Tag Archives: radio

Rethinking Radio Bonuses

Every program director and air talent at a radio station is well-versed in how bonuses work. Get good ratings, you get a bonus. Get bad ratings, you don’t get a bonus (and perhaps get shown the door). There are many reasons why we should rethink the way radio rewards its employees, not the least of which being the sample challenges and wobbles of Nielsen ratings. But there’s also a more important philosophical reason to reevaluate radio’s bonus system: it’s rewarding the wrong thing.

Evidence from other businesses suggests that bonuses based on institutionalizing certain behaviors will achieve better consumer response than just focusing on the ultimate goal of more customers or more profit. For radio, that means focusing on a show’s behaviors, not ratings. To achieve ratings goals a show needs to have a well-thought-out process and perform behaviors that are proven to achieve a better show, and then better ratings will follow. Management should consider rewarding those processes and behaviors.

It’s no secret that we’re big believers in playing the long game. Building strong brands takes time and patience, but big brands are well rewarded. Weaker brands can manipulate ratings in the short-term with things like tactical contesting, but that takes substantial budget allocation. There’s one problem with tying the bonus of a PD or air talent to ratings–they usually can’t count on the budget being there, and they don’t get to make that decision. And yet, they’re penalized for it when it’s not.

The San Francisco Giants generated some buzz in the baseball world in 2021, when it focused on process and behavior over results, and the team notably overperformed expectations.

If the Giants treated their players like radio treats its talent, it would focus only on statistics like Batting Average and Earned Run Average the same way radio focuses on ratings. But rather, the team intensely focuses on the things that can truly affect positive change.

In other words, because batters were taught to more carefully select which pitches to swing at, they struck out less and walked more. This resulted in more runs scored because there were more players on base.

Rather than trying to find traditionally strong home run hitters, players were taught to focus on the specific launch angle of the ball off the bat (hitting the ball at specific angles was proven to be the sweet spot for hitting home runs) rather than randomly swinging away trying to get their bonus by hitting more home runs. When the Giants focused their players on launch angle, not on the number of home runs hit, the number of home runs went way up. They were the MLB leader last year in that category (and in one of the hardest ballparks to hit home runs).

What if, instead of bonusing morning shows on ratings, you bonused them on the process? Here are a few thought starters on what behaviors could be rewarded:

  • The process followed for planning and generating content for the show, rather than just saying “get better ratings” or “get a 5 share” (the equivalent of pushing for them to hit more home runs.
  • The number of meetings team members had in a week with the belief that more meetings mean more and better communication.
  • The subjective quality of the show as rated by the team themselves. Let them set their own level of show expectations.
  • Their willingness and expression of building the station brand versus just focusing on their own show.
  • Their ability and discipline in following a strategic plan.

Great shows wouldn’t be demoralized when a bad ratings book hits because they’d know they were doing the job that was expected of them. Management would be supporting them, rather than only focusing on ratings.  If building the station and show brand and ratings is truly a long-term game, support the morning show and keep them focused on the longer term.

Should bonuses be focused on behaviors rather than ratings?

What if morning shows were more involved in the strategic process rather than just being the domain of management? What if a station allowed the show to do their own research as a signal that you have their back? Would they accept and respond better to consumer feedback if they participated in it? What if they designed and conducted a study like a mediaEKG Deep Dive to test specific pieces of content? And, to the point of this blog, what if they were bonused based on how they responded and adjusted the show based on what was learned?

Radio thrives when it rethinks the way it’s done things. Maybe it’s time to rethink bonuses.

What Radio Can Learn From Travel Agents

The nightmarish (or “flight-marish”) scenarios greeting travelers this summer are no secret by now. Prepare for overworked and understaffed airlines, astronomical prices, and a slew of delays, rescheduling, and last-minute cancellations. It’s a cocktail of issues bound to stress out even the most seasoned traveler. How can you possibly ease your worries?

Would you believe…a travel agent?

