Tag Archives: marketing

The Undeniable Marketing Lessons from Taylor Swift’s Focus on Fans

I was thinking about Taylor Swift over the weekend. Not so much about how I felt regarding her apparent budding romance with Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce after she was spotted watching the Chiefs game in a suite with Kelce’s mother on Sunday, though I’ll admit to being curious about what song she’ll end up writing about him someday.

Rather, as Swifties around the globe processed this dating news, I reflected on the immense connection she has with her fan base.

Taylor Swift fans buying merchandise

Photo credit: ezellhphotography/Shutterstock

About 15 years ago when I was programming a radio station in Raleigh, a colleague who worked at our Country sister station WQDR told me an anecdote about a relatively new artist named Taylor Swift.

After her concert at the local amphitheater, Swift held a meet and greet that included listeners and radio station staff, which in and of itself is not an unusual occurrence. What’s unusual, as I was told, was what came next.

“After the meet and greet, Taylor went to the back of her tour bus and wrote handwritten notes to every single person that was at that meet and greet, making specific mentions of something only that person would know. It may have been something they wore or something they talked about.” The notes would be mailed out to each attendee soon after the show.

I couldn’t have projected back then that Taylor Swift would become the megastar she is today, but it was the moment I realized Taylor might be the greatest marketer of any musical artist ever.

In 2020, I wrote about the marketing prowess of her perfectly timed Folklore album. The reality is, Taylor Swift just keeps doing it again and again, from the easter eggs she puts in album announcements to showing up at a fan’s engagement party.

The Eras Tour, which will almost certainly finish as the largest-grossing concert tour of all time, is a master class in marketing. Most artists would just change up their setlists and not tell anyone about it. Taylor Swift announces she’ll perform two surprise acoustic songs each night. Naturally, a Swiftie built a “Surprise Song Tracker.” There was the morning on which a fan posted via social media that her brother died five years to the day and asked if Taylor could play “Daylight” as the surprise song. Done. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

How many artists (and their teams) would care enough to notice that post?

We can’t borrow Taylor’s talent, but we certainly can heed her marketing lessons. When you do something important, don’t expect the audience to figure it out for themselves. Tell them. Tell them why it’s important. Make it an event and make it special.

And always…always…put your fans first. Taylor Swift is undeniably a talented Pop star. But it is her obsession with fan satisfaction, from handwritten notes to social media requests to engagement party pop-ins, that sent her from great to stratospheric.

Digital Strategy Do’s and Don’ts

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending Christian Music Broadcasters’ Momentum Summit in Charlotte. At the Digital Summit, I presented “Digital Strategy Do’s and Don’ts”, highlighting some of the lessons we’ve learned alongside our clients over the years as they have moved into the digital space. I was thrilled that so many attendees stuck around after the session to ask questions and share some of their experiences and ideas.

Here are some of the best practices we discussed in the session:

The most important rule of digital strategy: Have a digital strategy. We need to meet consumers where they are, and we are constantly reminded that they are spending less and less time with AM/FM and more time with digital offerings. Now is not the time to practice digital avoidance.

Stay on top of any publicly available data about consumption trends. This may seem obvious, but it’s imperative that you know what media your listeners are spending time with when they aren’t with you. It’s also important to know when new trends emerge so you can adjust your digital strategy as needed.

Be an Outside Thinker when it comes to your digital offerings and digital strategy. If you have spent any time around someone from Coleman Insights, you have probably heard us talk about Inside vs. Outside Thinking. Inside Thinkers have a hard time thinking about their brand, images, and content from the perspective of consumers or potential consumers—they let themselves get too mired in the details. Outside Thinkers, on the other hand, make a point of viewing their content and brand through the lens of the consumer.

