Tag Archives: research

Is Inside Thinking Blurring Your Strategic Vision?

Tuesdays With Coleman

If you work at a radio station (or in any business, for that matter), it’s easy to get caught up in Inside Thinking. We sometimes get too close to the product for our own good, and are unable to see it through the lens of our customers. When you’re the manager of a radio station, this can lead to blurred strategic vision, exemplified by statements such as, “We just need to know what’s most popular with 25- to 39-year old men because that is our target.”

Is that really enough?

This is the final installment of a four-part series that revisits a Radio & Records column I wrote in 1999. It describes scenarios I ran into when speaking with radio station managers about research projects. All of these scenarios, including Scenario 4 – No Strategic Vision, still come up with regularity 18 years later.

The inability of some managers to look at their stations from any other perspective than from inside the stations’ walls manifests itself in Inside Thinking. These managers believe that listeners:

  • Care deeply about radio
  • Are paying close attention to our stations
  • Can be manipulated

Conversely, Outside Thinkers believe the opposite. They understand that listeners’ station choices are:

  • Driven substantially by habit
  • A result of instantaneous need fulfillment
  • Based on a simplistic set of perceptions they have of different stations
  • Impacted by the role of language
  • Determined by their lifestyle

Listening to radio station

This very different mindset leads Outside Thinkers to approach research with a much more strategic point of view rather than simply trying to find out what listeners do and do not like. They use research to ask questions like:

  • What is my station’s awareness level in the market?
  • How different is my actual product and what people perceive my product to be?
  • Where do the musical tastes of my market really lie and are they moving in the direction that I believe they are?
  • Does the fact that my target demo share dropped by 25% over the last two Nielsen books really mean that my position in the market has weakened?
  • Am I focusing my energy and my resources on the right things?

Our suggestion that radio managers take the Outside Thinking approach to their stations—and their research—provides a good final thought for this four-part blog series. Our previous installments warned against obsessing over methodology, not investing in research when your station is successful and confusing tactical and strategic research. Outside Thinkers rarely make these mistakes, and as a result, their stations are far more likely to enjoy long-term success.

Why Successful Radio Stations Need Research

Tuesdays With ColemanThis week, we continue with part 2 of a blog series that revisits a column I wrote for Radio & Records in 1999 found while digging through the Coleman Insights archives.

Radio and Records

Despite significant changes in the industry over the past 18 years, I’ve been struck by how little some things have changed. I discussed four scenarios in which radio managers fail to get the full benefit of conducting research on their stations. This week, we’ll put the spotlight on:

Scenario 2 – We Have Great Numbers: A program director dismisses any need for conducting research on her station by citing its performance in the latest Nielsen book.

There is no question that Nielsen represents “the bottom line.” I worked for Arbitron, which was acquired by Nielsen in 2013, for six years and experienced how significantly the company’s data impacted radio stations first hand. This experience—and my contact with the company since I left there in 1993—taught me a great deal about the quality of the information they provide, even if there is always room to improve it.

Using Nielsen to assess how your station is doing, however, is not a very good use of their data. In fact, it is downright dangerous. Listener appetites and the competitive landscape can change so quickly that what Nielsen reported in the fall book might have little bearing on the winter results. It’s also been my experience that ratings performance and the strength of your position are not perfectly correlated.

Let’s play out a hypothetical situation. Let’s say you’re in charge of an Adult Contemporary station, currently number one in your target demo. When it comes to music, you’ve got a lot of room to play with and your playlist covers various segments of the format spanning four decades. Your morning show gets decent numbers, but at-work listening is where your station really shines. With things going so well, it would be easy to say, “Why do research”?

There are a couple of things that tend to remain constant in radio. First, you probably won’t stay on top forever. Second, if you are at or near the top, a competitor will likely try to slice into your success. What if you knew, with a great deal of clarity, where your own strengths and weaknesses lie? What if you knew the strengths and weaknesses of other stations in the market? What if you knew if the musical tastes of the market were changing? What if you knew that the awareness level and appeal of your morning show wasn’t as high as you expected? What if you discovered the broad nature of your playlist made you vulnerable to a more focused attack?

Would you rather have answers to these questions before your radio station is attacked?

A perceptual study—at Coleman Insights, it’s called a Plan DeveloperSM—can  help shore up your fort before it is too late to discover your vulnerabilities. Perceptual research can also discover what your brand stands for in the marketplace.  Stations with strong brands are far more equipped to withstand ratings wobbles than those without. Focusing on the next ratings book is a short-term strategy.  Focusing on research that builds your brand is a long-term approach built for long-term success.

What kind of research should you do and is it giving you the results you need? Furthermore, are the results being interpreted properly as part of a larger brand strategy? Next week, we’ll focus on Scenario 3 – Confusing Tactical and Strategic Research.    






The Research Methodology Trap


Tuesdays With Coleman

I was recently cleaning out the Coleman Insights archives and came across a column I wrote for Radio & Records in 1999. (Step in the DeLorean and check it out on Page 96 here.)

Radio and Records

In that article, I described four problematic scenarios my colleagues and I often encountered when radio station personnel discussed research with us. What struck me as I read the column—beyond how much younger I looked in the photo that accompanied it!—is the frequency with which we still encounter many of these scenarios. Sure, the ways listeners consume audio and the dynamics of the radio industry have changed dramatically over the past 18 years, but the fact that the points raised in my column still resonated really caught my attention.

Thus, in this four-part blog series, I’ll revisit those scenarios with some updates.  This week, we’ll focus on Scenario 1 – The Methodology Focus.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with questions about research methodology.  In fact, any manager who does not understand the methodology his or her research company is using—including the benefits and drawbacks of each element of that methodology—is selling his or her station short.

The problem with this scenario stems from where it starts. If you are dealing with a credible firm, they will propose a research program that is customized to your specific issues, rather than force a “boilerplate” 400-person perceptual study down your throat. While many firms (including ours) will have their own methodological approaches, the good ones will adapt their ways of doing things to what you need to accomplish with your research.

Instead of focusing on the technical merits or drawbacks of a potential research partner’s methodology, you should be trying to answer more important questions about them, such as:

  • “Have they demonstrated a clear understanding of what I am trying to accomplish through research?”
  • “How is their track record with helping stations in similar situations?”
  • “Do they have an agenda or will they be straight with me about what the findings say?”
  • “Will they provide me with data or will they go further and help me interpret the numbers and make recommendations on how I should proceed?”
  • “To what degree will they help me implement changes based on the research?”

Believe me, methodology is important. There is enough research out there based on poor design, dubious samples and weak quality control worthy of multiple columns dedicated to that subject on its own. However, if the relationship with the research company is built on your feelings about their methodology and not on whether they truly understand your situation and have the knowledge to help you, the odds of both parties ending up disappointed are very high.

Why invest in research when ratings already look great? Next week, we’ll focus on Scenario 2 – We Have Great Numbers.