Whether you’ve experienced poring over data in Media Monitors or visiting Arbitron’s offices in Columbia, Maryland back in the day to hand-sift through diaries (or like me, both), the frustration of radio ratings data inconsistencies is a tale as old as the measurement itself.
Generally, ratings tend to tell the story well when viewed over longer periods of time. But when you rely on quarterly, monthly, or even weekly ratings to make decisions that affect your programming, hold on buckaroo. You’re often in for a wild ride.
For me, the irrational rationalizing was the worst part as a program director on ratings day. OK, maybe it was the 30 minutes leading up to the release of the numbers when my stomach turned in knots. But it was the moments afterwards on bad book days, with the General Manager, Sales Manager, and maybe some other members of the programming team in my office offering theories.
“Well, you know, the morning show took the week off and so-and-so was in there by herself.”
“We ran the heck out of that contest. I guess it didn’t work.”
“Why didn’t those commercial-free sweeps connect?”
“The competition started playing one more current an hour.”
Guess, guess, guess, guess.
If you’re only looking at a ratings number, you simply don’t know what caused the drop.
It’s no different when you rationalize why you went up. There are exceptions, of course. A truly major change like a format flip or morning show departure can cause short-term ratings flux, but minor things typically don’t.
At its core, perceptual research is so valuable because of the sample size. When you’re talking with hundreds of listeners in your market that listen to your station or your competitors, you can both rely on the data and feel comfortable making programming decisions based on it.
And because data is impartial, the answers you think you’ll get aren’t always the ones you do. This is especially true when it comes to the answer to the question in the title of this blog. “Why did my radio station’s ratings go down?”
Attempting to answer that question shouldn’t be the only time you conduct perceptual research, but it certainly is a reason to. Over the course of being involved in many studies where that question is asked, the answer is not always that something is terribly wrong.
Sometimes, radio stations going through ratings struggles look remarkably healthy from a perceptual perspective. It could be a ratings sampling issue. And although it may not be much consolation to the sales department in the short term, it is helpful to know that the ratings declines in those instances are usually temporary. It is not unusual to see them bounce back. And thankfully, studies in instances like these offer programmers confidence to not go fixing things that aren’t broken, an instinct that may be opposite to the feeling they get when looking at a bad book.
And yes, sometimes things are in fact broken. Or the competition owns all the images you’re trying to win. Or not enough potential listeners know your station exists. Or a myriad of other issues we can identify. They’re all solvable challenges, sometimes painful, sometimes not. But at least you know the why behind the what and you can take the appropriate action to make positive change.
Guessing may work well for this guy:
But it’s not so fun when you’re in charge of a radio station.
This is the story of a once-dominant radio station that did everything right.
The owners deployed a perceptual research (Plan DeveloperSM) study on the brand every single year to ensure its market position was the most optimal one. It had an enviable Image PyramidSM: a strong Base Music Position, a dominant morning show that complemented the brand, and deep images that permeated the community.
The Coleman Insights Image Pyramid
Because this station consistently fielded research, we saw things that were not obviously there. Ratings were great. Revenue was great. But there was trouble brewing, and we could identify it early.
For obvious reasons, we can’t share identifying information such as the market, station, and personalities, but we invite you to take a look back at the progression of studies done for this brand over a nearly fifteen year period to get a clearer glimpse of how the process works–and how valuable perceptual research can be.
At one time, our client station was in an outstanding position. Their perceptual research looked very strong. It was strongly associated with its desired music images and the morning show was the dominant leader in the market. In fact, in the early stages of research, our morning show was growing with Cume and P1 listeners and there were few signs of weakness.
Then a new competitor launched. It wasn’t the first time our station had fended off competitors. If ratings and revenue were the measure of success, the client station was still in an outstanding place. The new competitor was on a weak signal, which limited its potential. But early on, despite what ratings showed, the morning show on the new competitor displayed positive early indicators in our research. And, despite what the ratings said, we saw the first signs of image erosion with our show.
About a year later, it was clear the crosstown morning show showed impressive promise with the younger end of our target demographic. We recommended attempting to acquire the other morning show.
Eleven months later, our morning show still performed well in the ratings, but there was a clear disconnect with the younger end. At this point, our station had a far stronger Base Music Position and in fact the competitor’s base position was weakening. But their morning show was growing and was wildly popular among their P1s. Their show was not performing to its potential because that station’s Base Music Position was weak. Again, we recommended making a play for the other show.