While Inside Thinkers may believe that listeners care deeply about their entertainment options, pay close attention to them, and can be easily manipulated, Outside Thinkers don’t subscribe to these beliefs. They recognize that consumers have a lot going on in their lives and they don’t care deeply about their radio stations and other entertainment options. Outside Thinkers also consider that they are not just competing with other radio stations and audio offerings. Use Outside Thinking when developing and implementing your digital strategy.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that your radio listeners know about your digital offerings. You may feel like all you do is talk about your app, or which apps listeners can use to listen to your content offerings, or where they can find them on the website. You may even feel that listeners must be sick of hearing about it. But the truth is, they probably don’t know as much as you think they do about your digital offerings. We see this over and over again in our research. It takes a long time for messages to sink in and consumers hear a lot of them on any given day. Practice consistent messaging and put it on repeat—even if you are sick of it.

Eliminate consumer friction. One of the things I do when we first start working with a new client or station is to interact with the brand in all the ways a consumer might. I listen to their FM or AM frequency if I’m in the market, I stream from the website, ask Alexa to play it, and listen via apps. On several occasions, I have hit some friction point that prevents me from listening. Maybe the app interface is too clunky, or I can’t find what I am looking for. Maybe Alexa can’t figure out what it is I want to hear. Or maybe I hear six minutes (six minutes!) of pre-roll and commercials before I hear one song when I start streaming from the station’s website. In today’s highly competitive digital landscape, we can’t afford to let listeners have a poor experience. Not when competitors have slick apps with all the bells and whistles.

Promote your digital offerings where your consumers are. I try to avoid TikTok and Reels and YouTube shorts because my time is valuable, but I get sucked in more than I’d like to admit. And I am exposed to brands because of these platforms. Use them! It just takes a little time and creativity.

Promote your digital offerings the way real people use them, using the language they do. My colleague Jay Nachlis just presented a study called The New Rules of Podcasting on YouTube at Podcast Movement and that study found that 75% of podcast consumers define a podcast as audio or video vs. just 22% who define it as audio-only. He referred to it in last week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog which you can find here.

When you talk about your content, make sure your language matches the consumer’s. And, based on the findings of the study, if your podcasts aren’t on YouTube with some video component… they probably should be.

Don’t be afraid to take an unexpected approach. In my session, I talked about my fascination with the National Park Service’s social channels. Matthew Turner, who manages the National Park Service’s social channels, has gained the 107-year-old government agency a million followers a year for the past four years by pushing out informative and often humorous messages that are each liked and shared by thousands of followers.  The NPS has been around longer than commercial radio, but park visitation is up!

National Park Service blog

Your digital offerings and strategy must be consistent with your brand. As you navigate the digital space, make sure that all the content you create and share is consistent with the big idea of your brand, whatever that is. Consumers should know that they are listening to your content regardless of how they consume it.

Use each of your platforms to promote the others. How do I learn about podcasts? I hear advertisements on other podcasts… and the cycle continues. Not only does this messaging encourage additional usage, but it also builds your brand image as more than just _____. And remember to be consistent and repetitive with the messaging.

Embrace the benefits of an unformed brand. Do you suffer from a weak brand? Great! That means you can grow your brand images in the digital space more easily than stronger brands that are firmly rooted in FM in the minds of the audience. Embrace your weak brand and form a digital strategy that capitalizes on that.

Renting an Electric Vehicle From Hertz: Three Lessons About Marketing Changes to Your Brand

Introducing something new to your audience can be exciting. New features and components can invigorate and grow your brand and activate your target consumer. How you introduce something new, however, is paramount to its potential success.

In 2021, Hertz announced it would purchase 100,000 Tesla Model 3s for its fleet in an attempt to become the electric vehicle leader in the rental car category. There are many strategic reasons this may be a great play for Hertz. Some projections predict electric vehicle sales will reach at least 40 percent of the US market by 2030. Hertz can position itself as a leader in climate initiatives. As more consumers adopt electric vehicles, Hertz can potentially own the electric vehicle image among rental car companies with a “first in wins” strategy.

