I recently returned from Australia and New Zealand, where I had the pleasure of meeting with representatives of most of the major radio groups in both countries. If you’ve ever visited either country, you know that—thanks to breathtaking scenery, friendly people and excellent cuisine—it’s next to impossible to come home with anything but positive perceptions. But as I reflect on my meetings, I am struck by how positive my perceptions are of the radio industries in both countries.
My wife Sharon and I atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge
In the simplest terms, radio is killing it in Australia and New Zealand. Revenue is strong, the major groups enjoy solid financial positions and the medium’s share of the advertising pie is higher than it is in North America.
In fact, an executive with one of Australia’s largest groups—a very smart guy who I have known for more than a decade—challenged me to convince him that “US radio still has something to offer to Australian radio” and to help him “fall in love with US radio again.” Fortunately, after acknowledging the difficult period our industry went through following The Great Recession, our discussion about the impact of two of our three major groups emerging from bankruptcy, the increased investments companies like mine are seeing in research and the industry’s embrace of podcasting and other new platforms led him to agree that paying attention to developments in radio on our side of the Atlantic could still be a good idea for his company.
If I had to boil down why radio is going so well in Australia and New Zealand into three points, they would be as follows:
Radio in Australia and New Zealand is embracing change. The radio groups there do not look at the introduction of new technologies as threats but embrace them as opportunities. For example, Commercial Radio Australia—the trade association representing Australia’s radio broadcasters—partnered with Amazon before the introduction of the Echo smart speaker to ensure that any of the country’s 300 AM, FM or DAB+ digital stations can be easily accessed by name or frequency.
Radio in Australia and New Zealand is investing in nonmusical content. While streaming and other platforms for consuming music are not yet as prevalent as they are in North America, most music stations in both countries’ major markets feature prominent personalities in morning and afternoon drive. Furthermore, the use of syndicated morning shows is much less common than it is the US.
Radio in Australia and New Zealand does a lot of research. Given what I do for a living, it is refreshing to have conversations with radio groups about what kinds of and how much research they should be doing, as opposed to discussing whether they should do research in the first place. There is plenty of room for the art of programming in Australia and New Zealand; however, radio programmers in both countries get to create their art with objective knowledge about what listeners want and perceive they’re getting from radio.
Each country faces unique challenges, and I want to stress that I am encouraged by the progress I’m seeing on all these fronts by radio groups in North America. Many companies that are embracing new technologies and investing in their brands are seeing their efforts pay off.
A picturesque backdrop of Auckland, New Zealand
While radio professionals around the world can certainly learn best practices and new ideas from North American radio, I think we can all be inspired by what Aussie and Kiwi radio is accomplishing. I absolutely found the 40 hours it took me to travel there and back was well worth it!
This Fall marks 10 years since Arbitron rolled out the Portable People Meter™ (PPM™) to the top 10 markets in the United States, following initial tests in Houston and Philadelphia (markets 11-50 rolled out in 2009 and 2010.)
An early version of Arbitron’s Portable People Meter (PPM)
A year after the rollout was complete, I wrote “Top Ten Things to Do as a New PD in a PPM Market,” a list of strategic guidelines for new radio programmers in North American markets measured by the Portable People Meter™.
Now that much of the radio industry has lived with PPM for a decade, let’s look back on the advice through a 2018 lens. New commentary is italicized.
1. Root all of your thinking first and foremost in the strategy of the station. Don’t go in with a PPM mindset; go in with the mindset of developing a brand by exploiting an available market position. Your goal should be to develop a strong brand and to make the station entertaining and focused. Once you know “who you are” and what your brand message is and how you want to communicate that to the audience, then start thinking PPM.
Especially in the first few years of the methodology, programmers focused a significant amount of time on PPM manipulation. Maybe, just maybe, we can squeeze an extra quarter hour here and there by playing the PPM game.
10 years later, I think radio strategy has generally reverted back to where it was, with brand focus as the most important component. The PPM panel is just as difficult to manipulate. Big brands are long lasting. Manipulation tactics are not.
2.Do a complete brand and content audit of the station. Don’t go to the office for the first two days or meet with staff. Stay at home or in your hotel and listen to and quantify all the verbal and non-verbal content. How much music do you play? How much do your DJ’s and personalities talk? What do they talk about? What are the features? Promotions? How does the station stage and image its music? What is the station’s positioning and how often do you communicate it?
