Tag Archives: focus groups

Six Lessons Learned from One Year of Campfire Online Discussion Groups


This week marks a full year since we debuted our CampfireSM Online Discussion Groups, and we have learned a lot through this new platform. For those of you not familiar with Campfire, it is a research tool that enables us to engage with listeners in an online community setting, probing deeply into brand perceptions and usage through direct questioning and discussions. The insights from these studies have been immensely valuable to our clients.

Coleman Insights has conducted Campfire studies on a wide range of topics since the launch of the service. We’ve studied heritage morning and afternoon shows that are striving to remain relevant, as well as authentic and new radio shows in development mode looking for a read on audience perceptions of cast members and the overall theme of the program. We’ve partnered with News/Talk stations looking for feedback on hosts, programs, and the best way to approach the news in this highly volatile political climate. And, we have studied the relationship between radio and digital platforms, looking for intel on how usage has shifted and why.

In honor of Campfire’s first birthday, we present six of our biggest takeaways to share from these fascinating qualitative studies.

#1 Pandemic disruption to radio listening is a wash

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw sweeping, overnight changes to Cume listening levels. And while we have seen a slow climb back to near pre-COVID levels, there is a general feeling that radio listening remains lower than before and that habits have moved away from radio due to workforce changes and the shift toward working from home.

Our 2021 Campfire studies have told a different story. Regardless of format and age target, we found that a majority of listeners feel they are listening to radio the same amount that they were prior to the pandemic. The small percentages of people reporting more or less listening generally attribute the change to their personal situation (e.g., “I can listen in the background all day now that I’m no longer in the office”) rather than shifts in preference toward or away from radio. Perception is not always reality, but it is encouraging that most radio listeners perceive themselves to be just as engaged with radio as they were a few years ago.


#2 Younger listeners are much more sensitive to “noise”

Radio has been in the habit of creating an intro sound or jingle for each feature or show, while air personalities often use sound bites to emphasize something or to inject humor. These elements can create a vibe and add personality to a station but can also be distracting. The heavy use of production elements is also frequently heard in the commercials created for radio.

In our Campfire studies targeting younger listeners, one recurring theme has been the dislike of and lack of patience for these types of production “noise.” In a world where consumers are also listening to digital platforms devoid of all but music and clean breaks, the excessive use of production elements can make radio can sound cluttered and dated.

Which leads me to number three…


#3 Radio, as a category has an age appeal issue

This may seem like common sense when talking to younger music listeners, but we’ve found that radio’s age relevance challenges exist even with listeners in their 40s and 50s, including those listening to Gold-based music formats and/or spoken word formats. In study after study, we have repeatedly heard comments like “I listen to the radio, but I don’t know that anyone else my age really does these days.”

If so many radio listeners perceive that radio is for someone older than them and they are the lone person in their demographic still listening, what does that tell us? It means that radio managers must be sensitive to everything the stations they oversee—and the medium overall—do that make radio sound “old” and do everything they can to balance those components with relevant, timely content and production. See number four…


#4 Entertainment is king

Radio consumers are media savvy. They have a lot of choices when it comes to entertainment—audio or otherwise—and they know it. Because there are so many choices out there, radio stations cannot just go through the motions. Younger listeners are unimpressed with birthday callouts and A-Z games and want edge-of-your-seat entertainment. The title of Marshall Goldsmith’s bestselling books—one of my favorite books on changing business paradigms—says it all: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

The good news is…


#5 Listeners form deep relationships with the personalities and shows they connect with

We have conducted Campfire studies for a variety of music and spoken word stations and one thing that has been very encouraging across all formats is the depth of connection listeners have with the hosts and shows they love. The audience can describe in detail the overall theme of a show, the roles each of the cast members play, and the strengths and weaknesses of the hosts. This type of information cannot be gleaned from a quantitative study. Campfire has provided us with numerous opportunities to witness this depth of understanding and connection, as well as situations where audio brands, shows, podcasts, etc. fail to achieve the necessary levels of engagement.