While all of this makes sense, when I recently visited multiple Hertz lots, it was striking how many electric vehicles were available, including a row of Polestars, a luxury electric vehicle that starts at $55,000. When I made the reservation, I discovered I could rent a Tesla for less than the price of an Intermediate sedan. While at first, I wondered how this could be, the feeling I had while I stood next to one of the Polestars thinking, “Why am I doubting getting this car” provided me some clarity.

There were several Polestar 2s available and lined up on the lot

I’m 50 years old and have never driven an electric car.

This is going to sound absolutely stupid, but when I got in the car and pressed the power button, I thought it wasn’t working because it was silent. It didn’t take me too long to realize that just putting the car in Drive made it go, but I was so used to hearing at least some engine noise in my 34 years of driving, it was confusing at first.

I was asked by the attendant, do you want to bring it back charged or pay a flat fee to bring it back at any level? This brought a new level of anxiety. Everyone knows it’s more fiscally efficient to refill the gas tank of a rental yourself instead of paying a fee, but you need to do it relatively close to the return center so it’s filled up.

Where will I charge the car near the rental center? How much will it cost? I’m sure it’s not that complicated, but how do I charge it? Again, I’ve never driven an electric car. That’s when I realized that I wanted to drive an electric car, but I wasn’t an educated consumer. Perhaps that’s why there are so many electric cars on the lot and Teslas are so affordable, due to current supply and demand. I know I’m not alone…though growing, EVs only make up about 6% of US car sales today.

I found myself having charging station anxiety

So while this may be a great long-term strategy for Hertz, it does face a challenge in the short term. And to be fair, the company is making efforts to educate consumers on electric vehicles, including in communities and on their website. But I didn’t see any of the information until researching for the blog (after my experience), and no attendant offered assistance at the lot. Ultimately, I’m sure they’ll figure it out and adoption will become easier as more consumers drive electric vehicles.

In the meantime, however, consider how the lessons of this experience can impact how you introduce new features or components to your brand.


  1. Explain in clear terminology. Is your radio station playing more Hip Hop every hour? Is your podcast now available on YouTube Music? Is there a new way to ask for your show on a smart speaker? Don’t be cute about it, make the change clear.


  1. Consider every possible marketing channel. This is a big one in the Hertz example. Yes, Hertz has something on their website about electric vehicles. Yes, they are planning outreach programs. But at the point of purchase (when I was selecting a car) and at the point of retrieval (the lot), I could not find the information and service I needed to give me the confidence to rent an electric vehicle. I’ve since discovered apps like PlugShare and ChargeHub to help find charging stations, which I may have known about if I was an EV owner but didn’t as a renter. It sure would have been nice if nearby charging stations were available in the Hertz app. Consider all the points of customer contact for your brand where you can educate them about the change.


  1. Utilize Outside Thinking. Inside Thinking is the perspective of the business. Outside Thinking is the perspective of the consumer. When making changes, remember that the consumer doesn’t know or understand the brand on as deep a level as you. Think about how the customer will perceive the change and what questions they will ask when considering how to communicate.


While I usually stick with gas-powered cars, I did end up driving the Chevy Bolt and enjoyed the experience.

But worrying about charging up before returning the car still kinda freaks me out.


How Al Ries Influenced Coleman Insights

This past week, we learned legendary marketer Al Ries passed away. Matt Bailey, president of our sister company Integr8 Research, sent an internal email stating simply, “Without his work, we wouldn’t have ours.”

How true that is. You can see the influence of Al Ries all over Coleman Insights, including in Tuesdays With Coleman blogs that reference him, like “What’s Your Word,” “Lack of Focus=Lack of Greatness,” “Need a Slogan? Bring the Sledgehammer”, and “The Line Extension Trap.”

Coleman Insights was not the first radio research company. The earliest research companies certainly illuminated and pointed out what the consumer was thinking about and issues to address. But in the early 80s, as I began to talk to consumers and hear what they were saying, it became clear there was a gap between what people inside the radio station and outside the radio station were thinking. I realized the program directors and general managers way overestimated the levels of interest of the listeners.