What we learned in our 2008 study “Real PPM Panelists Tell All” was that every interruption had some detrimental impact on the ratings. The instinctive reaction of many programmers was to wipe the station clean – 30 second promos became 10 seconds, IDs were five seconds, jocks talked less.
What’s important to understand is that interruptions, while detrimental in the moment, can be additive to the brand. So, make sure every interruption has brand value. If it builds the brand, it’s worth it.
3. Rate all the content on the station on a 1-10 brand scale and a 1-10 execution scale. The brand scale means how each element on the station fits or resonates with the brand essence of the station. Does it fit with the images you want to project? Do the same with the in the moment execution. Is it entertaining? Tight? Would a listener stay tuned in that moment? Rate everything on a 1-10 scale. Anything that is low on both “brand values” and “in the moment entertainment” should be eliminated or tightened. Possible culprits might be DJ chatter that is not compelling. Sales promos. Worry less about content that supports the brand identity. Music features, entertaining DJ content from personalities who are well known and liked.
It’s always been challenging for PDs to subjectively evaluate content. In the moment, we overthink and overreact. By doing regular monitors on your stations, writing down each break and piece of content and rating it on a simple scale, it’s easy to quickly determine what’s brand additive and what isn’t.
4. Do an abbreviated analysis of your main competitors. What are they doing in music, talk, features, positioning, and spot placement? React to their programming tactics where it is smart. Know their pure programming advantages so you can cover them where it makes sense. One thing for sure is that you don’t want them to be tighter or better programmed for PPM than your station since small advantages can sometimes mean a lot when it comes to PPM performance.
Studying your competition as well as your own station is always a good idea. Prepare for your opponents like a head coach.
Preparation and data mastery helped Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl
5. Don’t be afraid to put on content that will impact the audience emotionally even if in the moment you cause some tune-out. There are two ways to build ratings and one is more important than the other. First, you can put on content that causes people to like your station. Content that causes an emotional reaction and a desire to be associated with your station. Second you can reduce “tune-outs”, those things that cause people to tune away for a minute or an hour. Both are important, but you should recognize that you can impact the ratings positively even if in the moment some people tune-out. Some things that cause a little short term tune-out will actually stick in the head of your P1’s and create a long term bond. Keep the things that are a 10 on the brand evaluation scale, even if a few people tune away when you do them.
As in #2, build the brand and accept in-the-moment loss. While even the strongest content may cause tune-out, it will grow your brand and ultimately grow the audience over time.
6. Understand the ins and outs of PPM ratings, including the fact that PPM, like diary, is research and not immune to statistical wobble. Really understand margin of error and then learn how to aggregate ratings for programming elements of the station. Know the numbers behind each number you look at like the difference between looking at a daypart with 20 meters and one with 100 meters.
The difficulties reaching potential panelists, and certainly the erosion of the landline over the past 10 years, has compounded this problem. By utilizing perceptual research, like our Plan Developer, you can track essential measurements like Cume and P1 with larger sample sizes than may be available with ratings. An added benefit of perceptual research is the ability to monitor your perceptual position in the market, including your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.
7. Understand panel dynamics so that you don’t react to ratings increases or decreases that are a function of normal panel change or evolution. Sometimes ratings will increase a little just because you have a few more P1’s in the sample as a result of panel turnover. Sometime you will lose listeners. This is normal and you need to know when it is happening to your station. Don’t over-believe the good numbers and temper your reaction to the weak ones. They will more often than not be in a statistically valid range.
This has improved over time as Nielsen has provided and added tools to better understand and get a granular look at the panel.
8. Learn how to manage weekly ratings and expectations. All ratings have wobble and fluctuations. In diary markets, most GMs and PDs know not to overreact to monthlies or even whole books. But, in a PPM world there is often a belief that weeklies and monthlies have more credence than similar ratings spans in a diary world. However, with PPM, just like any research, there is random and normal fluctuation. So, you need to be able to set the table on how to react to weeklies, monthlies and ratings in general. Tell your new GM that you don’t want to look at weeklies or discuss them each week. Don’t download them at 11am each Tuesday and make it a big event. Look at them every three or four weeks.