On the May 13th  episode of Good Morning America, ABC ran a story called “Return of the Travel Agent”:

You may say, and understandably so, you need a travel agent about as much as you need a pager. They just aren’t required to get the job done anymore. If you’ve got access to the internet, you can whisk yourself away anywhere.

So why should use a travel agent in 2022?

According to the GMA story, travel agents:

  • Can find discounts and upgrades using their relationships with companies
  • Can help travelers “navigate the constantly changing rules of post-pandemic travel”
  • Specialize in the type of trip you want to take (i.e., cruise, safari, beach)
  • Can work within your budget

Travel agents say in the story their “business is booming.”

It’s a far cry from the 2005 New York Times article, “Travel Managers Worry They Face Extinction”, replaced by the 2021 New York Times article, “Make Way for the Travel Agents. Again.”

What can radio learn from the return of the travel agent?

We’ve referred to the overwhelming paradox of choice many times in Tuesdays With Coleman. It’s great to have so many entertainment choices until it’s not. Consumers are exhausted by the options because they are all-consuming. In podcasting, which platform to use? Which category to explore? Which podcasts to try? Which premium streaming service trial to take advantage of? Which playlist? What kind of mood am I in? Which SiriusXM channel to check out? Is it over Channel 100 or under? Will I remember to cancel when I need to? Which premium TV service? What was that show mom recommended to me? Which one has the Harry Potter movies?

It’s a lot of choice, and you’re the one doing the choosing. Kind of like booking your own vacation.

To be successful, a travel agent needs to recognize and embrace their point of differentiation. Planning a vacation is stressful. A travel agent takes that away.

In research, we’re always looking for points of differentiation. What images can you own to give you an edge on the competition?

Such is one very important role of a radio personality that perhaps gets overlooked. Rather than be frightened by the fact that your listeners can leave radio to choose what music or spoken word content they want to hear, embrace the opposite.

In some ways, radio personalities are the travel agents of media. They choose your entertainment adventure. They guide you through the experience. They lean on their expertise to share facts about the music, tell you about events you’ll enjoy, and provide experiences only radio stations have access to.

Perhaps radio’s curation over customization is just what consumers need.

And just like travel agents, they’re not dead yet…and maybe even on the verge of a renaissance.

How to Bring Messaging to Life

The new “911” commercial for the Apple Watch 7 series is absolutely amazing.

From the outset, you hear audio of three actual calls to 911: a woman whose car has flipped and is upside down in water; a paddle boarder stranded in the middle of the ocean; and a man who fell 21 feet and broke his leg. After nearly a minute of listening to audio from the three scenarios, we learn that all three were able to call 911 from their Apple Watch (and likely couldn’t get to their phones). The takeaway? Apple Watch helped save their lives.

This is an extraordinary example of how to use messaging to sell a core feature of a product. Because if Apple’s focus was on functionality, it would have sounded like this:

“The Apple Watch Series 7. If you’re in an accident or in trouble, you can make a call right on your watch, and it could save your life.”

Which is more powerful and effective—telling us what it does or playing the 911 audio?

How would these approaches play out in radio and podcasting?

A news station could do traffic reports…or it could present the reports in a way that help you understand how long it will take to get to work and will affect your commute. It could do weather updates…or it could present them in a way that helps you understand what to wear that day and how it may affect your plans throughout the day and evening.

A hit music station can just tell you it plays hit music, or it can bring the position to life, affirming it as the source for new releases, updates about which artists are in the studio, and who’s coming in concert.

A sports station can tell you Tamp Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown left in the middle of the game, or it could piece together a moment-by-moment drama.

A true crime podcast can just tell you the story, or can it provide an immersive audio experience that includes scripted reenactments.

Although it’s been used as a pop culture joke over the years, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” is one of the most powerful taglines ever used in advertising. It was first uttered in a 1989 commercial for LifeCall, which allowed an elderly woman to call for help right from a pendant with a microphone that could reach a dispatcher.

