Tag Archives: radio

What Radio Can Learn From Political Strategy

Tuesdays With Coleman

Coleman Insights rarely comments on politics, but today we are going to dissect a current political strategy. The goal is to think about how it might fit into our thinking about programming and marketing initiatives executed by radio stations.

Recently Vice President Joe Biden outlined an economic proposal that will serve as a basis of his strategy for the upcoming election.

There are a couple of important strategic lessons from Biden’s move. First, in politics and radio, it is usually best to focus on the things consumers care about. Secondly, it is critical to understand how you rank with your constituency on the same issues consumers care about–the issues of importance.

Political research has been suggesting that Biden’s strengths right now are his image for “being able to deal with COVID-19” and the image for “how to deal with social justice issues,” among other political issues currently on the minds of voters. Where he has either lagged behind President Trump or been merely competitive with him has been on how voters perceive Biden in comparison to Trump on “dealing with the economy.”

One of President Trump’s perceptual strengths has been the economy. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

In marketing, there are concepts called “points of parity” and “points of difference.” The premise is that a candidate or radio station needs to win or be perceptually equal (at parity) to other stations on those issues consumers care about, the things that they value when making choices. Since the economy is always high on lists ranking issues important to voters, it is critical for a candidate to do well there. They need to have strong images for being the best candidate to deal with the economy. A candidate who loses that image will likely lose the election. If they cannot win the “good for the economy image” they must get as close to parity as possible. Without being on a level of parity, a candidate is at a big disadvantage.

Points of difference are those areas or images when one candidate or radio station has a stronger image than its competitor. However, having great image “points of difference” does not help you win elections or ratings battles if the points of difference where you win aren’t important to voters or listeners.

So, it appears Biden sees his weakness as the economy, while his “points of difference” are on other issues, like COVID-19. Biden seems to be trying to get to parity on the economy while maintaining his advantage in other areas.

Joe Biden outlines economic proposal

Vice President Biden is attempting to limit Trump’s advantage on the economy by achieving perceptual parity.

Why not focus on his strengths all the way until November 3? Perhaps Biden realizes that he cannot ride to victory just on COVID-19, especially if the economy bounces back.

There are clear analogies in radio. Radio’s most important offerings are music and talk/sports talk programming. Achieving victory or parity on images dealing with music or talk images is critical. A radio station’s points of difference are things like “entertaining morning shows,” “great contests,” “specialty programming,” etc. These programming and image strengths can be great ratings drivers.

So, in radio, when do you focus your imaging on achieving parity or victory on base Image PyramidSM images of music or talk and when do you focus on your points of difference?

Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

The Coleman Insights Image Pyramid dictates that radio stations should work on wining their base music or talk position before focusing on other layers.

For example, let’s say you program a radio station that has a dominant morning show both in ratings and image but research indicates your station’s music images are only good and not great. What do you do if a new competitor comes into the market? Where do you focus your on- and off-air imaging?  Do you double down on your morning show, the show that drives your outsized ratings? Do you continue to stay focused on the very same thing that you have been marketing for the last few years, or do you move to marketing your music identity? It likely will depend on which is more important to listeners.

If Vice President Biden’s campaign managers were advising you, they would consider which components matter most to your target audience. They would likely focus your imaging and marketing on your music, even though you previously won big by focusing on your morning show. If music is more important to the target than morning entertainment, Biden’s advisors will conclude that they cannot permit the new competitor to become the leading music station in your format and move to win or maintain parity on that music image by marketing music.

Just as political campaigns aim to gain a deeper understanding of potential voters, you should aim to gain a deeper understanding of your radio station’s target audience. Determine what matters most. Where your station is strong in areas of importance, step on the gas pedal. If your radio station is weak in areas important to the listener, set a goal of achieving parity. The other components won’t matter until your perceptions are strong enough where it matters most.

 

What Radio Can Learn From the Ford Bronco Relaunch and its New Brand Story

Tuesdays With Coleman

You probably know by now that Ford just relaunched its heritage Bronco brand for 2021 to rave reviews.

When you hear the name Ford Bronco, some of us likely think of the full-sized, white getaway vehicle used by “The Juice” more than 25 years ago.

The fifth generation of the Ford Bronco made infamous in the O.J. Simpson chase bore little resemblance to the original model. (Photo by Jean-Marc Giboux/Liaison)

Those more familiar with the brand may recall the adventurous first generation model introduced as a competitor to the Jeep CJ-5 and the International Harvester Scout, the OGs of off-roading.

The first generation of the Ford Bronco was built as a competitor to the Jeep CJ-5.

As Ford reintroduced the new models, it produced a very compelling brand story in a series of short videos.

“On August 11th, 1965 Ford Motor Company introduced the world to the Ford Bronco, America’s first SUV. A vehicle that reshaped the 4 x 4 landscape forever. And today, it’s going to do it again.”