Fortunately, the weekly obsession does not appear to be pervasive in 2018. But there is more focus now on meter count, and there’s still the danger of focusing on too much of this at the expense of brand focus and taking your eye off the ball.
9. Understand causation vs. simple correlation. Realize that every time your ratings go up or down it is not necessarily related to that hours, days or weeks programming. Often there will be a random correlation between a programming event and ratings. More often than not, it will be just a correlation and the two events will not be causally related.
Remember that listeners are not paying close attention to your radio station. They remember events selectively and select radio stations based on habit, needs, perceptions, language and lifestyle. More often than not, a correlation from event to ratings will be by chance, not because you caused it.
10. Experiment. If you don’t know for sure what causes your ratings to go up or down, experiment to find out. For example, if your hot rotation on currents is 3 hours, go to 2.5 every other week for 20 weeks. Divide your ratings in to two 10 week periods. See if the 10 2.5 hour rotation weeks show any ratings difference from the 10 3 hour rotation weeks. Do tighter rotations work or not? Aggregate enough weeks to have a statistically valid comparison. Also, if you do this, look at other variables that might be impacted. For example, does the burn on songs change with tighter rotations? Are there fewer or more highly popular songs?
A/B testing is all the marketing buzz, though testing of messaging has been around for decades! Just as Google and Amazon test the delivery of their product, there’s no reason why radio stations shouldn’t test theirs as well. Perhaps you try variations of clocks every other day. Maybe you play 200 songs one day and 300 songs every other day. Run stopsets differently every other day. Compile a year of ratings data and compare. If you really want to get granular with Nielsen data, do it over a long enough period of time to formulate actionable plans based on that data.
10 years after the debut of PPM in the top 10 markets and seven years after writing these tips, the general principles of successful programming haven’t changed. If you’re:
Always thinking strategically
Staying true to your brand
Maintaining focus and discipline
Testing and tracking results over time
…you’re positioned for PPM success in 2018 and beyond.
It doesn’t take too much exposure to Coleman Insights to recognize that we talk a lot about the twin goals of building strong brands and developing great content. My colleague Warren Kurtzman revisited these fundamentals last week when he wrote about what it will take for podcasting to pass the tipping point.
This week, I’d like to focus on the content development side of the equation. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even a media researcher!) to tell you that better content comes from doing more of what the audience likes and less of what they don’t. The challenge comes in figuring out what exactly are those positive and negative drivers.
To help demonstrate to the podcasting industry what is doable on this front, on July 25th, iHeartRadio SVP/Podcasting Chris Peterson joined my colleague Sam Milkman and me onstage at Podcast Movement in Philadelphia to share content research we had done for two of their original podcasts. Chris introduced the session by stating, “Let’s learn what listeners really think rather than a download, which tells you nothing.”
(L-R) John Boyne, Sam Milkman and iHeartMedia SVP/Podcasting Chris Peterson
The Podcast Content Deep Dive: A Second-By-Second Look At Listening Behavior was the culmination of two separate mediaEKG Deep Dive® studies that analyzed a pair of iHeartRadio Original podcasts. One is The Ben & Ashley I Almost Famous Podcast, featuring former cast members of ABC-TV’s The Bachelor; while the other is Business Unusual with Barbara Corcoran, hosted by the real estate mogul and Shark Tank celebrity. For each, we recruited a sample of their target audience to listen to the podcast. Then, using the mediaEKG meter, we were able to collect granular in-the-moment feedback on what they were hearing. What caught their attention? What grew their interest? What lost them? We then followed up with qualitative questions to help us understand why they rated content the way they did.
While the details of the research are fascinating, let’s be honest: What works for a podcast specializing in The Bachelor universe may not work for everyone.
But, stepping back, there are broader lessons of the research that are applicable to many and that are evident in much of the content research we do. We refer to these as “The Three Ts” – Topic, Treatment and Tone.
Choosing the right topic means choosing something to talk about that your audience wants to hear about and—importantly—wants to hear you talk about. In the case of Ben and Ashley I, their topic selections have a very clear impact on the second-by-second performance of the show. When talking about the current season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, their odds of success are high. But, the further they get from that bullseye topic lane, the better their execution needs to be in order to cut through. In our presentation, there are some fun examples of this, as well as a creative example of how the show cleverly extends its topic lane.