Like you can do with your Apple Watch!

But what if LifeCall had just had a voiceover tell us, “Wear the LifeCall pendant, and you’ll be able to reach a medical dispatcher. It could help save your life.”

Would that have worked as well as, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up?”

“The Apple Watch. Now with life-saving technology.”

Or 911 audio?

What messaging will you bring to life today?

Artificial Intelligence Is Coming for the Audio Industry

Recently, I was targeted on Facebook with an ad for a company called Speechelo.

Considering I actually do voiceovers part-time, I’m going to guess that’s why the algorithm chose me. Though, based on the content of the ad, I’d have to conclude their targeting misfired. (I may or may not be one of the angry faces among the 5.3K reactions.)

It’s not the first time the voiceover industry has been attacked with low-rent solutions. Head on over to Fiverr, for example, and you’ll find people happy to record some lines for you for a few bucks.

But this ad didn’t catch my attention because it saves you money. No, I think it was “Create Human-Sounding Voiceovers with 3 Clicks.”

The website boasts that you can have access to over 30 human-sounding voices in 23 languages for a one-time fee of $47. It claims you can paste your copy, select a voice, then change the pitch, emphasize words, add inflections, then simply click and generate your voiceover. It boasts integration with recording software including Premiere Pro and Audacity.

Not surprisingly, Speechelo isn’t the only game in town.

WellSaid Labs just raised $10 million for their AI “synthetic voice” business. You want a synthetic voice to match the cadence of yours? WellSaid can create “AI Voice Avatars.” The article envisions the technology being used for “engaging in complex real-time interactions with consumers, and reading scripts on computer-generated news programs.”

WellSaid Labs

WellSaid Labs just raised $10 million for their synthetic voice business

Whoa.

So it starts with simple voiceovers. Segments like e-learning are a no-brainer transition; you can easily see companies using these voices for things like online courses or company onboarding. But it sounds like many folks in customer service should pay attention to the line “complex real-time interactions with consumers.” And news anchors should heed “reading scripts on computer-generated news programs.”

Like it or not (and I’ll bet many of our readers don’t like,) artificial intelligence is coming for the audio industry. Imagine how this technology could transform local radio commercial production, and maybe it’s not all bad. Production directors no longer chasing down jocks after their shift to voice spots they didn’t want to do anyway. Using the avatar feature for clients that want to be in the spot but have trouble getting through a script.

But admittedly, it can be challenging to find bright spots.

There are those who will say, “What I do can’t be replaced by automation,” and that will be true for many. For others, it won’t be. Voice AI will improve over the coming years, and it will improve dramatically. The reasons why certain audio talent is irreplaceable is the same as it’s always been. Great talent generates unique, compelling content that emotionally connects with an audience.

AI can’t do that. At least not yet.

I Can Tell How Healthy Your Brand Is With One Question

Remember when you went to the fair as a kid and there was a booth called “Fool the Guesser?” This eccentric gentleman was tasked with guessing your age (within two years), your weight (within 3 pounds), or the month of your birthday (within two months). If he got the answer wrong, you won a prize. It was a simple trick. He had to know the answer to just one question. As crazy as this guy looked, somehow, he seemed to always get the answer correct, mystifying the gathering crowd.

Was he psychic? Or are these things just obvious to an astute observer?[1]

Many years ago, I met a radio researcher who claimed that the answer to just one question was the key to winning or losing radio stations. Just like in Fool the Guesser. Curious about what that question might be? I was too. The question was “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of (radio station name)?”

His line of thinking was that if most listeners mentioned the base music position of the radio station, the station was in a healthy place. If they mentioned the morning show, a contest, a feature, or some other programming element before music, he would say the station was not properly branded, and in a bit of trouble. The classic radio example is Howard Stern. Howard’s brand was so powerful, it overpowered the base positions of the stations that carried his show. When he fled for Sirius, a large percentage of the brands were forced to flip with no foundation to stand on.

