broader in scope, programmers had to make sure that the new sounds were compatible and that the stations maintained their left-of-center images. If the alternative station loses the perception of being – well, the “alternative” – it can spell trouble for the brand.

Adult Album Alternative (AAA) radio stations have faced a similar challenge. Stations that previously played a large number of deep tracks, for example, found they needed to become more hit-driven to broaden appeal. The challenge was, and remains, how to do so while maintaining the often eccentric, cooler-than-the-room images that draw many listeners to the format.

HBO has the Sunday night image and the quality image and it should defend those images. So, when it considers changes to increase its audience, their leadership, too, must ensure those changes enhance, not water down, those images.

If HBO is losing subscribers and needs to compete for more viewing hours, it has to do it in a way that protects its quality franchise, but at the same time has more programs that rival that of Netflix and other competition. The way HBO does that is the key. This includes how and how often it promotes and markets the images.

Stankey claims HBO has to find a way to “move beyond 35 to 40 percent penetration to have (HBO) become a more common product”.

Desiring more usage is one thing. But as leaders of some of the most successful radio stations and brands will tell you, “common” is quite another.

There’s the propensity to think becoming more mass appeal = more audience = more revenue.

Beware of this trap.

If becoming more mass appeal compromises your brand and decreases focus, it can (and often does) result in less audience and less revenue.

Perhaps HBO can build its base while maintaining its brand position. If, after the changes, it is still perceived as special and a little “uncommon”, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.