At this same time, books by marketers Al Ries and Jack Trout became very popular. These included “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind” and “Marketing Warfare” in the 80s and “The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing” and “Focus: The Future Of Your Company Depends On It” (my favorite) in the 90s.

I related to so much of what Ries and Trout were saying because of what I was experiencing as a radio researcher. Unintentionally at first but intentionally later, I made these principles a core focus of our company. The best way I can describe this is:

It’s not the product. It’s what’s in the mind of the consumer.

So, we began to really think about how the consumer thinks, and the communication process between the radio station and its listeners. It was this focus that I believe led to some of the most successful stations which used communication methods as much as or more than they focused on the music or spoken word product.

Take KZZP in Phoenix in 1985. Along with Guy Zapoleon and the team at KZZP, we recommended they start using “The #1 Hit Music Station.” You’re used to hearing that positioner now, but it was not being used back then. At that time, KZZP was in a battle with KOPA, but KOPA wasn’t clear about what it was, the station was shifting the music around and they were constantly tweaking the product, because they thought the product was all that mattered. But by using “The #1 Hit Music Station,” we went for the mind of the consumer. Within about six months, KOPA was destroyed, and it flipped months later. That principle, battling for the mind, was all based on Al Ries’ philosophy.

Back then, I heard one station using “Lite” for the first time and thought it was genius. There were stations all over the United States in the Soft Adult Contemporary format, but they weren’t differentiated from other AC stations. Al Ries talks about creating your own category, and at the time there was no Soft AC category. But when you called the station “Lite” or “Lite Rock,” you created a new ladder, and the station could become the leader in the category that every other station in the format was compared to. On so many occasions, Al Ries’s books gave me confidence that what I was seeing wasn’t just a radio thing but were universal marketing principles.

More recently, I feel some have veered away from Ries’ principles, thinking digital tools will simply track consumer behavior and we won’t need marketing “gimmicks.” Over time, it’s been made clear the branding piece is so necessary. You need to communicate how your product fits in the marketplace and how it’s different. Fortunately, it feels like there is more of a swing happening back towards the image development side.

One thing I know Al Ries would agree with is the importance of external marketing. For audio brands, external marketing is perceived differently than marketing on the brand itself. It’s perceived as an editorial message about the product. You can define what the product is, in a way through external messaging, that you can’t internally. So, in other words, all the liners in the world won’t matter that much without external marketing that gives credibility to what the radio station, podcast, streaming service, and so on is doing.

Al Ries and Jack Trout taught me the need to talk to consumers in plain, real language. We get so caught up in the hype that we forget to talk to people. And they taught me that it’s too easy to try to be “cute,” creating messages that don’t mean anything to the consumer. You need to tell them what you’re doing as clearly as possible.

When you see Coleman Insights talking about core philosophies such as Outside Thinking, the Image Pyramid, or the Brand-Content Matrix, there is an abundance of Al Ries influence to thank for it. I’ll always be grateful for his work.

Marketing Lessons From the Duracell Bunny

I’m guessing, after reading the title, a substantial number of Tuesdays With Coleman readers are saying to themselves, “It’s not the Duracell Bunny, it’s the Energizer Bunny!”

You’d be right…and wrong.

When I was a teenager, perhaps foretelling my career choice long before I got into research, I once walked around a department store just for fun asking people which battery brand had the bunny. To my amazement, a greater number of adults said “Duracell.” Everyone around my age knew it was Energizer because the commercials were always on. I couldn’t understand why so many people would get the answer wrong, except perhaps that they weren’t paying close attention. But it turns out, there was another reason.

Before the Energizer Bunny, there was in fact the Duracell Bunny. Duracell created the bunny in 1973. The Duracell Bunny even featured pink bunnies drumming and claimed to be the longest-lasting battery. Which may sound and look familiar.

In 1988, Duracell let its trademark lapse and was no longer running the campaign. That’s when Energizer swooped in and created a commercial in which a pink bunny is interrupted by a fresh, cool bunny wearing shades and carrying a big fat drum. When the other bunny stops drumming, the Energizer Bunny keeps going, and going, and….