Amid images of the American West, wild horses and footage of the Bronco models in action, a narrator tells us the images we should associate with the rebrand:

Built to take on the toughest terrain you can find

Built with adventure in mind

Built to take Americans back into the wild

Built to be the future of off-roading

Bronco: Built Wild

It appears Ford Motor Company deliberately side-stepped its more recent brand history to take the Bronco back to its off-roading roots to make us all believe that we need a Bronco in our stable.

As I watched the Bronco rollout, I couldn’t help but think of radio. Like the Bronco, radio has a rich history and faces more competition than ever (streaming, podcasting, etc.). What if the radio industry launched a campaign to remind people of its place in today’s complicated audio landscape? The medium is certainly bigger than any one radio station. How might radio tell its brand story to replant itself in the mind of listeners?

If we told radio’s brand story, we could include images of radio towers, pre-television living rooms with the family huddled around the radio, a woman listening at work, a man stuck in traffic getting a live traffic report, a woman running with headphones, or a family listening at the beach on their Bluetooth speaker.

Radio has a deep, emotional brand story to tell.

What would the narrator say? Radio was there for you when you…

Got your first kiss

Had the best summer of your life

Mourned your first break up

Drove your first car

Heard about the planes that hit the towers on 9/11.

And radio is here for you today when you…

Need a laugh or a mood boost

Hear breaking news

Are late to work and need to get around a traffic jam

Win tickets to see your favorite band in concert

Hear that your kids will or will not be going back into classrooms this fall.

Today, radio continues to occupy an important position in our society. It is one of the easiest places to find immediate, local information and human companionship.

Just as Bronco is America’s first SUV, Radio is America’s first audio medium. Maybe as an industry it’s time to boast about the incredible relationships radio has shared with audiences for years and showcase its strengths today. “Radio. We’re free. We’re in your community. We’re here helping you get through your day, every single day.”

What if every station told Radio’s brand story on their website and on-air?

Radio, Est. 1909. Reinvented daily.

How to Move the Ratings Needle

Tuesdays With Coleman

Michael O’Shea is the President and General Manager of Sonoma Media Group in Santa Rosa, California. Many years ago, he told me something about how radio stations attempt to impact ratings that has stuck with me to this day. I’ll paraphrase a bit.

There are two numbers in the ratings share of every stationthe number to the left of the decimal (as in the 4 in a 4.3 share) and the number to the right of the decimal (as in the 3 in a 4.3 share). The number to the right is impacted by the things radio stations spend the vast majority of their time on. Tweaking the music. Adding or removing a talk break. Giving away concert tickets. These are the tactical things that may take a station from a 4.3 to a 4.5 or maybe a 4.7.

What moves the number to the left of the decimal point–that is, what gets your station to make big improvements in its ratings? Strengthening your brand. Major marketing. A big format debut. A morning personality crossing a threshold of impactful connection with the audience. Large, momentum-shifting, buzzworthy things. That’s how stations go from a 4.3 to a 5.3.

Recent history draws our attention to two momentum-shifting examples in politics. In 2016, Hillary Clinton had well-produced campaign ads, high-profile endorsements, and, seemingly, a victory well in hand. But it was Donald Trump’s ability to shift perception through consistent repetition that changed the momentum and the outcome of the race. He did not and could not have won if he had dealt with typical things candidates do; e.g., policy papers and carefully crafted messages to appeal to the voters in the middle.

More recently, few expected Joe Biden to emerge as the 2020 Democratic candidate. Again, it wasn’t a snappy ad or one-liner at a debate that changed the game. Biden utilized a groundswell of support in South Carolina to shift perception of his electability.

Rather than just managing the minutia, I’d like to see the radio industry focus on impacting the public conversation.

Is this more challenging than ever? Yes. Does ratings compaction, particularly in PPM markets, make impacting the number to the left of the decimal point even more difficult? Absolutely.

If I owned or managed a radio station today, I would hire a marketing specialist specifically charged with getting media coverage. I’d make it a mission that my morning show would be such market authorities on pop culture and music that other media outlets would look to it for leadership. Last Friday morning, Charlamagne Tha God from The Breakfast Club, the morning show based at Power 105.1 in New York, interviewed Joe Biden. As usual, the show posted the interview on social media (The Breakfast Club has 4.4 million YouTube subscribers) and on its podcast. Towards the end of the interview, Biden says, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” This led to a controversy over his comments, regarding whether or not he is taking the African American vote for granted.