Today, that remains a critical question and one of the most valuable health checks you can perform on your radio station. Indeed, it forms the foundation of the Coleman Insights Image Pyramid philosophy. Listeners must be able to, in a word or two, be able to explain what your station represents. What kind of music is it famous for? This applies for Spoken Word stations as well, with the Base Talk position replacing the Base Music position.

The Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

As the Image Pyramid demonstrates, the importance of the correct answer to the “one question” doesn’t mean the other elements are not important to study as well. The base position is the foundation, the other elements provide brand depth.

The “one question” exercise can be applied to any brand. Certainly, other audio brands in the podcast and streaming segments, but in other product categories as well. Take Spirit Airlines, in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. If consumers start regularly answering the one question with “cancelled flights” instead of “low fares,” Spirit is going to have a serious problem.

While no replacement for comprehensive research, try this exercise with your brand. Ask about the first thing that comes to mind.

What’s the answer?

[1] Here’s a fun article about “The Guesser” you might enjoy: https://www.syracuse.com/cny/2013/08/your_age_weight_and_birth_month_are_fair_game_for_the_guesser_at_the_new_york_state_fair.html

Blue Ocean Strategy for Podcasting

Coleman Insights founder Jon Coleman introduced Blue Ocean Strategy to Tuesdays With Coleman blog readers late last year in “Should Radio Go Back to Normal.” In short, brands that find themselves in heavily competitive crowded market segments are in metaphorical shark-infested, blood-laden waters. Hence, Red Ocean. On the other hand, some brands have established unique points of market differentiation in the minds of the consumer. This clear lane is the Blue Ocean. A few months ago, it struck me that podcasting resembles a Red Ocean in a number of ways. It is dotted with millions of shows whose names, logos, hosts, structure, and production sound similar. I wondered if there was an opportunity for podcasters to apply Blue Ocean techniques that brands in other market segments have successfully used to differentiate and make the competition irrelevant. That’s how the idea of my presentation, “Create A New Lane: Using Blue Ocean Strategy To Get Your Podcast Noticed,” which I shared at the Podcast Movement conference in Nashville last week, began.

As Jon pointed out in his December blog, Blue Ocean Strategy may have value for underperforming radio stations. Is it better to live in the shadow of a dominant competitor or blaze your own trail? When, for example, a station in your cluster is the third highest-rated CHR or second highest-rated Country station, is it more strategically advantageous to choose an untapped or underserved lane?

One way to look at available opportunity in podcasting is by reviewing the number of shows in each category in Apple Podcasts. For example, the general Science category has over 30,000 shows. Chemistry, a subcategory of Science, has only about 900. Should you publish a general Science podcast that may cover Biology in one episode, Physics the next, and Chemistry the next…or do you publish one that focuses specifically on Chemistry, hyper-targeted to those interested in the topic?

The Religion category is a massive Red Ocean, with over 150,000 shows. Christianity is a subcategory of Religion but is its own Red Ocean at over 90,000. Yet Hinduism, observed by 15% of the world’s population, represents less than two percent of the Religion category. Not to mention that India is the third largest podcast listening market. Whereas Religion and Christianity are Red Ocean, Hinduism is Blue Ocean. The most underserved categories? That belongs to swimming and volleyball, at only about 130 shows each. Total. As James Cridland of Podnews likes to say, “If you can’t rank in the Top 150 for swimming, you’re doing it wrong.”

This Red/Blue Ocean exercise can also apply to topics as opposed to categories. The Golden State Warriors are a hugely popular NBA franchise. If you search for “Golden State Warriors podcast,” Google’s algorithms will offer you many suggestions of shows that cover this topic. But do the same thing for “Stephen Curry podcast,” and you’ll find none. Zilch. Zero. But Google will recommend a golf podcast. Curry is one of the most popular athletes of all-time, yet there is seemingly no podcast focused on him. If you launched both today, which would have a better chance at acquiring new listeners? A general Warriors podcast amongst a sea of established Warriors podcasts or a Steph Curry one? The Golden State Warriors are Red Ocean. Stephen Curry is Blue Ocean.