Energizer then filed for its own trademark, which was followed by Duracell filing for a new trademark, referencing the original campaign. But it was too late, and Duracell ended up agreeing to an out-of-court settlement that gave Energizer rights to use the bunny in the United States and Canada, and Duracell the rights to use its bunny everywhere else.

There are multiple implications and takeaways from the Bunny Battle Royale you can apply to your brand:

  • Protect your brand. The most obvious lesson of all is to file trademarks on your most important intellectual property and don’t let them lapse.
  • Images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, slow to erode. Energizer’s use of the pink bunny initially caused brand confusion in the United States and Canada. In the short term, this resulted in Energizer’s market share decreasing compared to Duracell’s. This makes sense, as Duracell benefited from misattribution based on consumers’ previously held perceptions from the older campaigns.
  • Be patient and track results. If Energizer had dumped the bunny after a couple of years, it would have never captured perceptions and a place in North American pop culture. It only happened because Energizer was consistently aggressive with its marketing. By consistently conducting perceptual research, brands can track the increasing, maintaining, or decline of key images to make sure the investment is worthwhile.

Differentiating Your Brand in a Crowded Segment

In South Carolina, Virginia, and my home state of North Carolina, there is a grocery chain called Lowes Foods (started by the son of the founder of Lowe’s Home Improvement).

You think your business segment is crowded?

Here in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), the grocery segment has gotten extremely competitive over the past decade. We have Aldi, and we now have a similar German-based competitor, Lidl. There’s Food Lion on the low end and Harris Teeter on the high end. We have Whole Foods, and we now have the similar competitor Sprouts. There’s Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market. Publix opened its first store in the area in 2014, and Wegmans invaded five years later.

One possible move when faced with a massive influx of competition is to wave the white flag. Kroger took this tactic, deciding to peace out altogether­­ – it announced it would close all 14 of its area stores in 2018.

Another tactic is to attempt to improve the existing product, and this is what most stores did. Food Lion and Aldi renovated their stores, with things like wider aisles and brighter displays. A Harris Teeter location added a bar in 2017.

But it could be argued that no grocery store in the area went as far as Lowes Foods. Rather than simple cosmetic changes to imply an improvement, Lowes went full-on thematic in its adjustment. The chain embraced a hyper local-centric theme, designing the entrance to look like a barn and arranging displays with a farm-fresh aesthetic. And truth be told, I really like the store.

My favorite of all the Lowes additions is The Beer Den, a bar in the center of the store that allows you to sit down for a beer or take it with you while you shop. The local theme is regularly on display in The Beer Den, which features almost all local or regional beers from around the state.  A few days ago, I was talking about local beer with the bartender when he asked me if I’ve heard of something they do called “The Beer Run.” When I said I hadn’t, he explained it to me this way:

“Over there in the beer section is something called The Beer Run. It’s filled with beer from smaller breweries all over the state that, for whatever reason, can’t logistically distribute outside their market. So, we’ll bring our trucks to the brewery, and get the product so we can give them exposure in markets they wouldn’t otherwise reach.”

This is SO. FREAKING. COOL. Except for one thing.

When I walked over to The Beer Run, there were stickers under the beer with a Beer Run logo, but nothing anywhere that explained what it meant. I shared the story with multiple people because I was so taken by it, and no one else had heard about it either. As timing would have it, as I shared the story with my wife, we passed a Lowes Foods billboard. In large letters, it said BROBAMENOJU! And although you can read here what that apparently stands for, I assure you that one cannot read it when passing at 50 miles per hour.

We’re expected to read a non-sensical word and the definition and understand the marketing message. While you may get that they’re trying to tell you that their products in brown bags are good for you, that may not be the easiest message for a consumer to pick up.

There are a couple of takeaways from this blog I’d like to focus on.

One, Lowes is doing some pretty incredible and innovative things to differentiate itself from the competition. But if it does not tell the consumer what it’s doing, loudly and clearly, it cannot expect it will be understood.