Sure, The Breakfast Club has massive reach now through its many channels, but the syndicated Urban juggernaut started as a local morning show ten years ago. It did not build a following and its influential sphere of influence by mirroring the template of other morning shows. The Breakfast Club made interviews a core part of the show design. Guests know that, as The New York Times writes, “No one who enters the studio or, now, joins a video call with any member of the hosting trio is safe from commentary and criticism.” The Breakfast Club calls itself “The World’s Most Dangerous Morning Show.” Safe companionship may be just fine for some morning shows. But The Breakfast Club knows even the chance something controversial and real could happen at any time is what creates lasting buzz and loyalty.

If your promotions staff spends too much time concerning itself with the prize closet or database emails, maybe it’s time to refocus. Maybe now, while there are no remotes, is as good a time as any.

The reason we track brand perception in our research is that perception is what matters. It’s what’s always mattered and always will.

Worry less about minutia. Make big, strategic brand decisions. Control the conversation. Change perceptions. The number to the left of the decimal point will follow.

Interview With Brent Axe: Coronavirus and the POKE Scale

Tuesdays With ColemanWhat a difference a few weeks, days and hours makes.

Before the travel bans, before sports and concerts cancelled and before schools closed, I paid a visit to Syracuse University for my college radio station’s 35th annual reunion. I returned from that trip just nine days ago.

The keynote of the WJPZ Alumni Banquet featured three SU grads: Jeff Kurkjian, host of Jeff and Aimee in the Morning on 102.7 The Coyote, a Las Vegas Country station; Pete Gianesini, Senior Director of Digital Audio Programming for ESPN and Brent Axe, host of the “On The Block” afternoon show on ESPN Radio/Syracuse and a reporter for Syracuse.com.

Syracuse Sports Journalist Brent Axe

During the session, Brent brought up a principle that guides his show planning, called the POKE scale. As with many others in the industry, his brand stretches across platforms including hosting his own podcast. I wanted to know how Brent is using POKE to build his brand, develop compelling and engaging content and demonstrate differentiation as a reason for listening.

Just last Wednesday, we spent some time on the phone discussing it. Syracuse was set to play the University of North Carolina in the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament later that night. While we knew sports would soon be played without fans in the venues, the thought of cancelling them altogether hadn’t yet crossed our minds.

That was six days ago.

Brent and I discussed how POKE plays a role in his daily planning, including the way he covered Coronavirus on his sports talk show up to that point.

Perhaps there’s value now, more than ever, in applying the POKE scale to show prep–certainly in a format (Sports) built around something that currently, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist. In addition, as Brent explains, it is equally important to recognize when to make adjustments.

Read an edited transcript or listen to the entire interview below.

JAY:

When I saw you in Syracuse, you mentioned the POKE scale. Talk about the acronym and what each letter means.

BRENT:

Passion, Opinion, Knowledge and Entertainment. I write my show notes on a legal pad. Every day on the top of the legal pad I write the date of the show and POKE. If you’re accomplishing those four things, particularly in the type of show I do, you’re checking the box.

Let’s start with Passion. The number one thing my listeners say to me is they appreciate my passion. They might not agree with what I’m saying, but they enjoy the manner in which I’m delivering it.

Opinion. Listeners are looking for you to have a defined, clear take. As we speak, Syracuse is getting ready to play in the ACC Tournament. They have to win to go to the NCAA Tournament. The discussion on the show is, “If they don’t win, is it a failed season?” If I don’t think it’s a failed season, I have to explain why.

Knowledge is prepping. And when you work in this industry, you’re constantly prepping. When you’re watching sports, you’re debating with yourself. First it’s, “Am I going to talk about this?” If the answer is yes, then it’s “How?” And how do I keep it entertaining for those that aren’t hard core sports fans?

JAY:   

Are you putting each topic through the POKE filter to determine how each break works within that structure?

BRENT:  

I try to. The other day I talked about Coronavirus and I broke the Opinion rule. I said, it’s my job to have an opinion here, but this is a case where we don’t know enough to have a firm opinion. You can have an opinion, but you have to clarify it sometimes when it’s beyond the scale. This is real life interfering with sports, so I’ll be honest with my listeners. When I came on, I said, I’m not an expert, I know what I know, here’s the information we have, and let’s go from there. That’s where putting it through the filter doesn’t always work. I heard a call from Bob Costas who was talking about sports talk radio and the “First Take” shows of the world and podcasts, and Bob said you can’t possibly be that opinionated about something for three hours a day, five days a week. And he’s right. When I look at the four things in the POKE scale, (I might say) I can’t entertain you today. Coronavirus is a serious discussion. You’ve got to know when to break the rules and let people know that today’s a little different.

JAY:  

So many shows right now are trying to figure out how to handle approaching the Coronavirus. If you had handled it with updates like a hard news station, it would be out of left field and not consistent with your brand.

