In Conclusion: Loyalty Is The Future
May 1, 2012
There is a reason I have written my thoughts into essays. I love radio. First, let's be clear: These thoughts are not new ideas. If you are familiar with Coleman Insights' philosophies, Alan Burns' studies on female audiences or Fred Jacobs' blogs, you are probably familiar with a lot of this line of thinking. I am just sharing my point of view as I have been a programmer facing the daunting task of making radio stations successful in this current era. And even though radio is not the same business I started in 17 years ago, I still love my industry and want it to have a great and profitable future.
I do believe radio has a power that services like Pandora and Facebook can't touch. Look at iHeartradio, for example. Clear Channel has developed an app that can compete with Pandora. Can it beat Pandora at its own game? It would be difficult. Pandora is far and away #1 in the product category. But with the power of a local radio station that offers the listener personalities who can talk about what they like, about what's going on in town that will make their life better, gossip they want to know or make them laugh because they get his listeners' humor, radio can be better in a meaningful, differentiated way.
Imagine hundreds of radio stations which have loyalty with listeners and can drive that loyalty to an app (for example, iHeartradio.) And that app can match Pandora. Further, radio can use the power of social media like Facebook to take this connection even further beyond the airwaves directly to the listener. This is a powerful combination that can make radio very attractive to any advertiser.
It is a me, me, me world out there. We all love services that cater to me. Pandora gives me my music. Groupon gives me my deals. Facebook gives me all my friends and a way to easily communicate with them at my fingertips. My favorite local radio station can give me all of that too, and in a more personal way if they make me their business. If they give me real people who live in my town who offer me the opportunity to know what's going on, hear my music and win great stuff all in the same place, I'm sold.
I do hate that they play commercials, but my loyalty to the station keeps me coming back. And, sometimes they play a song I don't like, but I really want to hear what Madison has to say about Justin Bieber, so I'll be right back when it is over. I do love Pandora, but my station is like a friend. I feel good listening to it, so I'll keep coming back. They have my loyalty.
What builds loyalty and what will make radio special in 2012 is having personalities who can really communicate with a listener about things that matter to him or her beyond music. It is creating promotions that offer a listener a real and tangible opportunity of having or doing something they would never get to do otherwise. It is doing a Facebook post that leaves a listener thinking that there is someone who gets them and knows what they want.
This is a whole different level of radio programming and it is complex and expensive. To cater to the "me" mentality you have to be local and that means more, not less. Getting great local personalities takes money to hire and mentor. Promotions that really touch a listener aren't cheap and it is hard to be one on one over 500 stations nationwide. Finding people who understand Facebook and Twitter and can write posts that resonate and have value to a listener is not an easy endeavor and will take monetary investment. Bringing in expertise that can build websites that are as cool to use as the radio station sounds is a lot more expensive that just a few banner ads on a homepage.
I do understand the tough reality: radio doesn't have a lot of extra funds going around in 2012. But, if radio operators continue on the course of stripping radio stations down to cookie-cutter music and imaging, no local personality (or just liner jocks or old school screamers who don't understand their audiences,) national cash contests and no heart, where will radio be in 2017? How will we ever build future loyalty without funding it? But, how will we make it through 2012 if we can't get by our bills?
It is a quandary and that is the challenge I believe we all face. But, where there is a will, there is a way, and there are a lot of great minds in radio. There are a lot of great minds outside of radio making magic happen for other industries. It is my goal with these essays to prompt discussion and hopefully bring all the great thinkers together to see how to navigate radio into a position of prominence and profit as it once was. I know it can be done and it is my sincere hope that somehow, someway we will get there.