Two, Lowes needs to ensure it is marketing the right things. Is healthier food an image it expects to win? Should it concede that Whole Foods owns that space? Are they different consumers? (great questions for research to answer).

If local is the differentiator, The Beer Run story would be a great one to tell. But it’s not even being told in the store (except by a very enthusiastic bartender).

When you make strategic changes to your brand, don’t expect the consumer to notice. Communicate the changes aggressively and clearly. Use research to determine which images are available to win, then focus intensely on messaging to win the image.

I’ll bet you have a brand story to tell. What’s your Beer Run?


Why You Should Plan For Focus Groups In 2022

Regular readers of Tuesdays with Coleman may recall when we made a big deal about our introduction of CampfireSM Online Discussion earlier this year. This service, which allows us to deliver qualitative insights to the audio brands we work with, utilizes an innovative online platform through which we deeply engage with a group of carefully screened consumers over the course of a week. We have delivered numerous Campfires already this year and have been gratified by the positive reactions we have received from the clients who have used our newest service.

While Campfire represents an exciting innovation in the world of qualitative research, this blog is going to focus on one of the oldest tools in the researcher toolkit—focus groups. The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from doing any of our 20/20 Focus Group studies for clients over the last 18 months, and even with a great new tool like Campfire available to us, I still think there are insights that only focus groups can deliver. My hope—obviously for many reasons besides this—is that it will be safe soon to gather consumers together to talk about the audio brands they consume and delve into the emotions that are the drivers of their behaviors. Focus groups have been derided by many for being “old school,” prone to the biases of those who moderate them, and far too often being driven by one or two participants who dominate the conversation and influence the softer-spoken attendees. Yes, they have been around a long time, but when they are moderated by someone who has been trained properly, they can unearth things that no other form of research I have seen in my nearly 35 years in this business can find.

One of my favorite focus group stories is truly old school; more than a half-century ago, General Mills learned via focus groups that their new line of Betty Crocker cake mixes was not selling well because homemakers felt guilty about how easy they were to use. When, based on that qualitative insight, the product was changed so that instead of just requiring the addition of water, the mix required that consumers also had to add eggs, the sales took off and the product became a staple of American kitchens.

A few years ago, I attended focus groups moderated by a colleague of mine for a Hip Hop station that was curious about a new sound that seemed to be testing well in their new music research. The clients and I sat with our mouths wide open behind the glass when we heard every Hip Hop fan in the group use a term to describe this genre that was clearly widespread “on the streets” but had not been heard by any radio programmers yet. By the next morning, there was imaging on the station using the term the focus group respondents taught us!

A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story, “Why Companies Shouldn’t Give Up on Focus Groups”[subscription required], that echoed many of the themes I am sharing here. It spoke of how in the rush to embrace big data—which, in many cases, can be very valuable—many large companies ended up looking the same and offering similar products and services because they were relying on the same input, behavioral data. The parallels in the audio business are looking at metrics such as Nielsen ratings, podcast downloads, and streaming channel user counts and trying to strategize based on the same data that everyone else has. In the WSJ article, a branding consultant named Martin Lindstrom, who has worked for firms ranging from Lego to Burger King to Swissair remarked, “The few companies that decide to go the opposite way of looking at the qualitative data, the small data, time after time discover insights which lead them to something profound, and that’s where you have true innovation take place.”

While the term “in these unprecedented times” is drastically overused these days, I can not imagine a time when the kinds of qualitative insights focus groups provide could be more useful. Another compelling quote in the WSJ article concerns the impact of the pandemic on consumers and how “It cannot be understated what a big shift has occurred. Companies should understand and study that because we’ve been altered in a way that is pretty profound.” The article goes on to state that “adapting to that new reality will require understanding the relative depth of people’s fear and fatigue. And that can’t be found on a spreadsheet.” The way people consume audio—which was already undergoing changes that were accelerated by the pandemic—is changing so dramatically that we need all the qualitative tools at our disposal to grasp the implications of these changes.

