It's All About Loyalty, Part 1
February 21, 2012
Personalities versus music-intensive, local versus syndicated, Facebook, marketing, iHeart Radio, websites, mobile platforms, budgets, content, content, content ... just a few of the weighty issues facing today's radio programmer. It is enough to make a head spin. Radio and its future has become a complicated conversation and it can be overwhelming these days.
I'd like to suggest we streamline all of this down to the one thing that I believe will have the most profound effect on radio's future -- and that is loyalty. I suggest that if we take the discussion out of the traditional realm of ratings and put it on the importance of building loyalty, we will be discussing what will give radio the long and successful future we all hope to see.
I have learned a lot in my radio career as Operations Manager, consultant with Alan Burns, PD, MD, and researcher with Coleman Research. I've seen radio programming from many different viewpoints, and as someone who has programmed in these current times I know the challenges that modern programmers face. In the following essays, I will address what loyalty is, how we win it and the exciting effects it will have on our future.
Like most radio programmers I know, I have always played to win. I am a competitive person by nature, and simply put, winning always meant achieving #1. It was a clear focus upon which you built your strategy. Over the past few years it has become clear to me that the goal has to change with the times. Listener loyalty is the main issue, and I'll explain why.
Radio is in a rough spot these days. We are being attacked on all sides ... and not just by our terrestrial competition. Pandora, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, not to mention our old nemesis television ... these are just a few of the outlets vying for our listeners' time, attention and loyalty. The game is no longer just about out-programming the other radio stations in your market to achieve #1. It is about making your radio station meaningful enough that it can stand up as a competitive choice for entertainment against a Pandora, YouTube, Facebook, or the myriad of other choices out there.
Have you ever asked people if they use Pandora? I have, and I usually get only one of two answers. It's either "No" or "OMG yes and I LOVE it!" You have also probably heard people rave about YouTube, or some Internet site they love (Pinterest, anyone?), or their favorite TV show. What about your radio station? When was the last time you heard someone passionately and wholeheartedly exclaim "OMG I love your station!"? I have come to the conclusion that hearing a listener say that about my radio station is the win ... and here is why.
Yes, she loves Pandora; yes, she is addicted to Twitter and yes, she spends hours on Facebook every day. But she also loves my station and will go on record to say she fits it in with all these other passions. So what happens when she isn't as passionate about your station? "Oh, it's pretty good. I listen sometimes when I'm in the car," she says. Great, she's listening, but what happens when Pandora is as easily accessible in the car as radio? Or, the next version of Facebook blows her mind and she adds another hour or two of daily usage? Your station falls further and further down the priority list. She feels no real loyalty, and "it's okay" means she doesn't even realize she barely listens anymore.
It will probably take awhile for this scenario to manifest itself into significant ratings decline (the traditional measure of a job well done with the audience.) It will be gradual, but unless your station has a loyal following, it will eventually happen. Pandora, Facebook, YouTube and others will soon be as easily accessible as terrestrial radio stations, if not more so, and if your audience doesn't hold you as important to them as these services, where will radio be in a few years?
Winning listener loyalty is the win, and we need it now. Radio is under attack ... and not just for Arbitron ratings. Listener loyalty is at stake, and that loyalty is our future business. Without loyalty we will not only lose ratings, we will also lose the ability to provide results for our advertisers. Needless to say, that will not be good for revenue.
Sure, the ratings are currently holding steady, and research shows people still use a lot of radio. People still like radio. But, do they love it? Will they love it when they can get whatever entertainment they want cheaply, easily and completely at their command anywhere? And what will the world look like when the younger generations are all grown up and can't remember a favorite radio station from their teenage years? When they are the consumer and terrestrial radio has never been a part of their lives? Here's a scary thought: Pandora is the answer when you ask, "What was your favorite radio station when you were in high school?" Where will our ratings and revenue be then?
This is a scary proposition, but it doesn't have to be our future. Radio has great power to build loyalty. We reach a huge quantity of people, and we can talk to them in a very meaningful way. And unlike Internet services, radio can reach them beyond their online presence by being live people in their communities, making a difference in their day-to-day lives. We can take steps now to create loyalty by building radio stations that listeners care about and love, brands that can win head-to head with Pandora, Facebook, etc. I am excited by our potential and in my next essay I will address exactly what loyalty is and how to win it in my next column, which will appear here on All Access on March 6th.