A year later, the weakness of our competitor’s music position continued to hamper their morning show, which lacked familiarity in the market. But the show was outperforming our show perceptually on the younger end. We believed, particularly because of its weak music position, getting this show would be devastating to the other station. We once again recommended going after it.
Another year later: We insisted a morning show change needed to be made. The host of the other show had been given the time needed to develop into a superstar. Our show’s fan base was now significantly older than the target of our station. But by this point, making a pitch for their show was getting out of reach.
Two years later: Our station’s perceptual position had eroded. Cume Conversion (the percentage of listeners that convert into loyal P1s) plummeted. Momentum images were concerning, with a high number of listeners that felt our station was “not as good as it used to be.” By this point, our morning show was replaced, but it was too late–and the new morning show was not a good fit and had high negative images.
Three years later: The competitor was now the preferred station in our target demographic. The other show was in syndication.
The station has arguably never recovered, going through a variety of format shifts and talent lineups while the competitor continues to thrive.
Every good researcher will tell you that their job isn’t to tell you what you want to hear–it’s to tell you what you need to hear, as we did here. And fortunately, we often get to deliver good news–but hearing bad news can be immensely valuable. It would be easy to say, “Why didn’t they just make the change??”…but of course it’s more complicated than that, including money issues and people issues. It’s hard to pull the trigger on something when ratings and revenue show things are going well.
By deploying strategic research, you get to see things that aren’t immediately obvious. You get to make the decisions that can have remarkable impacts on your brand. It’s certainly better than relying on ratings and gut alone.
I treasure all Coleman Insights clients, but a specific client of ours holds a special place in my heart. This client is a stand-alone FM music station in a small market that more than holds its own against multi-station clusters owned by some of the biggest groups in American radio. It would be nice to claim that their success is due to their commitment to research—despite their status as a stand-alone in a market outside of the Top 100, they do a Plan Developer strategic study or a FACT360 Strategic Music Test every year—but their consistent commitment to maintaining their station’s strong brand and delivering content designed to be as appealing as possible to their audience should be equally recognized. They also deserve credit for their long-term retention of one of the best programming consultants in the business.
This client’s passion for delivering great content resulted in an email exchange between the general manager, the consultant and me that highlighted a point that I don’t think can be reiterated too often: Radio programmers should not confuse content repeating with content creation. If they do, I fear their stations will become less relevant in the increasing competitive audio consumption landscape.
The exchange centered around how the station’s morning host handled contestant Blair Davis’s hilarious introduction of himself on a recent episode of Wheel of Fortune. Davis told host Pat Sajak about his “loveless marriage,” described “his old battle-axe” of a wife and claimed to have been “cursed” by having three stepchildren. It was a funny joke that Davis and his family were in on and the clip of his appearance went viral immediately.
Our client was thrilled that his morning host was on top of this viral sensation; I, unfortunately, had to play the role of wet blanket. The problem wasn’t the topic itself—it was timely and relevant. The issue was with how it was presented. Rather than generating fresh content based on the story, the host instead did little more than playing the audio from Wheel of Fortune, which many of the station’s listeners may have already heard or could easily find on their social media feeds. Sure, radio personalities should talk about things that are happening in pop culture, but if all they do is repeat content that was created elsewhere—or at least do not do something to add to that content—radio will be in trouble.
What could a radio personality do with content like the Wheel of Fortune introduction? Examples include having listeners call in and do their own version of a Blair Davis-style introduction. Or how about if a morning show did a bit with celebrity impressions where famous people did their own introductions using the Blair Davis approach? I am sure people who are more creatively inclined can come up with better ideas than mine, but the point that you should take away from this is that radio can’t be in the content repeating business and must be in the content creation business. The latter is a lot harder, but I believe it is essential for radio to continue to thrive.
In our research, we continue to see that music stations seen first for the music they play (the Base Music Position layer of their Image Pyramid) are the ones that tend to have the strongest ratings in the long run.
We also continue to see that stations that are perceived as more than “jukeboxes”—in that they have developed the upper layers on their Image Pyramids—engender greater loyalty from their listeners and therefore also enjoy greater ratings success. This development of additional imagery beyond their Base Music Positions is even more important today, as consumers have so many options for listening to their favorite music wherever they are. That’s why music stations have to create and not just repeat nonmusical content. The industry’s goal should be to get other media platforms to repeat the content radio stations create.