Stephen Curry Podcast

A Google search for “Stephen Curry Podcast” shows a wide open Blue Ocean opportunity

Apply this exercise to your content, as a sales consultant that attended my session did. He explained to me that his podcast offers broad sales advice. The name of his show implies broad sales content. Now, he’s thinking about how to focus his show. He’s considering his target listener. Is it C-suite level? Sales managers? What market segment? A company that sells software for used car dealers has a podcast called – you guessed it – The Used Car Dealer Podcast. It’s a great brand building and lead generating show for them, though they wisely don’t use the show as a commercial. A podcast for car buyers (or even car dealers) is Red Ocean. A podcast for used car dealers is Blue Ocean.

When deciding to adopt Blue Ocean Strategy for your podcast, it’s important to remember you should not just pick a category or topic because it is underserved or narrowly focused. The content still has to be great. You must have a level of expertise, and put in the research and the work to make it so. But if you do, and the category or topic are Blue Ocean, you are increasing your chances of success.

Finally, it’s important to remember that Blue Ocean strategists don’t differentiate with just one thing. The greatest Blue Ocean brands differentiate in multiple ways. That means thinking about all the things podcast listeners see when they search for shows. The thumbnails look alike. The descriptions sound the same. The structure and production value is similar. Make a list and consider how you would Blue Ocean each item. The show name. The logo. The description. The sound. The host. The category. The topic. And so on.

Next stop: Blue Ocean!

Radio’s Got a Story to Tell

Sometimes a radio station changes its name, format, or both. Other times it makes a morning show switch—sometimes the talent leaves voluntarily, in other instances not so much.

How do stations usually handle these large-scale changes? On far too many occasions, they move forward in their on-air presentations like it’s “business as usual.”

And that is bad business.

Radio station management often doesn’t think about the brands’ relationship to the audience. When big decisions are made, they avoid telling listeners because there is an underlying line of thinking that radio is “show biz” and therefore explanations are somehow unnecessary. “Talk” to the audience? We don’t actually talk to the audience. We present. We’ll make the change and they’ll get it.

Over the course of doing focus groups throughout my career, I heard from radio listeners that had been exposed to these types of changes, in instances where the station didn’t talk about the changes. The audience never understood. If it was a morning show change, they would ask, “Where did the morning show go?” “Where did these new guys come from?” The way these changes were handled generated a sense of confusion. It also created a sense of disappointment and sometimes anger. The radio station has asked its listeners to build a relationship with its hosts. Now the hosts listeners have built relationships with have been taken away and they don’t get an explanation?

Sounds pretty crappy when you really think about it.

A classic example of how to not handle a change was how ESPN handled Mike & Mike. The hugely successful show that paired anchor Mike Greenberg with former NFL player Mike Golic aired on ESPN Radio for 17 years. Then, all of a sudden in 2017, it was announced that Greenberg would be leaving to host his own show. It was never really explained to the audience why he was leaving. When Trey Wingo was brought on to replace Greenberg, the new show was never clearly defined. Why should the audience care? There were reports of acrimony and bad blood between Greenberg and Golic, and Golic and Wingo ultimately didn’t last three years.

Perhaps the show would not have survived anyway, but in many respects it never had a chance. When you replace a heritage show that features hosts that have undeniable chemistry with a new show that is essentially starting from scratch, you need to let the audience in on the change. By doing so, you are asking permission for them to give you the time needed to develop the new show. When you don’t, when you just expect them to “get it,” their reaction is far more likely to be negative. “They took away my favorite show and replaced it with a worse one.”

Golic and Wingo were simply put in a terrible position.

Here’s another example.

YouTuber Stevin John released his first Blippi video in 2014. Wearing a blue shirt with bright orange glasses, suspenders, and a bow tie, John presented Blippi as a children’s entertainer and educator. Blippi has been a massive success in children’s entertainment. Blippi has 13 million YouTube subscribers and an additional 11 million on a Spanish language account. The videos have racked up billions of views. That’s billions with a b.