For Barbara Corcoran’s podcast, the lessons of the research primarily relate to her treatment of various topics. There are certain ways that Barbara can espouse business advice that really work well for her. For example, Business Unusual’s target audience reacts really well to Barbara’s highly structured, step-by-step treatment of how to do things like ask for a raise or speak well in public.
Finally, it is important to understand the optimal tone for a segment. Different tones for the same topic can have wildly different outcomes. For example, think about how differently one could cover the latest news out of the White House. Stephen Colbert may take a humorous tone, while Fareed Zakaria may take a more serious, professorial tone. Meanwhile, someone else may take an almost unhinged, ranting tone. Same topic + different tone = totally different outcome.
Want to learn more? On Wednesday, September 5th at 2pm EDT, Sam and I will deliver The Podcast Content Deep Dive: A Second-By-Second Look At Listening Behavior via webinar. We’ll dig into the specifics of how listeners react to these two podcasts, and you’ll learn more about how topic, treatment and tone play out in each. Our goal is to help podcasters and broadcasters think more and learn more about how The Three Ts can help them develop great content.
Click here to register for the webinar, and we’ll talk with you then!
First-order thinking is considering the immediate impact of the decisions we make.
Second-order thinking is considering all the potential consequences of the decisions we make.
The radio industry often uses first-order thinking, but not second-order thinking.
When we think we’re solving a problem, we unintentionally create another.
More than once in my career, and certainly in the last few years, a station has changed format and lived to regret it.
Not because they didn’t get reasonable ratings. It was because their flip caused a reaction in the marketplace that ultimately screwed them.
They didn’t think of the second order.
You’ve got a Hot Adult Contemporary (Hot AC) station in a market that is underperforming, while there is only one Country station. So, you flip your Hot AC station to Country.
First-order thinking: The competition’s Country station leads the market in revenue. If our group flips the Hot AC to Country, and take even a third of their ratings and revenue, we’ll be doing better than we are now as a Hot AC.
Second-order thinking: If we change the format and attack the competition, they may adjust one or two of their stations to attack a station in our cluster. Perhaps the station that accounts for most of our ratings and revenue.
It’s applicable to more than format flips.
You’re responsible for a Classic Rock station with no direct competitor. Since you have no direct competitor, you can broaden the scope to appeal to more people—so you start adding sounds, like Classic Hits.
First-order thinking: If we add Classic Hits to the Classic Rock recipe, we’ll add more fans to our rock station.
Second-order thinking: If we add Classic Hits to our Classic Rock recipe, we may alienate some of our Classic Rock fans and lessen passion with both camps. Plus, the competition may notice we now sound a bit softer and wimpier and see an opportunity to attack us with a straight-ahead, focused rock station.
See the dangers of only thinking in the first-order? It really is like a chess match, thinking steps ahead.
We’re fortunate to have many clients who invest in research and advertising. Those radio stations that don’t have a complete map of their market may fall victim to first-order thinking.
You oversee an Urban station and your group has the format all to yourselves in the market.
First-order thinking: We’re all alone in this format. We don’t need to advertise.
Second-order thinking: If we don’t invest in our product and advertise, the station’s brand images will wither away. The decline in ratings and revenue will outweigh the cost savings of not investing in the product.
As author Howard Marks explains in his book, The Most Important Thing, “First-level thinking is simplistic and superficial, and just about everyone can do it. Second-level thinking is deep, complex and convoluted.”
Although it takes a lot of work, second-order thinking (and third, fourth and so on) is well worth the time.
Second-order thinking now means avoiding problems later.
And you won’t have to call them “unforeseen problems.”
If you ask your friends these questions, you will get a broad array of answers. Maybe that was always the case, but I feel like I am finding it harder and harder to find something to talk about with my friends that all of us watch or listen to regularly. I mean, like every episode or every day.
And as a result, there’s less to talk about other than “you should check out Evil Geniuson Netflix, it is really good.” Or The Final Year on HBO—a documentary about the last year of the Obama administration.
While “Evil Genius” on Netflix may garner buzz, it’s reaching a small fraction of the population.
Music or podcasts? The list of things we’re all listening to gets shorter and shorter while the list of offerings gets longer and longer. That may be my subjective feeling, but I don’t think I am alone. Yeah, most of my friends listened to Serial. Not much anymore.
To me, this makes it harder to connect with some people. We watch and listen to different things, and so we can share “lists”. But we’re not having deeper conversations about what we thought or learned.