Focus groups are hard; they are also time consuming and expensive. Our Campfire Online Focus Groups provide an easier and somewhat less expensive way to gather qualitative insights, and while I applaud the clients who have invested in such studies with us this year, I hope that many of them—and clients who have not done much qualitative work in recent years—recognize that focus group research should be in their plans as soon as it is safe for us to conduct such studies.

As one of my heroes, Ferris Bueller, memorably said,  Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”










Everything is a Marketing Decision

When you’ve been at the forefront of media research for as long as our company’s founder Jon Coleman has, you’re bound to have lots of “quotables.”

Of course, not everyone at Coleman Insights today can spout off every one of Jon’s nuggets of wisdom. But there’s one most of us have burned into our memory: “Every song you play is a marketing decision.”

Why is this one so sticky?

“Every song you play is a marketing decision” is a simple way of explaining how important your brand is to the success of a music-based radio station. The answer to the question to “Why did you play that song?” should never be “Because it tests.” The answer should be “Because it tests” and “Because it fits.” As Warren Kurtzman wrote when Coleman Insights introduced the FACT360 Strategic Music Test almost exactly six years ago, “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.”

Warren explained that it’s not just every song that makes a statement about your brand; it’s the positioning and imaging efforts you employ as well.

But that’s not all. Everything on a radio station is a marketing decision, and that very fact is what makes programming one so daunting and complex. It starts with a song, and expands to the positioning, the imaging, the personalities and how they present the brand. But it further spreads to elements like specialty hours and weekends. It includes the look of external marketing. The content of the website. The tone of the social media pages. The appearance at remote broadcasts. Even the spots played on the station, and certainly the sound of a station on its stream.

There’s no question that the demand on a programmer’s time makes it incredibly difficult to put every piece of content under the brand microscope, and it is realistically impossible to ensure that everything on a radio station meets the brand standards of the PD.

Just don’t ever say these three words: “It’s just one.”

It’s just one song. It’s just one specialty hour of music that’s completely different from what the station is known for, rather than an hour that expands and deepens a positive image. It’s just one­­ – ahem – “enhancement” commercial on an AC station. It’s just one remote with terrible audio. It’s just one talk break. It’s just one social media post. It’s just our stream (In a future Tuesdays With Coleman, we’ll address one way streaming content can adversely affect a station’s brand.)

The attitude of “It’s just one” leads to a piling up of “ones.” And that can end up creating a cumulative issue over time.

Every moment counts. Everything is a marketing decision.



Brand Subtraction: Less May Be More

Let’s say you’re responsible for overseeing a brand. If something is not working, you add something to make it more appealing. Right?

If something is working, you add more things to make it even better. Right?

We’ve addressed this instinct of addition a number of times in our Tuesdays With Coleman blogs. In “Too Many Messages,” Warren Kurtzman illustrated how adding messages to advertisements lowers the likelihood of remembering any single message from the ad. Jay Nachlis alluded to the explosion in entertainment options while quoting Jerry Seinfeld in “Lack of Focus=Lack of Greatness.” HBO’s ascent to juggernaut status happened by focusing on one great show at a time on Sunday nights, which Jon Coleman points out in “Can HBO and Radio Have it All?”

Now, there’s new science to back up addition by subtraction. Inc.’s Jeff Haden refers to a new University of Virginia study that revealed when people attempt to improve something, they default to “additive transformations,” while ignoring “subtractive transformations.”

It’s why a bar owner may think adding Taco Tuesday to his already loaded list of promotions will be just the thing to boost profit margins.

It’s why software developers think adding more features will make their applications easier to use.

And it’s why a radio program director may think adding more music or special features for the sake of quantity will result in more listening and higher ratings.

So, if we know that we’re inclined to add to solve problems, what happens when we’re prompted to subtract to solve the same problems?

When reminded they could remove items or elements, participants in the University of Virginia study were twice as likely to make subtractive changes than additive changes. And the changes were more effective.