BRENT:

And that’s where Knowledge comes into play and applies to guests. If I don’t know, get somebody on that does. It’s growing so many different layers. Schools cancelling classes. Events that are being cancelled. What do I do as a fan? Do I go to games? This is not going anywhere anytime soon, so knowledge becomes important. Trusting sources, getting people on the air with you that can explain it. If you’re not knowledgeable about it – in this case it’s Coronavirus but it could be a 2-3 zone defense – get somebody on who is knowledgeable.

JAY: 

Do you think authenticity goes part and parcel with Passion?

BRENT:  

Yes. You can’t control authenticity. Your audience is making that judgement. You’ve got to be authentic and people will appreciate that more.

JAY: 

Many hosts are afraid to give their opinion, whether it be because they fear it will be controversial or taken the wrong way. Do you always say what you believe or do you sometimes take an opinion you feel will be good for the show?

BRENT: 

It’s important to me that my opinion–going back to that word we used a minute ago–is authentic. The opinion I give someone in public better be the same as it is on the radio.

JAY:  

On the topic of brand development, listeners will see through it if it doesn’t match the brand perception of who you are.

BRENT:   

I’ve been doing radio in Syracuse since 1996. My listeners know certain things about me. I’ve had an opinion for years that Pete Rose should not be in the Hall of Fame and nothing has come along to change my opinion. So every time Hall of Fame voting comes around, I hear from people. “You still feel this way?” It can help build a brand and build awareness when people know what your opinion is.

JAY:  

Does the POKE scale work outside of Sports? Like for a morning show on a CHR or Hot AC station, for example?

BRENT:  

Yes. For example, you need to be passionate about the market you work in. That’s essential. Having an opinion and gathering other opinions is important. Knowledge speaks for itself and we’re all entertainers! That’s what I love about the POKE scale. It does apply to just about everything you can do in this business.

 

We send our thanks to Brent for taking the time to share the principles of the POKE scale, and applaud every radio personality going above and beyond to serve their listeners in important, crucial and memorable ways.

The Seven Deadly Sins of (Non) Strategic Thinking

Tuesdays With ColemanWe consider ourselves fortunate to work with some of the most strategic minds in the audio entertainment space. But even the most seasoned strategists fall into the trap of what we call “Inside Thinking”—when you get too close to the product for your own good and are unable to see it through the lens of your customers.

In contrast, “Outside Thinkers” adopt a more strategic perspective. They understand that customers lead busy, distracted lives and their products are generally not nearly as important as Inside Thinkers may believe.  While this is an ongoing challenge for those working in every industry, not just radio, we see examples of Inside Thinking continue to manifest themselves in the radio industry. Many are simply force of habit.

Radio station

We have collected a list of things Inside Thinkers tell us. We call them deadly sins because if you really believe them they will lead you to damnation as a programmer. Radio people have said these things for decades and just continue to do so. But these examples are also dangerously unstrategic and create unnecessary friction and obstacles to growth.

So, without further adieu, here’s a countdown of the seven deadly sins of nonstrategic thinking (as Casey would say, we’re working our way to #1!):

  1. “As soon as we did that, our numbers went up.”

There are some pretty fantastic tools to analyze your ratings, and it’s just human nature to want to prove in short order that something worked. You added a new song category every hour. You ran a social media campaign. You debuted a contest. You put a new jock on the air.

There are instances of clear correlation and causation between on-air product and ratings. Major weather events often result in bumps for news stations. Local sports teams in playoffs and championships often result in a ratings kiss for sports stations.

But far too often, a correlation is made between more subtle moves and ratings success in which no causation exists.

  1. “But it tested great in our music test.”

If “Stairway to Heaven” tests great for an Urban station, should the station play it? Should an AC station play “Sweet Child of Mine” if it tests?

You should not just throw anything into your music test. Ideally, the songs you choose to test will be guided by a strategy determined in perceptual research. But even in the absence of perceptual research, the songs in the test should be guided by your vision or strategic design of the station. Just because it tested great does not mean listeners want to hear it on your station.

  1. “The morning show is gaining traction. I can feel it.”

Programmers generally should (and do) have an instinctual feel for whether or not the shows on their stations are hitting the mark or not. But when this phrase is uttered just weeks or months into a show’s development as it relates to ratings results, it is unstrategic. Shows take time to develop and the true measure of whether or not a show is gaining traction will take at least a year or two.

  1. “Ratings went down, so we made some music adjustments.”

First, you should generally not make any programming decisions, whether in regards to music or talent, based on one ratings period. Always keep your strategy in mind and make decisions based on that design. Ideally it will be informed by strategic research, but either way, ratings should be evaluated over a longer stretch of time that accounts for wobbles.

  1. “We just play the hits, that’s what I was taught!”

Similar the point in #6, it’s far more complicated than playing the hits. Not every hit will fit your station’s strategic design. Yes, you want to play the best songs. But you want to play the right best songs. “Hits for who?” one of my favorite bosses used to ask.