Like you, a lot of us listened to the last few days of WPLJ and Mix 107.3 and marveled at the emotional impact of those farewells. And as the Nielsen PPM data shows, listening levels for WPLJ/New York rose from a 2.5 share in April to a 3.1 in May (its final full monthly), its strongest overall performance in two and a half years. This doesn’t even include the final week on-air, which was chock full of tributes, reunions and memories.
WRQX (Mix 107.3)/Washington, D.C. experienced a similar bump, rising from 3.5 in April to 4.1 in June. WPLJ and WRQX were two of the stations that flipped formats on May 31st as a result of their sale to Educational Media Foundation.
The staffs of each of these stations handled their transitions in compelling, personal, engaging ways. There were special guests including my hero Scott Shannon*. There was exceptional listener engagement. And integration with social media, as listeners could experience live encapsulated moments of the final days and hours.
Scott Shannon (L) hosted mornings on WPLJ for more than 20 years with Todd Pettingill (R)
*As an aside, I think Scott Shannon still has me confused with Sam Malone (KRBE)—after more than 30 years— for at least two reasons: 1) we’re both from Philadelphia, and 2) because Scott will never believe my real name is Sam Milkman. But that’s for another blog.
When we look back at the final days of each of these stations and the profound and clearly effective methods they used to generate interest, we can’t help but wonder:
What can radio do to generate profound emotional connections when they’re not flipping formats?
We understand that much of the final weeks of these stations can’t be duplicated. Both were established brands with many years of heritage that allowed listeners to create lasting memories with them. More people watched the final M*A*S*H, Cheers or Friends episodes than ever watched the shows on a regular basis. These are “moments” that people just don’t want to miss.
But the way each station went about saying goodbye is notable. Listeners heard the stations presented in ways they weren’t used to hearing. The jocks presented the stations in ways they weren’t used to presenting. The façade of “our regular format” came down. The rules went out the window. It reminded me of what I might do if I were told I had 30 days to live.
The result: a higher level of interest and authenticity. When air personalities are real and authentic, listeners can tell. So what if every radio station “Lived Like It Were Dying” once in a while?
Maybe the typical formulaic content would go out the window. We know that format changes like PLJ’s don’t happen every day (thankfully), but there will be moments in your market that will allow your station to get real and make a high level emotional connection.
There will be a gun-related scare or worse at a local school, unfortunately. Local officials are preparing and practicing for it. Maybe your station should too.
There will be UFO sightings (hundreds will be reported this year in your state).
Some of your core artists may get sick or die.
There will be heatwaves, droughts, fires, floods or another one of the ten plagues.
Somebody in your town will do something heroic.
You get the idea. The story will be there if you open your eyes to the possibility.
Listeners love a great story. Great stories build emotional connections. While we can’t recreate the natural lightning in a bottle that the format flip of a heritage radio station generates, we can look for ways to generate powerful personal connections and tell those stories.
The emotional lever is out there every day, and radio has always been and still is the perfect conduit for connection. We see time after time that memorable, personal emotional connections translate into positive perceptual images in our research.
So, how will you pull that lever today? And next week? And next month? And next year?
You don’t need to wait for a station flip to get started.
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…
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.
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.
How predictable is your radio station? Have listeners “heard it all”?
That’s not necessarily a good thing.
There’s a region of our brain called Broca’s Area, and it is known to have multiple roles involving speech production. It turns out that another function involves surprise. When we’re surprised, it triggers this part of the brain.
I once saw marketer Roy Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads, explaining the Broca lesson in terms of radio contesting. There was a time when winning 25 bucks was a big deal. Until listeners heard $100 given away, then $1,000, and so on.
Listeners had certain expectations for morning drive radio before Howard Stern. Howard shattered those expectations, thereby stimulating Broca’s Area and becoming a superstar.
I recently visited a friend in Las Vegas and experienced an example of Broca stimulation.
Go figure, it was a billboard for a hospital.
Hospitals used to only run basic billboard campaigns. Name, location, specialization maybe. Picture of a patient. “The cardiovascular hospital.”
Then, we saw billboards for emergency rooms with digital wait times.
Now it’s not quite as unusual to see those wait time billboards. Still neat and effective, but the element of surprise has passed.
The board for St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Las Vegas does something I’d never seen before.