Instead of considering what you can add to solve a problem, consider what you can subtract.

How would that focus your radio station’s music message? Or your podcast’s topic? Or one of your streaming service’s channels?

The takeaway is the take away.



Nobody Likes Kale

Coleman Insights’ Brand-Content Matrix measures brand and content strength. The goal is to be in the upper right quadrant, at the intersection of strong brand and great content. While we generally share examples of where audio brands fall on the Brand-Content Matrix, today we’ll have a little fun. I’ll demonstrate how this tool can be used to evaluate the brand and content strength of just about anything. Even a vegetable.

Kale is disgusting. It is dry, has a texture so rubbery my car could drive on it, and leaves your mouth with a bitter aftertaste. Mmmmm.

But my opinion isn’t shared by millions who eat kale everyday and think it offers “great content.” It’s become a brand juggernaut in the health food space.  But kale didn’t always have a strong brand, and it wasn’t loved for its content either. If kale—kale!—can build a brand and develop strong content, surely your brand can too. Let’s explore how it was done.

First of all, while its popularity may be, kale itself is definitely not new. Kale has been cultivated for over 2,000 years in North America, and the frost-resistant crop dates back to 600 BC when the Celts brought it from Europe to Asia Minor. Legend has it that the largest buyer of kale prior to 2012 was Pizza Hut. They used it as garnish around their salad bars.

But today, kale is found in high priced foods and beverages and is a darling of the health food industry.

Which hipster is responsible for this disaster?

Actually, it may be Martha Stewart’s fault.

Her company’s Whole Living magazine branded kale a “powerfood” in 2008. Then she published a recipe for kale slaw in 2009. The next thing you know, Dr. Oz is talking about kale and thyroids, Gwenyth Paltrow’s making kale chips, and your kale smoothie–natch, “superfood smoothie”—is $8.95.

The rise of kale was pretty handy for the food industry, as you can snag a bunch of it at Walmart for 78 cents. Which I contend is still overpriced.


Kale would not and could not have climbed its way up the brand ladder from buffet garnish at the Hut to chic miracle green without some really impressive branding and marketing efforts. Calling it a “superfood” and “power food” is utter genius. Getting the right celebrities behind it powers the engine.

This is how kale’s brand shifted from weak to strong, but it still had a content problem. You may be drawn to try kale thanks to its brand strength, but you won’t try it again if you don’t like it.

An equally brilliant move by the kale brigade was the decision to include kale as a secondary ingredient in so many recipes.

You likely don’t order a kale smoothie—maybe you order a pineapple kale or blueberry kale version. Or something like the Detox Island Green smoothie at Tropical Smoothie Café with spinach, kale, mango, pineapple, banana, and fresh ginger.

Fun fact, I’ve had the Detox Island Green smoothie. It’s delicious. You know why? IT DOESN’T TASTE LIKE KALE!

Fruit masks the flavor of the kale.

So does the spicy sweet potato and avocado sauce in a Southwestern Kale Power Salad.

“Oh, I sauteé kale! It tastes so good!” Maybe that’s because you mix in garlic and bacon.

So you see, the kale squad didn’t just run a master class in branding. They knew the taste of mere kale alone would keep its sad spot in the upper left quadrant of the Brand-Content Matrix (strong brand, poor content.) So close, but yet so far.

Because they figured out how to boost the brand as well as improve the eating experience, it could easily be argued that kale is in fact it its rightful position in the upper right quadrant, with its strong brand and great content.

I can only hope we’re towards the end of this long national nightmare. But in the meantime, I’ll tip my cap to team kale, and take this moment to remind you that there needs to be consistent, deliberate efforts undertaken to build a strong brand. But that is simply not enough.

You better also come to the party with strong content. If your content is mere kale-level, it is incumbent on you to spice it up and make it a superfood.

Finally, let’s toast this branding/content moment with a strawberry-banana smoothie.

You know, what smoothies are supposed to be made of.