  1. “My wife/daughter/brother doesn’t like it.”

Think twice before saying this to someone in the programming department at a radio station as your rationale for wanting something changed, like a song, contest or piece of imaging. Sure, organic feedback is great. But using an example or two, especially if it is a relative, as a reason for a programming change, is a big no-no. Conducting “unfocused” groups at your dinner table will only ensure that the real target audience is overlooked.

  1. “Of course the audience knows that.”

A classic mistake of Inside Thinkers assumes your consumer is aware of something because you are. Your listeners spend far less time with your radio station than you and are less likely to know the names of your air talent, be familiar with your contests, recognize a benchmark, be aware of subtle branding changes, and so on. All the audience really knows, if you are lucky, is they turn on this station for Rock or that one for Country. Never assume they are sitting on the edge of their seat waiting to hear what you have to say next.

 

There you have ‘em, the Seven Deadly Sins of Nonstrategic Thinking. The sin of it is, we have all said something along these lines over the years.  Our hope is that we all go “outside” and eliminate these phrases, shall we? I promise nobody will miss them.

Confessions of “I’ll See What I Can Do”

Tuesdays With Coleman

I’m conflicted.

On the one hand, the version of this meme that popped up on my Facebook feed over the weekend is easily my favorite:

Unsurprisingly, many of my radio friends liked the post because, like me, they’ve lived the post.

I can’t possibly tell you how many times I’ve had this exchange with a listener on the request line over the years. The exact verbiage, of course, may differ. I might have said:

“I’ll try and get that on for you.”

“It might be coming up in the next hour.”

“I’ll give it my best shot.”

Little did the listener know I had a music log in front of me and I was well aware of whether or not it was coming up. And, if I used one of those responses, you can be assured it was not coming up.

While everyone who’s ever cracked a mic at a radio station can relate, I feel some guilt about it now. In addition, it’s not a practice today’s radio stations can continue.

When you wanted to hear your favorite song pre-streaming, you had to own the recording. If you didn’t, the radio station could provide that service, hence the request line.

Today if a listener calls the request line and is told, “I’ll see what I can do” or “It’s coming up” and it doesn’t come up, there is no leverage for the station. That angry and disappointed listener that waited and waited for their song can easily stream it on-demand.

We know the percentage of listeners that will ever call a radio station’s request line is very low. So is the percentage of listeners that will agree to carry a meter or fill out a ratings diary.

If someone takes the time to call a request line, they should be treated like royalty.

If you can’t play the song that’s requested, instead of saying “I’ll see what I can do,” maybe find out what other songs and artists she likes.

Ask what she likes most about your station. Or, ask what she thinks the station could do better.

Ask how long she’s been listening. Ask where she works. Find out who her favorite artists are. Learn if she plays your contests.

It’s not about trying to gather actionable data. You’ll want a research study with a representative sample to achieve that.

But if the goal is to provide outstanding engagement and customer service when the consumer has countless other options to choose from, dropping “I’ll see what I can do” from the vocabulary is probably a good place to start.

 

Preparing for Daily Radio Ratings

Tuesdays With Coleman

One of my favorite Facebook features is Memories, which allows me to start most days with reminders of life events I shared in years past. A few weeks ago, I woke up to reminders of a great business trip I took across Canada ten years ago.

On that trip, my colleague John Boyne and I delivered breakfast presentations on four consecutive mornings in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto at the invitation of NLogic (then known as BBM Analytics), the software arm of the Canadian ratings service. Its president asked us to share our early learnings about PPM in the United States just before the audience measurement service was rolled out in his country.

I bring this up because a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see the “next big thing” when it comes to PPM and, as a result, many of the items John and I covered in those breakfast presentations are worth revisiting.

This “next big thing” is coming this month from Media Monitors and its name says it all: Audio Overnights. Yes, it’s true, after making the leap from quarterlies to monthlies to weeklies, the radio business is about to join the world of “dailies.” This means that after constantly reminding our clients in PPM markets that “It’s only a weekly,” we’re now going to have to hold their hands through the ups and downs they will experience as they download the ratings from yesterday onto their computers.

Media Monitors

I am not going to use this week’s blog to rehash Jon Coleman’s landmark “Top Ten Things to Do as a New PD in a PPM Market” article (although, if you want to remind yourself of its teachings, I invite you to review the piece here), which encapsulated much of the material we covered in our presentations to Canadian broadcasters. Instead, I am going to focus on four of the items in Jon’s article that address the changes most stations see in their PPM performances on a short-term basis.

One of Jon’s ten “things” is the need to understand how PPM works and that it—like all research—is prone to statistical wobble. This will be especially true when we start looking at PPM data on a daily basis, as it will be possible—likely, in fact—that there will be occasions where your audience will grow from Wednesday to Thursday and the daily data will tell you the complete opposite. Thus, it is important not to fixate on individual days; what you must do instead is look for longer-term trends in daily data before you start to raise questions about a station’s performance.