Therefore, repeating the same positioner over and over again is important. Running benchmarks at the same time has value. You may utilize a mnemonic device, like a jingle, sound effect or voice that listeners associate with your station. These help build images through repetition.
So, what can you do to stimulate Broca?
Stimulating Broca can be additive to images, like the ones we track in strategic perceptual research.
The hospital billboard and Jeopardy James create buzz.
Buzz builds top-of-mind awareness.
If you live in Las Vegas, maybe you’re more likely to think of that hospital first—just as you’re trying to get listeners to think of your radio station first.
You’re very likely to think of them as the baby hospital, which I’m sure is an image they’d love to own.
But they simply could have put a tag line up on the board, right? “First for babies?” “The baby hospital?”
Would that build the image as fast as a real-time birth clock??
Sure, you can throw a tag line or an artist on a billboard. But I’ll bet you can come up with something we haven’t seen before.
KMET’s upside-down billboards in Los Angeles in the 1970s stimulated Broca’s Area because we anticipate billboards will be right side up.
And sure, Jeopardy James is lightning in a bottle. Contestants like him and Ken Jennings are once-in-a-blue-moon events.
But it is a reminder to seek out memorable talent and to find ways of presenting your product that the listener hasn’t heard before.
And those repeating messages I mentioned? Just because they say the same thing doesn’t mean they need to be presented the same way each time. When they are, they become wallpaper.
So think about your core messaging and the images you want to build with your listeners.
Think about all the ways you’ve relayed and presented the messaging up until now.
Then, think about the opposite. Something completely different. Something even you haven’t heard before.
Two years ago, I attended a Carolina Hurricanes game. While sitting in the lower level, I took a look around and snapped this picture on my phone.
This was a National Hockey League game between the Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres on a Friday night in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the number of empty seats was staggering. That night, I went home and wrote a blog I posted on LinkedIn called, “How to Fix the Carolina Hurricanes.” I made reference to some special moments I had in radio during the team’s Stanley Cup run a decade earlier.
Fixing hockey teams is not my domain. That’s for hockey experts to figure out. What I felt that night was a troubling trend indicative of a team bordering on irrelevance in my town. Somehow, some way, my team had to fix the Carolina Hurricanes experience. History shows us that the Carolina Hurricanes experience is not the Detroit Red Wings experience nor the Toronto Maple Leafs experience. The Carolina Hurricanes experience, at its best, is unlike any other in the NHL. It is not an experience you can plop into any other city. And that’s exactly what makes it special.
Central North Carolina is college basketball country. Early on in the Hurricanes’ existence in Raleigh (the team moved here from Hartford in 1997), it became apparent that fans liked bringing some of that college sports vibe to their hockey. That included things like air horns in the arena. Tailgating and day-long barbeques in the parking lot. A pig for a mascot.
Stormy, the Carolina Hurricanes mascot
Over the years, the bloom faded from the rose. There were fewer tailgates, fewer air horns and fewer people.
The Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, and Captain Obvious would probably say that winning fixes everything.
And that would generally be true.
But it’s also fair to expect the Hurricanes to have up- and down-swings like every other team in every other sport, and the franchise can’t rely solely on winning alone for long-term success. There has to be an experience that attracts the fans. In that blog two years ago, there was one line I wrote and typed in bold for emphasis:
A team in a non-traditional hockey market requires non-traditional marketing.
Dallas billionaire Tom Dundon, primary investor of TopGolf, took over ownership of the team in January 2018, and change was in the air quickly. There was the game during which fans in the upper level had their seats upgraded to the lower level. There was a Twitter-only giveaway. And most of all, there is the Storm Surge.
The Storm Surge is a victory celebration, during which the Hurricanes players line up and start a Viking clap over their heads. This is followed by a different type of celebration every night. The players have slid down the ice knocking over players posing as bowling pins. They’ve played Duck Duck Goose. They’ve done a limbo line. And recently, guest Storm Surge participant Evander Holyfield walked out on the ice to deliver a faux-knockout of Hurricanes center Jordan Martinook. Martinook fell perfectly to the ice and was promptly dragged off by teammates Justin Williams and Michael Ferland.
The next Storm Surge featured a brand new “Bunch of Jerks” logo projected on the ice.
Non-traditional marketing has returned to a non-traditional team.
The Carolina Hurricanes organization just provided a road map for your local radio station’s branding and marketing strategy. While this is a sports story, it is applicable to every station in every format in every city.