Five years after launching Blippi (in 2019,) fans attending the Blippi Live tour noticed that Stevin John wasn’t the one playing the Blippi character. It was the same orange and blue clothes, but it was actor Clayton Grimm on stage with no explanation. Audiences were just expected to accept that Blippi was Blippi, no matter who played him. Recently, John launched a new Learn With Blippi series of videos on YouTube, and Clayton Grimm is now also the online Blippi. What did viewers think? The comments are turned off.

This has resulted in widespread confusion, with online comments that include, “Who’s this??! This ain’t gonna fly with my kids,” while another wrote, “My 3-year-old said, ‘That’s not Blippi.”

If you dig deep enough, you’ll find John addressed the issue in an interview with Billboard before the 2019 tour. “I won’t be on the road, but I am obviously extremely involved with the whole process,” he said. “Blippi is as a character and I’m the creative force behind it, but since YouTube is a monster and all of these platforms are really crazy I can’t go on the road for many weeks or months at a time.”

When you’re trying to deliver a crucially important widespread message about a change to your brand, maybe an industry publication like Billboard isn’t the way to go. This is a message that should have been delivered aggressively through traditional media and social media, and should be clearly front and center on the Blippi website. But it’s not. In fact, the answer to the question “Who is the actor that plays Blippi?” on the FAQ page is Stevin John.

What happens when a radio station changes its name or music?

When a station makes a wholesale change to its brand—a name change, music shift, new imaging, perhaps new air talent—it cannot emerge “fully developed.”

Your station can’t have one name, one music library, one set of DJs, and one imaging package on the air on a Thursday, and suddenly debut all new things on a Friday and pretend like nothing has happened.

This is in part because listeners are not paying close enough attention. They will not pick up on the nuances you expect them to. The result is that the new brand doesn’t get the opportunity to build properly because the audience is confused.

They changed their name from G102 to The Vibe? Why? That morning show I listened to every morning for five years is gone. Why? They’re not playing my favorite songs anymore. Why?

Every brand change needs a story. You cannot just jump in the pool with no explanation.

There was a rock station in Davenport, Iowa in the 80s that ignored their brand fit and followed the music trends. The station started playing popular Top 40 artists like Prince and Madonna. The ratings tanked and listeners were furious. Ultimately, station management realized they had made a mistake and recognized they were damaging the brand. When they corrected their error, they didn’t just take Prince and Madonna off and hope the audience picked up on it. The program director went on the air and apologized. He explained why they did it, why they were changing back, and handled it with some self-deprecation.

The ratings came roaring back.

When E. Alvin Davis was a program director and consultant, he explained the value of having the PD talk to the audience about what they were doing. He would introduce himself in promos explaining new contests. Here’s what it’s called, here’s why we’re doing it, and here’s how to play. Let the audience peek behind the curtain.

Ultimately, that’s the whole point. Let your audience peek behind the curtain. If you tell them why you changed the station (and please, do not insult their intelligence and say, “you told us you wanted it”,) they are more likely to accept it. If you explain why the music has changed, they are more likely to notice (and listen). If you explain why the new morning show is there and why the other one left, they are more likely to give the show a chance.

Show biz is an important part of radio, but sometimes we need to dial it back just a bit. When changes are made, be intimate and honest and don’t pretend the change didn’t happen. If your goal is to build strong bonds with your audience, you’ve got to be willing to share the ride with them, in good times and in challenging times. If you treat the audience like the bond doesn’t exist, the bond will be broken and the change for naught.

Wanted: Radio’s Music Experts

In an October 2000 interview with Rolling Stone, television producer Gay Rosenthal tells the story about the time he was at lunch with VH1 Executive Vice President Jeff Gaspin and the conversation landed on Milli Vanilli. The two started wondering out loud whatever happened to the massively successful duo that was brought down and disgraced by a lip-syncing scandal in the summer of 1989. Rosenthal said to Gaspin, “I don’t know, but why don’t you let me take the ball and run with it, and let me see what I can find out?”