#6 Awareness is radio’s greatest foe

This last takeaway is from both our Campfire studies and many Plan Developer strategic studies conducted in the past year and piggybacks on my first point. While radio listeners believe they are listening just as much as they were pre-pandemic, there has been a general softening of recall overall—recall of stations, morning shows, talk show hosts, etc.—in this time of COVID.  That may be because consumers have a lot on their minds; rules are changing every day and their lives are in a constant state of upheaval. But it also has a lot to do with branding and marketing. In hectic times such as these, audio brands need to send loud, clear messages about who they are and what they offer. Radio won’t grow more listenership from those already listening; there are too many other platforms out there competing for consumers’ time. Radio stations and other audio brands need to reach out to those people in their target audiences who like what these brands have to offer but that have no idea they exist.


I’m thrilled with the results we are getting from the Campfire Online Discussion Group platform and invite you to reach out to us about putting Campfire to work for you and your brands.

Getting to the Why

Tuesdays With Coleman

Years ago, I was presenting some results to an internal client. He was a sales rep who had seen dozens of quantitative research studies my team conducted. We had asked a question about social media, and he said, “Why are they using Friendster instead of Myspace [it was a long time ago]? What’s the difference?” We hadn’t asked that question in the study—it wasn’t one of the questions we were trying to answer at the time.

But sometimes, we do want to get further into the “why”.

There is a ton of information we can gather during quantitative research. In addition to that, it’s trendable and concise. You can ask a lot of “what” and “who” and “how” in quantitative research and get many of the answers you need to inform your programming strategy and tighten your marketing efforts.

But sometimes you just want to know more about the “why”.

Perceptual, or qualitative research might tell you that listeners love your music but don’t feel your personalities fit the brand—or vice versa. Maybe your station gets a lot of buzz and positive responses from its listeners but your ratings are going in the wrong direction. Or maybe you’re one of four similarly-performing stations in your market and you want to figure out what’s really resonating with your listeners and what isn’t and how you can separate from the pack.

We’ve all seen focus groups represented on TV. They’re written to come across as really dry, with boring questions and a monotonous narrator who goes around the room waiting for answers. I’ve sat in on a few of those (pre-Coleman Insights, of course). But in reality, the dry, boring focus group is pretty far from the norm. They’re also not like those focus groups in recent Chevy commercials. Yes, everyone wears a name tag, but no, very few focus groups end in giant reveals of big trucks and scrolling JD Power endorsements. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a facility where you could fit a truck in the elevator.

The biggest reveals in a focus group come from the people. These 8-12 representatives of your station’s listeners are there to answer your questions and tell you things you may never have considered. They may reveal things you had a hunch about but couldn’t confirm. The best groups are the ones in which your listeners engage not just with the moderator but with each other.

“I used to love to listen to KAAA, they had this crazy guy on in the mornings when I was a kid.”

“Oh yeah, I remember him!”

“What happened to him?”

“He went over to KBBB so I listened to him there for a while, but I hated the music on KBBB so I stopped and now I listen to KCCC.”

“Same here. They play too much Bruno Mars and it’s tired. KCCC is soooo much better.”

“What makes you like KCCC?” and so on.

Why Focus Groups

Sometimes we go into groups with an idea of what our participants will tell us. I love it when we’re wrong. I once co-moderated a focus group about strong characters on television. I thought they would love this one, be turned off by that one, think this other one was weak. Some of my ideas were turned around completely by the time I left. Our participants shared their thoughts clearly—not always succinctly, but that’s where I came in—and we were able to steer the client in a direction that was unexpected but ultimately made a lot of sense.

A while back, I did some focus groups where we were trying to guide advertising for a media company. The work we presented to our groups was slick and interesting. The first group had very clear opinions about one set. The next had clear opinions about another. Throughout the process, we learned a ton about why some of the copy worked and why some didn’t. Even in their disparate feedback, the participants proved to be savvy and articulate and enormously helpful.

This is front-row research. “Let’s find out what that man in the green shirt really thinks about the at-work contest he keeps mentioning.” “What did Theresa say about our morning show producer?” You can see firsthand how certain themes are consistent across groups and how some opinions are outliers.

From there, we take these insights and help you use them to shape your brand’s strategy.

Focus groups aren’t a replacement for solid quantitative research, but they’re a great way to expand, to fill in gaps, to answer tough questions. And they’re a great way to hear more about the “why”.