YOUR RADIO STATION SHOULD NOT SOUND LIKE ANY OTHER STATION ON THE PLANET.
The Hurricanes have re-established a non-traditional identity. Like the tailgates and air horns that preceded them, the current Storm-Surging Canes are fun and a little bit out there for the hockey world. The fact that it wouldn’t work elsewhere is what makes it special. While your radio station is likely influenced by others, make the station’s identity uniquely reflective of your audience and your city.
If Hurricanes executives said to the team, “Hey guys, the next night, here’s what your Storm Surge is going to look like,” do you think that would be as effective?
The Storm Surge works because it goes bottom up, not top down. When your talent is invested in the mission and given freedom to contribute, you’re more likely to get magical results—just as when players are invested.
MOTIVATION IS A POWERFUL TOOL.
The Evander Holyfield Storm Surge obviously took some planning. They made a special jersey with 4X on the back (to acknowledge he’s a four-time heavyweight champion). It’s not like the Hurricanes were playing a cellar-dwelling team. They were taking on the St. Louis Blues, a team that had just set a franchise record for consecutive wins (11) a week earlier. The Canes don’t do Storm Surges when they lose, so it would be a real bummer to put forth all that effort for Holyfield just to lose the game.
But they didn’t lose the game.
You can just imagine how much the players, knowing how awesome a celebration lurked around the corner, wanted to beat the Blues so they could watch Evander Holyfield knock out their teammate.
People love having something to work towards. What tangible goals can you set at your radio station that will result in celebration?
BE READY TO REACT TO BE AWESOME.
We can’t plan everything. What we can do is stay alert and always be prepared to pivot. The Hurricanes didn’t know Don Cherry would call their team a bunch of jerks. And they could have very easily only done a social media post about it. Or nothing at all. But coordinated mobilization happened quickly, from logo design to printing to social media to interviews.
Your radio station will have many opportunities to be awesome that you don’t know about yet. Don’t miss the opportunities when they arise.
FUN, FUN AND MORE FUN.
Hockey is a business. Radio is a business. In both, it’s easy to get caught up in the business side of it. But if you’re in hockey, you started playing because of the unbridled joy you felt on the ice. If you’re in radio, you got in because of the unbridled joy you felt, whether behind the microphone or on the streets.
Winning may be fixing things for the Hurricanes, but you can also make the case that the fun brought the winning.
One of my former program directors, Casey Keating, liked to say, “The station that wins in the hallways wins on the air.”
currency (sharing things that make us look good);
(things that keep ideas and products top-of-mind);
(when we care, we share);
(the more visible, the more opportunity to imitate);
value (sharing things that are useful to others);
(highly effective way to sell your brand)
The story of The Atlantic Lounge falls in the social
currency category. Telling your friends about this bar makes you look good
because you have information about a cool new place. Having a key makes you
look cool because it is exclusive and not everyone can get it.
There are, in fact, similar examples in the book to the
Atlantic Lounge. Barclay Prime in Philadelphia could have been just another
steakhouse, except that it
launched with a $100 cheesesteak on the menu. It’s not about how
many people order the sandwich. It’s about the restaurant being top-of-mind
because of it. It’s people who haven’t even been to the restaurant that talk
about it. It’s the publications and internet sites that cover it. It’s the
visits from the TV food shows. It’s the celebrities that stop by.
It’s social currency.
An even better example may be Please Don’t Tell, a bar in
New York’s East Village.
After you walk into Crif Dogs, a hot dog shop that purports to have “NYC’s #1 Weiner,” you enter an old-fashioned phone booth, pick up the phone and dial a number. After a voice answers and you’re approved, the wall of the phone booth opens to a small room with a bar in the center. The bar’s website has one picture and a phone number. No other pages, no other information.
“Did you hear about the bar in a hot dog shop with an old-fashioned phone booth? It’s so cool! You have to get approved, then the phone booth opens up into the bar!”
And so, it’s time to consider how to make social currency work
for your radio station or podcast or media brand.
Every city has steakhouses, many of which are
interchangeable. But Barclay Prime is the only one with a $100 cheesesteak.
Every city has bars, many of which are interchangeable. But
the Atlantic Lounge has a $40 key. And Please Don’t Tell has a phone booth in a
hot dog shop.