Another point is that while programmers—thanks to some extent to tools that have been introduced by Nielsen Audio in recent years—have a better understanding than they used to of panel dynamics, they will need to recognize that panel behavior will have a huge impact on daily data. We usually talk about panel dynamics in terms of respondents entering and leaving a panel, but when we look at daily data, we will experience the impact of panelists dropping in and out of in-tab daily. You can already envision scenarios where a panelist who is a reliable contributor of quarter-hours of listening to a station experiences a life event that prevents him or her from carrying their meter—or, less dramatically, that causes a break from his or her usual pattern of listening—on a given day and the impact that this will have on the daily numbers.

Portable People Meter

Just as we discourage our clients from obsessing over weekly or even monthly PPM data, we feel this is even more important once Media Monitors delivers Audio Overnights to its customers. Avoid downloading the numbers every day and don’t make an event out of it when you do. Instead, look at a bunch of individual days’ data at the same time and watch for patterns by aggregating the data. Outside of when there was a major event that you would expect to drive a big spike or decline in listening, don’t lose the forest for the trees by hyper-focusing on data for an individual day.

Lastly, evoking one of our favorite philosophies about research, avoid confusing correlation with causation. The former is when your ratings go up or down at the same time as you or a competitor made a change and you incorrectly assume that the numbers reflect the impact of that change. It is only through other research that gives you more insight into the hows and whys of listeners’ behavior that you can connect the two with confidence.

I am not going to pass judgment on the introduction of Audio Overnights; they’re coming and we will be prepared to help our clients interpret the data. With that said, I am confident that programmers who follow the tenets of Outside Thinking and understand how consumers make the decisions about what to listen to when will be the ones who will not obsess over daily data and use the tool correctly as a guide that will help them raise the right questions about their station…and not as an answer for why their stations perform as they do.

The Misguided Allure of Deep Tracks

Tuesdays With Coleman

Don’t get radio talent coach Steve Reynolds started on deep tracks. Wait, it’s too late. It all started June 2nd at 11:53am on his Facebook page, when he posted this:

“Dear Yacht Rock Radio on SiriusXM: welcome back, happy summer, missed you, but…you’re playing lots of unfamiliar music and songs that are stiffs. Please get back to the cheesy, known songs only.”

That initial post regarding the seasonal soft rock channel inspired 41 comments, including chime-ins from some pretty big name radio people.

But Steve was just getting started. An hour later he posted this:

Sirius XM Yacht Rock Radio

A few days later, he asked his followers to “report all non-yacht songs heard on Yacht Rock Radio,” a post that resulted in 80 comments.

To date, the topic has generated hundreds of comments. We were intrigued enough to cover the topic in this week’s blog.

Steve takes issue with two separate points in his posts. One is the playing of “stiffs”, or unfamiliar songs, and the other is songs that he feels don’t make sense on the station.

The Fit measurement we use in our FACT360 Strategic Music Tests can tell you when a song may not be in sync with your brand. I covered this topic in the blog, “Should I Play That Song On My Radio Station”.

When it comes to the former issue, whether or not to play deep tracks, here is an absolute truth—every radio program director or music director, at some point or another, has felt the allure of playing lesser-known songs or songs that weren’t hits on their station. It may be a caller on the request line, a salesperson or the programmer questioning himself. And when a PD has to make the decision on whether a deeper track makes sense, the first questions to ask are:

  • Who is your audience?
  • Why are they listening to you and what are their expectations?

SiriusXM, for example, has a deep tracks channel, where the perception Steve noted on the Yacht Rock channel would be reversed. If you hear a hit on the deep tracks channel, that would not be delivering to expectation.

This aligns with the very reason why Steve explains he was inspired to write the post in the first place.

“Yacht Rock brings me back to a happy, carefree time,” he says. “The role of the Yacht Rock channel for me is nostalgia. When a comfortable, familiar song like ‘Deacon Blues’ by Steely Dan comes on, for example, it makes me smile. I don’t want to have to use brainpower when I’m in this state. When a song comes on I’ve never heard of in this context, now I’m using parts of my brain to think about whether I know it and what I think of it. That’s not why I’m there.”

Sirius XM Yacht Rock Radio

Rupert Holmes has one hit with staying power. This isn’t it.

Context plays a crucial role. AAA stations often have perception of more depth that may allow them to go deeper than a Hot AC station, for example.

If listeners expect their favorite songs on your radio station, the only way to satisfy them is by playing something familiar. But with deep tracks you can’t do that because the very premise of a “deep track” is that you can’t find one that appeals to everyone.