That’s how Behind The Music was born.

The VH1 docuseries that examined each artists’ history from their origins to their peak of success, and took a deep dive into their struggles and hardships (no BTM was complete without the struggles!) started in 1997 and lasted 274 episodes.

Thanks in part to the streaming content explosion, Behind The Music is getting a reboot on Paramount+ with eight new episodes starting July 29th. Those that remember the glory days of VH1 will also recall Storytellers, which lasted all the way until 2015 with artists telling stories behind the songs. The diverse lineup of 98 episodes started with Ray Davies of The Kinks and ended with Ed Sheeran.

But surprise, shawty! The desire for fans to learn more about their favorite artists never went out of style. In just the past few years, Netflix alone has churned out popular docs on artists representing just about every genre of music.

“Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell” features rare footage captured by The Notorious B.I.G.’s childhood friend Damion “D-Roc” Butler.

“Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce” offers a rare intimate look at Queen B’s life.

Taylor Swift admits her PR missteps and transparently talks about how her need to control her brand corresponds with her obsession of being perceived as good in “Miss Americana.”

Want to know how ZZ Top crafted their sound and image? Watch “ZZ Top: That Lil Ol’ Band From Texas.”

Care to worship Dolly Parton for an hour and a half (spoiler: you do)? “Dolly Parton: Here I Am” has you covered.

Dolly Parton Here I Am Netflix

If you’re not paying attention, you may be missing the fact that music documentaries are coming at you in all different directions. On multiple video streaming services to be sure, but even Spotify had a four-part music documentary series.

Consumers have always craved more information about the artists they love. They read liner notes in the vinyl, click the button on Shazam, and type in lyrics on Google.

It is disheartening when personalities on music radio stations either a) don’t offer information about their core artists or b) don’t offer anything very interesting or engaging.

Of course, it doesn’t make sense for most stations to run long-form documentaries and “musicology” doesn’t belong on every format. But if there’s any medium that should be serving the craving for artist connection, shouldn’t it be radio?

By default, listeners will assume air talent on music radio stations are experts. Air talent have a unique platform to both introduce artists to the audience and build emotional connections with their listeners. You can provide basic general knowledge listeners can find anywhere or you can be the “insider” the listener relies on for engaging content. Taking the extra time to find this content can build important images for the station and the air talent.

Engaging artist information and connections is radio’s space. It’s also radio’s to lose.

Radio, You’re Obsessing Over Alexa

Over the last couple of years, a new girl in town has caused quite the buzz in the radio industry. Her name is Alexa and chances are if you work in radio, you’ve had (probably way more than one) “How do we handle Alexa on our stations?” conversation.

Alexa

The rationale behind wanting to run smart speaker promos on your radio station is understandable. You want to train your listeners to ask for your station on the new tech they are adopting. You know that it is a potential growth area of listening for your brand. And, perhaps there is a mandate coming down (whether it be from corporate or on the local level) that’s telling you Alexa’s important, so make sure you get those promos in.

Making your listeners aware of Alexa is a part of audience building for the long-term, so it should be a part of your strategy. But you need to sell it the right way. The dominant brand in your market will win smart speaker listening. If you spend too much time tactically promoting Alexa and less time promoting the value of your brand, you may be unintentionally hurting yourself.

It is not dissimilar to a radio station that spends too much time promoting a contest at the expense of its Base Music Position. Contesting is tactical, and so is Alexa. It can’t come at the expense of your brand.

Tactical programming should support, not come at the expense of, promoting your Base Music or Talk Position. (Coleman Insights Image Pyramid)

A restaurant that becomes famous in your hometown because it has great food and a great ambience will be the most popular in town even if people don’t know exactly where it is. It will be the most popular because it has a great brand.  People will find it when they want to eat out because it is a strong restaurant brand. However, a restaurant that is not top-of-mind and valued by consumers will not be crowded just because it puts its address in big letters on its web page. That restaurant needs to sell its food and ambience, then people will find it.