Every city has radio stations, many of which are
They have different styles of music or talk, just as
restaurants and bars have different menus.
They have different personalities, just as restaurants and
bars have different servers and ways of presenting the product.
But how is your radio station, podcast or media brand
creating social currency?
You don’t need (or want) a long list of things.
Barclay Prime has one thing: the $100 cheesesteak.
Now that the US midterm elections are—mostly!—behind us, we can look back at some of the marketing techniques candidates and their campaigns used and consider their implications for the radio industry.
Fortunately for many of our clients, many of these campaigns continued to recognize the value of radio to engage consumers and target audience segments efficiently. Some groups (i.e., Entravision) even reported more revenue from the midterms than they generated during the 2016 presidential election cycle.
Yet what I think is worth noting is that the rise of new competition for radio can also provide the industry with a great marketing opportunity. It’s not a new phenomenon but observing how political campaigns used it may provide important lessons for radio managers.
The marketing phenomenon I speak of is the viral video.
What has changed in recent years, however, is how viral video has become central to the success of many marketing campaigns, perhaps most notably in the political space. This was documented in an excellent September New York Times article, “Viral Videos Are Replacing Pricey Political Ads. They’re Cheaper, and They Work.” If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to take a break from this post and do so; then come back and read the rest of my thoughts.
My colleagues and I often lament at the limited or non-existent external marketing budgets with which some of our radio station clients struggle. We still strongly believe in traditional advertising via television spots and outdoor advertising for radio stations, but we recognize that many stations do not have the financial capacity to utilize them.
This is where viral video can help. It can be used to tell the story of your station, your morning show, your key personalities, your contests, your station events, etc. and if executed correctly can have a big impact for limited cost. Some morning shows—iHeartMedia’s “The Breakfast Club” is perhaps the best example, with nearly three million subscribers to their YouTube channel—have figured this out already, but it strikes me that as an industry radio has barely scratched the surface of telling its stories via video.
In a future post, we will share some of the more impressive efforts that radio has executed in this area, along with suggestions for how to make viral video work for your station. Please comment with any radio industry viral videos that you think we should highlight.
There’s nothing more sobering than watching a focus group of your radio station’s listeners talking about your beloved product. You might watch in horror as they:
Refer to your station by its previous brand name;
Are unable to name any of the people on your year-old morning show;
Are certain your station plays 70s music, even though it evolved and stopped playing 70s music three years ago.
Why are listeners—the real-life consumers of your radio station who are responsible for your brand’s success and your very livelihood—not aware of changes that seem so obvious to you?
Because they aren’t paying close attention.
Sounds harsh, I know. But the reality is that listeners have busy lives that are full of distractions, and your radio station isn’t getting their full undivided attention. They’re not listening all the time, and even when they are listening, they’re not soaking in every little thing that they hear and they’re not totally discerning what they heard on your station from what they heard on another station. It’s all a blur.
Because listeners aren’t paying close attention, messages need to be delivered clearly and often—especially when you are attempting to develop an image.
Images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, slow to erode.
Let’s take that music example from earlier. Say your Classic Hits station no longer plays 70s music and has added a lot of 80s music. You assume, because you dramatically decreased the percentage of 70s music and increased the percentage of 80s music, that listeners will pick up on it.
But just playing the music isn’t enough. You need to clearly and repeatedly tell listeners about it. Remember, images are like icebergs. The audience may be slow to forget that you play 70s music and slow to learn that you play 80s music. No one is keeping track of which songs they hear on your station versus which songs they hear on your competitors. If you fail to educate them about your music changes, then you could get hit with the double whammy of (a) not fully satisfying those who are tuning in to get 70s music while (b) not attracting those who love 80s music.
This is why marketing strategy and programming strategy must work hand in hand. We need marketing plans that help us align listeners’ expectations with our well-thought-out programming plans.
By the way, it’s not just radio. Images are like icebergs in other industries as well.
Remember how annoyed people were when MTV phased out music videos? That came from programming that was evolving faster than expectations.
So, for every image you’re looking to build or erode, have:
A proper assessment of tastes, expectations, the competitive lay of the land and your available resources. Is there a path to get to where you want to go, and is it a lot better than where you are now?
A marketing strategy in place for how to communicate your changes clearly, with the proper weight and to the right audience.
A strong stomach for how long it is going to take.
After all, images are like icebergs.
BRANDING, CONTENT & RESEARCH STRATEGY
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