Again, maybe it was always the case. But I remember a time in New York when if you weren’t listening to the Morning Zoo on Z100 you really felt out of it.
Sorry to get nostalgic, but I remember when “Must See TV” actually meant something.
The number one show on TV at the end of May was NCIS with a 7 rating. In 1998, the top of the list was filled with ER, Friends, and Frasier – each of which had a 15 rating or higher. There was simply a better (in fact, double) opportunity for water cooler commonality.
What a difference 20 years makes.
What can we do as broadcasters to “make the list” of stations or shows people talk about and recommend to their friends?
It has to start with an understanding of what the audience really wants. And the creative work to come up with something so unique and memorable that people want to talk about it.
Delivered higher production values than we were used to seeing;
Singlehandedly changed the fortunes of a network and inspired the launch of other pay-TV networks and original programming.
“The Sopranos” was a paradigm-changing television program.
Making something everyone will talk about is easier said than done. There are a few things I believe transformative breakthroughs have in common:
It sounds or looks like something you’ve never heard or seen before.
At first, it may even feel wrong or out of place. There are too many examples of Howard Stern’s innovations to list here, but Howard regularly challenged the audience with what they knew about personality radio. This ranges from authenticity and transparency to topic choices and interviewing technique.
The people making it are psychotically passionate about it.
When it launched in July 1987, WFAN billed itself as the first radio station completely dedicated to sports talk. Thanks in large part to the success of Mike and the Mad Dog, the number of sports formatted stations grew to 500 by 2005 and to 790 today (with many markets featuring multiple sports stations).
It changes the paradigm.
The Breakfast Club, based at Power 105.1 in New York, has altered the way radio programming is consumed in the digital landscape.
Do you manage talent? How about high-profile, high-ego talent? Although you likely don’t work in the sports world, you may find some pretty valuable lessons to be learned from a basketball coach.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr sharing a moment with star player Steph Curry
I can’t tell you I’m not a biased Golden State Warriors fan. I’m totally biased. That being said, I’m no bandwagon fan, having grown up in the Bay Area. I attended my first Dubs game (well before anyone called them the Dubs) in the late 70s against Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Like every other lifelong Warriors fan, I suffered for a very long time. In the 31 years between Al Attles’ departure in 1983 and Steve Kerr’s hiring in 2014, the Warriors went through 14 head coaches with a combined record of 1,168-1,426, a 45% winning percentage.
In four years, Steve Kerr has compiled a winning percentage of over 80%. There’s certainly something to be said for the massive amounts of talent compiled for him to work with, including All-Stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. Surely there’s an argument to be made that a number of other coaches could have also won a substantial percentage of games with such a stacked roster.
So, this isn’t a lesson in compiling talent. It’s a lesson in keeping them content and performing at their best level.
If the team around the program director can’t execute properly or stay in sync, the station can fall short of expectations—just as sports teams do regardless of research or level of talent.
In February, the Warriors were starting to show the scars of the regular season. The team went 3-3 over the span of six games and were getting off to a slow start each night. Kerr was afraid his message wasn’t cutting through. So, what did he do?
Three players had a turn with the clipboard. They were in charge of motivating themselves. They were in charge of making substitutions.
The Warriors won by 46.
Just as a team stacked with the Warriors’ level of talent should win lots of games, the Warriors should have won the game that night against a poor Phoenix Suns team.
It’s an example of one of many tactics Kerr pulls out of his tool belt to engage his talent. Tricks like these lead to what sports website Real GM recently referred to as an “unusually harmonious locker room.”
How about that magical third quarter? Through Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Warriors have outscored their opponents by 133 points in the third quarter in these playoffs alone. Is the team doing something incredible at halftime?
Begins preparing for halftime when the game begins by identifying specific plays to review;
Runs back and forth to the locker room to have clips assembled on a computer;
Projects the clips on a screen while Kerr runs through them, one by one.
Ok, that’s not so revolutionary. It’s what Kerr does after he gives his take.
He wants to know what every coach has noticed. Then, he asks the players what they have noticed.
Zaza Pachulia has played for nine head coaches in the N.B.A. and says he’s never been part of a more democratic locker room.
Many radio program directors who have embraced research are overseeing stations with strong developed brands and are experiencing substantial ratings success. Those who manage high profile talent may consider looking to Kerr for ideas for getting the most out of them.