This is not to suggest that promoting Alexa as a place to listen to your station is a waste of time.  However, in the rush to build listening via Alexa, it seems that many stations are running lackluster one-off promos for listening to the station on Alexa–it’s not the kind of emotional verbiage that will change behavior. Rather than liners that simply mention Alexa, consider whether it makes sense to create a campaign that builds smart speaker listening awareness and your brand at the same time. Take into account how many people have Alexa, how they use it, and whether it fits into your marketing. If it does, rather than just running liners, build a consistent campaign. This is how to truly make habitual change.

If the brand is strong, listeners will come to the distribution in their own time. If you build the brand, the more likely it is listeners will ask Alexa for it.

So, when it comes to those smart speaker promos, don’t do it just for the sake of doing it or because you think you should. Think about how you can use every moment of airtime to build your brand. When you do promote Alexa, think about how to make it memorable, engaging and how the campaign can support your brand’s image growth.

 

Need a Slogan? Bring the Sledgehammer.

For the past 12 years, Z104.3 has served Baltimore with Top 40 music. Prior to that, the frequency had gone through iterations of formats including Modern Rock, Smooth Jazz, Classic Rock, Classic Hits, and Soft AC.

Perhaps 104.3 was destined to return to CHR, a format that flourished when B104 ruled the Charm City from 1980 to 1992. Those who grew up in Baltimore in the 80s may remember B104 as a dominant brand that was part of their lives—and they almost certainly remember B104’s slogan:

B104 Means Music.

In 2021, it’s easy to write off “means music” as a generic, trite, and meaningless tag line. But in the early 1980s, many CHR stations were still on the AM dial, operating as full-service outlets with a lot of talk, interruptions, and noise. “B104 Means Music” spoke volumes about what listeners could expect from the brand—particularly when contrasted to the competition.

This doesn’t mean B104 didn’t have personality. Brian Wilson and Don O’Brien, known as Brian and O’Brien (there’s another branding lesson in the catchy name) regularly topped the morning ratings throughout the decade. But B104 understood that the first battle to win–to drive listeners to the station–was music, and it did.

There are powerful ways to add meaning to your brand and there are wimpy ways that never stick. Downplaying or soft-pedaling it, especially in today’s saturated world, is a recipe for disaster. You have to bring the sledgehammer.

Branding expert Laura Ries (daughter of branding legend Al Ries) explains this need for a sledgehammer in her book, “Battlecry: Winning the battle for the mind with a slogan that kills.” She details sonic tips to engage the brain when crafting a slogan, like rhyming: “Roto-Rooter, that’s the name. And away go troubles down the drain.” Or repetition: “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” While the “visual hammer” references she makes (like the Aflac duck or the Tropicana orange with the straw) are trickier for audio brands, the lesson of the message is the same. Say what it is, say it loud, and make sure it means something.

Battlecry by Laura Ries

Fast food may not be good for you, but the category sure delivers memorable slogans. Arby’s “We got the meats!” is stuck in my head these days.

Legendary programmer and voice talent Mark Driscoll whimsically positioned the original Rhythmic CHR incarnation of Q102/Philadelphia with the slogan “What the hell, here’s another hit…” The words came out of nowhere, magically setting up the off-center attitude of the station, and stuck in people’s heads like that song lyric that just won’t go away. The “#1 Hit Music Station” slogan serves an important strategic purpose, but nobody is going to repeat it or laugh about it on a Zoom Happy Hour.

To this day, for thousands and thousands of people, when you say B104, they’ll say “means music” either in their head or out loud. They’re still buying the shirts on eBay.

B104 means music

So when it comes to your slogan, don’t come to the battle unprepared. Bring the sledgehammer.