Here’s another example:

Years ago, I drove across the country listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival. I love CCR. My deep is CCR, so I can listen to songs that are unfamiliar to most. For a Classic Rock fan, someone else’s deep may be The Eagles and another’s may be Aerosmith. For a hit music station, the expectation, of course, is hit music.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

We are in the business of satisfying customers (listeners) that come to our stores (stations).

We know through research that you can’t find any song—even the biggest, most popular hit song—that appeals to all your listeners.

And you certainly can’t find a deep track that appeals to all of them. Why would you minimize the percentage of customers that are likely to be satisfied?

Steve Reynolds makes a living coaching radio personalities, and he sees a parallel between program directors deciding which music to play and air talent deciding which content to feature.

“As you’ve said many times, Jon, every song is a marketing decision. Is that the song you want representing your radio station? Not just some songs. Every song. I tell air talent, every second of time you have on the station is like beachfront property. You’re the developer. What will you erect on the property? Is it the 4-story home with panoramic views of the ocean and a pool or is it an apartment with no views? Are we selecting our very best, most appealing content every time? It’s the same thing with songs. Are we playing our best, most appealing songs every time? If not, why?”

This doesn’t mean that you never take chances and color outside the lines. As referenced in “Should I Play That Song On My Radio Station,” you can be entrepreneurial in your own lane. You can’t be entrepreneurial in your fringe lanes.

As Don Benson, the former CEO of Lincoln Financial Media puts it, your format lane gives you license to introduce your audience to songs and even sounds they haven’t heard. When you play outside your lane, you risk losing listeners and may encourage brand erosion.

So when it comes to deep tracks, determine:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Why are they listening to you?
  • What are their expectations?

If, in this framework, playing deep tracks makes sense, great.

If not (and it most cases it will be “not”), remember you’re in the customer service business. Providing the most appealing product is the key to success.

The Lost Art of Radio Station Stunting

Tuesdays With Coleman

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That’s what Burger King tweeted on November 28, 2018.

There were more cryptic tweets of gibberish throughout the day, raising eyebrows and intrigue.

The following day, BK published the following on Twitter revealing the gibberish was a stunt:

so about yesterday:

– we were sober
– we didn’t get hacked
– the intern didn’t go rogue
– a cat didn’t run on the keyboard

⚠ CINI MINIS are back⚠ you try typing with icing on your hands…

Burger King Cini Minis

Backstreet’s not the only thing back from the 90s. Enter Cini Minis with a 2019 twist. Er, swirl.

Clever way to (re) introduce a product.

Stunts can be a very effective method to get attention and enhance your brand by doing the unexpected. So why, by and large, has radio stopped doing them?

One of the first measurements we look at in our research is Unaided Awareness. It’s a way to determine which brands are top-of-mind without any prompting. Why is this so important? People aren’t going to listen to your radio station if they aren’t even thinking about it.

Marketing is an obvious way to grow Unaided Awareness, but few stations have the luxury of a big budget advertising campaign, and stunting is a creative way of raising awareness without a big budget.

I can remember countless examples of radio stations using stunts to get attention, some of which I was involved with. We recognize there’s a fine line between a stunt and a promotion. While every promotion is designed to boost station awareness and listening, a stunt does it in a way the consumer may not expect. A stunt often triggers an extreme emotional response, which can be very positive or very negative.

John Lander’s show, “The Nut Hut”, on Eagle 106 in Philadelphia displayed billboards that said “Show Us You’re Nuts”. The listener that did the nuttiest thing won money. Of course, on the air, it was quite the double entendre. Without the play on words, perhaps it would have been just another “most outrageous” promotion. The “flash” of the slogan and the billboards put this one over the top.

On another occasion, John Lander promised listeners he’d send them a dollar bill if they gave him their address – and he did. He sent them a bill for $1. And they sent money back to the radio station!

Legendary radio programmer Bobby Rich ran two specialty weekends years apart that would qualify as stunts. During the height of the disco craze and overplay of The Bee Gees, Rich ran a “No Bee Gees Weekend” on WXLO/New York. Asking listeners which Bee Gees songs they didn’t want played, the jock would say, “I’ll be sure not to get that on for you.” Years later, when you couldn’t turn on a contemporary station without hearing Michael Jackson, Rich ran a similar “No Michael Jackson Weekend” in Philadelphia.

Listeners knew the stations weren’t going to stop playing the Bee Gees or Michael permanently, but the stunts tapped into listeners’ emotions by delivering something unexpected of the station.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

I wonder if a News/Talk station would consider a “No Trump Weekend”? I’ll bet it would make some noise.

Today, there are simply fewer stunts in radio, and there are explanations for that. Maybe some got too mean. Certainly some were too dangerous and risky for the legal department to handle. Also, stations that used to be fierce competitors now share the same hallway, so perhaps there’s less motivation.

Stunts = Top of Mind Awareness + Brand Building

Maybe it’s time to bring back the stunts, with a few caveats.