Sharing the research, getting buy-in on the plan, and collaborating. Talking with instead of talking to.
That approach just may accelerate your results (and lower your blood pressure).
Late last year, I wrote about the ads on your radio station fitting its brand. One of the things I touched on is the benefit of having your station’s own hosts and personalities reading your ad copy. At the Worldwide Radio Summit earlier this month, the benefits of host-read copy came up once or twice. I was a bit disappointed that no one got into the subject in depth, but then, there were a lot of topics to cover in only a couple of days. (Please feel free to use this idea for next year, no credit necessary!)
Having a station’s personalities read ad copy meets with mixed responses, to be sure. This is in part because brands have spent so much money on agencies that create slick, well-produced commercials, and those commercials have become the norm. But this is actually how ads began. Radio hosts in the 1920s and 1930s read their own copy (check out show announcer Mike Wallace in this 1947 episode of Sky King, reading a PSA), and as television entered more homes, this method continued as media changed around it. Gertrude Berg, a (now sadly ignored) dynamo of radio drama, took her character Molly Goldberg to television in 1949—and she continued to record advertisements for Sanka.
Gertrude Berg as Molly Goldberg. Berg wrote over 5,000 episodes of the radio version of “The Goldbergs” (no relation to today’s ABC hit)
Note that it’s Molly, not Gertrude Berg, who touts the benefits of the now-iconic instant beverage. The audience saw no discernible break between their favorite show and the ad. A few years later, during her eponymous show on NBC, Dinah Shore took a moment, walked off to one side of the set and urged her viewers to “See the USA in Your Chevrolet.” Again, the transition from content to advertisement was seamless.
Peter Weir made fun of this—and of the blatant product placement in which some shows indulge—in The Truman Show. Remember how Laura Linney’s character was always being zoomed in on while she talked about a product? Same idea.
Laura Linney as Hannah Gill acting as Meryl Burbank
Interestingly, the podcasting world has picked up on the benefits of host-read copy. A recent Nielsen study tells us that when an ad is read by a podcast’s host or hosts, that ad is much more likely to be seen as authentic and less likely to sound forced. This, I imagine, was the same back in Gertrude Berg’s and Dinah Shore’s days. Copy read by a host benefits shows as well as advertisers—listeners are savvy, and they know how long an ad break usually is, whether it’s on their favorite station or during their favorite podcast. Over the years, listeners have trained their brains when to tune out and when to tune back in. But when the host is reading the copy, they’re more engaged. They don’t immediately tell the difference between show and advertisement. As listeners, we trust our hosts, just as viewers in 1953 trusted Dinah Shore. We often talk about making sure your station features authentic, spontaneous content—why not expand that into your ads as well? Live ads—or ads that sound and “feel” live—offer your listeners a seamless experience.
The listener savviness I mentioned before also comes into play when gauging a host’s actual interest in the product he or she is advertising. I, for one, fully believe that Marc Maron, host of the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast uses stamps.com and wears MeUndies. On the other side of the coin, one of the podcasts I love and listen to faithfully features a host-read ad that I do not believe for one second. I don’t stop listening when she starts talking about the greatest haircare product in the world, but I do roll my eyes a bit—it takes me out of the moment. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Is that an argument for that podcast to drop the advertiser? Not at all. I see it as an opportunity to coach the host in methods of how to sound more enthusiastic than she is. After all, program directors often coach radio talent during breaks, so why not expand and coach them on spot reads? 1949 television viewers truly believed that Sanka filled Molly Goldberg with joy, and from what I understand, that didn’t come naturally to Gertrude Berg.
It’s important to remember that the hosts on your radio stations are just as much a part of your brand as the music is. Your loyal listeners pay attention to what they say, so why not use them to your advertisers’ advantage? If it sounds old-fashioned to you, remember that well-read copy, like great content, almost always sounds fresh, engaging and spontaneous.
Is your radio station filling a need? Many brands that identified the needs of their customers and then served those needs are finding great success.
Do you remember the term, “Bankers’ Hours”?
Not often heard in the lexicon anymore, this referred to a short working day because banks were traditionally open to the public from about 9am-2pm.
