It's Time For Radio To Get Into The Data Game
May 12, 2015
Two weeks ago, I had the honor of attending the Worldwide Radio Summit in Los Angeles. I was particularly intrigued by the opening panel discussion hosted by Paul Jacobs of Jacobs Media. The topic was "The Future of the Global Radio Community." Onstage were Jeff Smulyan, the CEO of Emmis; Tim Westergren, the Founder of Pandora; Anthony Bay, the CEO of Rdio; Neal Schore, the President and CEO of Triton Digital; Ben Cooper, the Controller of BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra; and David Taylor, the Director of Connected Services for Panasonic.
At one point during the discussion, Paul observed that broadcasters may need to start thinking about listener data as a key part of the deliverables for their clients. In other words, it's not enough for radio to put an advertiser in front of an audience; it also needs to be able to provide information about that audience.
For much of the crowd watching the discussion, this concept appeared to be relatively new. But not for those who have a history in Silicon Valley-style marketing. In fact, at one point Tim spoke at length about all the data Pandora is gathering about its listeners.
Here's the big takeaway: it's not the size of your audience that matters; it's the relevance.
You can have all the listeners in the world, but if none of them knit, your station is not a good place for the Yarn Barn to advertise. And if you don't have data about your listeners, you can't prove the relevance to your advertisers.
Two points about data:
1. Radio broadcasters rely way too heavily on Nielsen for its listener data.
Radio stations need to be gathering data on listeners independently of Nielsen. It's never wise to put all of your eggs in one basket, and way too much of what we know about listeners comes from Nielsen's basket. This makes radio vulnerable. Radio's reputation as a marketing channel is only as good as Nielsen's reputation as a measurement system. High-profile errors can call the entire industry's value into question.
But more than that, radio has left all the decision-making about data in the hands of a third party. If Yarn Barn is a huge client of your radio station and they want information about the knitting habits of your listeners, you're not going to be able to convince Nielsen to add a knitting-measurement feature to its people meters. You're going to get the data that you're going to get, and there's nothing you can do about it.
Radio stations need to be able to tailor their data-gathering to fit the needs of their clients. So they'd better start gathering their own data.
2. Radio broadcasters need to raise the standards for their listener data.
For too long, radio has relied on the extrapolation of data to persuade clients to advertise. The argument goes like this: "Lots of women in their 50s like to knit*, and the audience that listens to our radio station has a lot of female listeners in their 50s, so you can reach a lot of knitters by advertising here." There's a lot of room for error in this extrapolation and the tolerance for such error is only going to decrease.
Rather than extrapolating, radio needs to focus on gathering the actual relevant data. Yarn Barn doesn't want to know how many knitters you think you have in your audience, they want to know how many knitters you know you have in your audience.
You've got two choices here: the lesser choice is to ask your listeners if they knit. This is better than extrapolation, but relying on self-reported behavior is problematic. After all, some people knit but are unwilling to admit it. ("Closeted knitters.")
The better option is to measure what people actually do, not what they say they do. You can't track listeners' knitting habits directly, but you can track what they do when they come to your website. If you see a lot of listeners click on the station's blogpost about knitting tips, or listen to the midday jock's knitting podcast, you have behavioral data that your sales team can use to secure an advertising buy from the Yarn Barn.
In short, one of the best arguments for creating content on your station's website and using your airwaves to drive people to that content is because it gives you additional data that you can't get elsewhere. And radio will need this type of data to stay relevant in an ever-changing media landscape.
(*Full disclosure: I'm making this up for argument's sake; I have no actual data about knitters.)