Recognize that the goal of a stunt is to get attention, but also to build your brand. That means just as every song doesn’t fit on every station, every stunt doesn’t fit on every station.

Adult Contemporary stations, for example, don’t stunt. It’s not consistent with the comfortable brand they are trying to craft. Doesn’t mean they can’t, but the stunt would have to be consistent with the big idea.

A stunt is best deployed when you want to signal change to the market, and/or announce something big and different.

Elvis Duran ran a promotion earlier this year called “Win a Baby!” It’s a contest that provides infertility treatment to a couple that sends in a video of themselves explaining their infertility issues and why they want to have a baby, lending itself to incredible storytelling opportunities.

Elvis Duran Win A Baby

What springs this contest into the stunt zone is the name – like Lander’s “Show Us You’re Nuts,” “Win a Baby” highlights the station and show’s creativity, fits the brand and gets listeners talking and thinking about the brand.

While radio people are some of the best ever at coming up with creative ideas, the industry would be well served to look outside for stunting ideas as well. Because while radio has pulled back on stunting, other industries have done just the opposite.

This year, KFC released a gravy-scented candle, a Danish politician placed ads on Pornhub (and told the world “yeah, that’s me on Pornhub!”) and Coors Light installed taps in bars that light up and pour free pints every time it detects a Bud Light commercial on the TV in the bar.

I mean, that just sounds like a radio promotion.

At least, it used to.

 

Can HBO and Radio Have it All?

Tuesdays With Coleman

As the series finale for Game of Thrones approaches, the buzz feels stronger than ever. While it’s always tough for a network to lose a signature show, HBO has managed to deliver one success after another for the past 20 years. The Sopranos. Six Feet Under. The Wire. Entourage. Sex and the City. True Blood. Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones HBO

“Game of Thrones” is a Sunday night juggernaut for HBO.

What’s one thing all those hugely successful shows have in common?

HBO aired them in prime time on Sunday nights. And now, it wants to make Monday night a showcase as well.

The network launched the new Monday night strategy last night by debuting its new mini-series, Chernobyl. The plan is to schedule two hours of original scripted programming each Monday night.

This begs the question: Is HBO’s Sunday night programming successful because the shows are great or are they successful because of HBO’s strong Sunday night benchmark?

If you think it’s the quality of the shows, consider the current television landscape.

How many lunch conversations have you been in where a coworker mentions a series on Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu that you haven’t seen?  It happens all the time at Coleman Insights. It’s not that they aren’t good shows—in most cases, they are arguably great shows— but when a show is available on-demand amongst a never-ending plethora of strong content, it’s just more challenging to create critical mass and buzz via a shared experience.

Clearly, HBO’s Sunday night benchmark—which they’ve now spent decades promoting heavily—matters. Will HBO now undermine Sunday with Monday?

Yes.

Anytime you add more reasons to use a product you invariably undermine the initial reasons people have for using you.  That’s not necessarily bad as it can make you more broadly appealing, but it does make you less special.

Maybe Monday is ok, meaning you can broaden your appeal and be special, but what about when Tuesday is added and it continues to dilute the importance of Sunday?  Plus, as you add more programming it becomes impossible for them all to be as “good” or special as the original Sunday night shows.

Radio programmers inevitably find themselves in similar situations. Whether it is a station feature, morning bit or music, adding to the current recipe can be great, but it can also undermine the current focus of the station. To add or not to add?

One scenario is addition by music.

Radio stations are known for playing certain styles of music. Broadening into other music styles may be critical to stay in sync with everchanging music tastes. Adding music genres your station isn’t known for may work in the short-term, especially if the genre is currently very popular. But, stations can only extend that success and logic so far. When a station adds too many styles, particularly ones it is not really known for, it may no longer be unique. Product fit is diminished and the brand is diluted. Short term success can turn into unforeseen long-term problems. Ideally, your radio station should play songs that test well (High Acceptance) and fit your station’s brand (High Fit,) as illustrated in the Acceptance-Fit Matrix below:

Acceptance Fit Matrix

Another scenario is addition by features.

Can a radio station add too many features? Absolutely, especially if it takes away from the promotion of the big, popular feature (i.e., “Phone Taps”) that is proven to draw listeners into the station. Music stations also fall into the trap of adding too much non-music content during the day, which gets in the way of the other content and dilutes the product. We often think we need to add more, when we simply need to market the best things more.

Your success is oftentimes driven by what makes you unique. Broadening your radio station may sound great in theory, but it can dilute your uniqueness and damage your long-term position. This is the risk for HBO.

When considering what to add to your radio station to make it more mass appeal, always consider whether the risk of losing uniqueness and diluting your brand is outweighed by the number of listeners you’ll bring to the station.

Usually you’ll find it is not.