The banking industry has gone through enough disruption to minimize the once common usage of the term, “Bankers’ Hours”. Adoption of online banking means you’re not limited to managing your accounts during the typical 9-5 workday. Many banks offer extended hours—some, like Coastal Federal Credit Union, use centralized tellers to offer services 7 days a week into the evening.
As the saying goes, the only constant is change. If you can identify something that needs changing based on negative perception and you fill that need, positive results could be on the horizon.
You know the feeling of calling a technician when your heating or AC goes out? You know, with certainty, that the company is going to try to sell you a new unit.
So, what if the company didn’t sell furnaces or air conditioners?
6 & Fix addresses two issues in the HVAC industry. One, they only service the unit—so they build the perception that they will do everything in their power to fix it with no upsell. Second, if you call before 6pm, they guarantee service the same day. Trust and convenience.
Getting a flu shot can be a hassle, especially if you have to make an appointment with your primary care physician.
Now you can walk into most pharmacies, get the shot (usually without much wait) and even pick up some Benadryl and a bag of gummy bears if you’re so inclined.
CVS took it to the next level with their in-store “Minute Clinic”, offering everything from physicals to B12 injections.
The Sixers were in Miami to play the Heat the night the report was released.
Their record at the time was 12-44.
Two years prior, the Sixers hired Sam Hinkie as their general manager. Hinkie used the word “process” at his very first press conference. “We talk a lot about process—not outcome—and trying to consistently take all the best information you can and consistently make good decisions. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but you reevaluate them all.”
Former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie
In the two years between his hiring and the release of the ESPN report, Hinkie made a number of controversial moves. He traded away player after player, including the team’s only All-Star, Jrue Holiday.
While “Trust the Process” became a rallying call for the Sixers and their fans, impatience got the best of upper management. Sam Hinkie “resigned” as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers on April 6, 2016. On that day, the team’s record was 10-68—even worse than a year earlier, when ESPN ranked the Philadelphia 76ers number one in its “Great Analytics Rankings”.
Thanks to player-tracking camera systems used in every NBA arena, every NBA team has access to roughly 800,000 lines of data per game. This includes everything from the number of passes made by a player to the distance that player leaves between himself and an opponent when he closes out on a shooter and how effective he is depending on the speed at which he does so.
Everything is trackable, and the data can be overwhelming. How do they deal with it?
According to Rucker, “The amount of information has grown so much that it needs translators. The people who work with me, their job is to translate that mass of data into something that looks like basketball and then use that to inform our decisions.”
Looks like ESPN was on to something in their report three years ago, as was Sam Hinkie. “Trusting the Process” has led the 76ers to a 50-30 record and a current 14-game winning streak at the time of this writing. The team will head to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
So, how has ESPN’s ranking of teams that embrace analytics three years ago correlated with success since?
The Top 10 was the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Astros, Houston Rockets, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Oakland Athletics and Chicago Blackhawks.
The combined record of those teams in their most recent season* is 606-510, a 54% winning percentage. The 76ers are about to make the playoffs for the first time in six years. The Houston Astros, with a 70-92 record in the season before the report was released, won their first World Series in 2017. The Houston Rockets currently hold the best record in the NBA. The Boston Red Sox won the AL East in 2017 and the New York Yankees’ 2017 record was their best since 2012.
Only three of the top 10 had a losing record in their most recent season—the Rays, Mavericks and A’s.
As for the teams that ranked at the bottom for embracing analytics?
That illustrious honor goes to the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Jets, Miami Marlins, Tennessee Titans, Colorado Avalanche, Brooklyn Nets, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins, New York Knicks and Philadelphia Phillies.
The combined record of those teams in their most recent seasons is 275-428, a 39% winning percentage. Only two of the bottom 10 had a winning record in their most recent season—the Titans and Chargers, each at 9-7.
While sports franchises are ultimately judged by wins and losses, radio stations are judged by ratings. What we’ve found over the years is stations that invest in their brands, develop their brands, and then—yes, trust the process—are the ones that are successful in the long haul.
Anyone involved in programming or sales at a radio station has felt the butterflies and flat-out nausea of a “ratings day”. It takes just one bad ratings month for even the most seasoned, brilliant programming minds to question themselves.
You’ve done the research study. You’ve seen the recommendations. You’re on board with “The Plan”. You’ve been executing it perfectly.
And then ratings point in the wrong direction for a few months and the questioning begins, like in these hypothetical examples:
“Maybe the morning show should stop doing that benchmark. You know I did see some complaints on Facebook.”
“Maybe we should be playing one more 90’s song an hour. I mean, the songs have tested well.”
“We’re not seeing the bump we expected from ‘Commercial-Free Mondays’. Let’s get rid of it.”
We even do this in the face of completely fact-based data that may show, for example, the morning show benchmark indicates impressive growth, the current music doesn’t correlate with the 90’s music and your positive “fewer commercials than other stations” image is growing while exposing your competitor’s negative “more commercials than other stations” image.
My colleague John Boyne likes to say images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, slow to erode.
Trust the process.
Building images take time, then the ratings follow. It is, unfortunately, not instant gratification.
When you don’t trust the process, you make poor “in the moment” decisions.
Remember what Hinkie said in his first press conference. “We talk a lot about process, not outcome”. Are you focused on the outcome or the process?
When you focus on the outcome, you make the mistake of tying ratings success to specific things too quickly.
For example, if you add an 80s feature to improve your 80s image, you expect that feature to immediately impact ratings. The feature is meant to build the image, then the ratings.
Trust the process.
Like the 76ers, our team knows a little something about translating mass amounts of data into clear, actionable strategy.
Just like professional sports franchises have proven a correlation between embracing data and success, many of our clients have had the same experience.
The real key is once you get the data, once we interpret the data and once you implement “The Plan”….
Trust the process!
*Most recent season is: NFL (2017); MLB (2017); NHL (2017-2018); and NBA (2017-2018)
Trader Joe’s has a distinct and defined image in a very crowded, competitive grocery space. While most grocery market chains struggle to eke out very small margins, Trader Joe’s profits soar.
How do they do it? Let me count the ways.
A grocery store? Fun?
It’s true, it’s hard not to smile in Trader Joe’s. There’s the quirky music selection playing overhead (think “More Bounce to the Ounce” by Zapp and Roger into “Alive and Kicking” by Simple Minds). The freshly cooked free samples at the back of the store no matter what time you’re there. The employee walking around with the wacky giant question mark available to answer questions. The Hawaiian shirts. The stuffed animal always hidden somewhere in the store for kids to find.
I don’t usually buy generic brands. I like Heinz ketchup, French’s mustard and Vlassic pickles. In the typical grocery store, I completely ignore the generic brands for products like these. Piggly Wiggly ketchup? No thank you. I wouldn’t even want to think about where it may have come from.
But Trader Joe’s brands? A totally different story. You trust them—they did their homework and found a better pickle. Trader Joe’s made their generic brands cool, because they made their brand cool.
THEY READ RIES & TROUT’S MARKETING WARFARE AND LEARNED TO PLAY GOOD OFFENSE.
Rather than being just like Whole Foods, the leader in the healthy, gourmet grocery category, Trader Joe’s found the “weakness in their strength” and attacked it. Where Whole Foods takes itself very seriously to the point of being stuffy, Trader Joe’s is fun and whimsical. Whole Foods is expensive. Trader Joe’s is gourmet on the cheap. Whole Foods’ color is green. Trader Joe’s is red. As marketing/positioning experts Al Ries and Jack Trout might say, Whole Foods as the category leader is playing a perfect game of defense, while Trader Joe’s as a challenger is playing a perfect game of offense—which isn’t being better than the category leader, it’s taking a different approach than the category leader.
Trader Joe’s isn’t that different from Whole Foods when it comes to the products it stocks. No Trader Joe’s branded products have high fructose corn syrup or GMOs, and their seafood comes from sustainable sources. It’s just that everything else around it is the opposite.
Radio stations find themselves in battles with format competitors every day. It is easy to get caught up in thinking only in granular terms. We both play 80s music, but we’ll do it better than them. We both have big ensemble morning shows, but ours will be funnier than theirs. We both have big contests, but we’ll give away more money or tickets to hotter shows.
The Trader Joe’s lesson is that you beat a leader not by being better. You win by finding the inherent weakness in their strength and creating your points of differentiation. Some of the most successful brands are categories in and of themselves.
Do your research. Find your lane. Define your base position, then create brand depth.
Just don’t wear Hawaiian shirts and ring bells. That position’s already taken.
BRANDING, CONTENT & RESEARCH STRATEGY
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