Starbucks Versus Dunkin' Donuts; A New Orleans' Radio Story
January 20, 2015
This should be a story about coffee made with chicory, but while appropriate, its not.
When you pull into a Dunkin' Donuts and see them touting their new Dark Roast, here's what you know about Dunkin' Donuts; they're done allowing Starbucks to just walk away with some of the business that is truly theirs.
When you go to Starbucks, if you don't specify, you get a cup of a bold, darker, more bitter cup of coffee than you would if you just did the same at Dunkin Donuts, but here's what you know about Starbucks; they're so aware of the Dunkin Donuts fan base and allegiance to some degree, that they introduced their Blonde brew, a less bitter and lighter blend, a couple years back.
So now, when a Dunkin Donuts fan has no choice but Starbucks, the Blonde can keep them from complete disdain over that bitterness that Starbucks calls a cup of coffee.
Making Your Mark
And if the Starbucks fan has no choice, they too can find solace with the new darker, bolder choice at DD.
Its just coffee, but both companies care about their base product and BRAND enough to build in a safety net to protect unnecessary customer and market share erosion.
The best radio stations utilize this same template; to allow the stations in their format, and competitors within their marketplace, to affect them enough, that even their product has to change if they're being honest about the impact of other stations and the influence they ALREADY have with their SHARED audience.
90-Day victories for new radio station launches are rare these days, because we've become a template society, and instead of building radio stations influenced by the competitive landscape, we're taking a philosophy and putting that on the air, happy to gain any audience, versus attempting to gain the MOST possible audience.
Getting The Brand Back Together
While PPM ratings is a different methodology than the old diary format and while PPM has changed the game to a certain degree, it hasn't taken away some base truths that will always be important in the process of domination or winning back what was once yours; your brand. You NEED to have a brand. Every single radio success story, if you stripped away the ingredient that made it successful, the key ingredient is brand.
Having the privilege to have worked at 93-3 WFLZ in its Power Pig heyday, taught me that the "image" of a station is sometimes even MORE powerful than its actual product.
While Q105 never fully regained their pop dominance in Tampa, before being financially influenced to leave the format for the Country format, there were some ratings books where the fight between 'FLZ and Q105 were closer than radio folklore now leads us to believe, but what kept 'FLZ on top during the vulnerable music cycle that Guy Zapoleon would refer to as the "Doldrums," was its image, it's brand as a "fun," "mischievous," and "mysterious" entity.
Q105 didn't have that brand anymore, and didn't respond to 'FLZ the way Dunkin' has to Starbucks or vice versa.
Pride Goes Before The Fall
I learned an important lesson in radio programming when I took the PD reigns of WEZB, B97 in New Orleans in 1998. No matter how great your last success is, if you expect to take that success as a template to your next gig/market, you will probably fall flat on your face. I did.
Sinclair Broadcasting had acquired what was once an EZ Communications powerhouse, but WEZB wasn't true to its base; instead playing it safe in the convoluted land of Adult Contemporary.
My mission was simple. I had just taken a station from below a 3 share in Greenville, SC to a 9 share, and it was showing no signs of deterioration; so Sinclair directed me to put Greenville on the air in New Orleans; thus a return to Top 40 for B97.
Cockily, thinking I had learned the template of the new Top 40 format, I gladly went in, 'taking no prisoners,' to prove my ingénue.
Kandy Klutch was running the only other Top 40 in New Orleans and I was going to take WEZB's 3.5 share, steal Kandy's 4 share and by the magic of shared audience, create a 7 share radio station in no time.
But It Works In Idaho
About 60-days in, something felt off. No, not just off, but worse than that. Dead. And it was befuddling. How could something so powerful just 10-hours away, be a non-factor down on the Bayou?
Blinded by my own successes, I couldn't see the answer, even though consultant Mike Donovan had clearly told me to go in a Rhythm direction. Even though programming peers Don London and Dave Universal had both offered me the ingredient to win, I was going to continue to beat that horse with the same whip, not knowing its leg was already broken, and that had it had a pulse, a different tool was needed altogether.
Even though longtime New Orleans' resident and record guru Kim Stephens offered up clear options to regain control of the ship's wheel and turn the boat in the proper direction, I just kept on towards the iceberg, because I owned a Parka and thought the cold would be temporary.
At best, I was able to get a half share gain and reach a 4, but when I'd reach a 4, Kandy would reach a 4.3, and if she dropped to a 3.9, I would fall to 3.6.
Inchworms At High Velocity
I didn't allow the taste buds of the New Orleans marketplace to steer my conscience to keep my radio win streak alive. As Dunkin' Donuts admits to the world that Starbucks is king, by making a Dark Roast, they're humble enough to admit it, something I didn't have in me at the time.
And Starbucks, while already King a few years back, validated Dunkin' Donuts, by admitting, there was an audience that Starbucks couldn't get to salute their logo; the Dunkin fan. So Starbucks humbly made a lighter roast, and said, "It doesn't all have to be bitter."
Two brands strengthen themselves by understanding the habits of their end user, while never forgetting what makes them strong in the first place.
From 2000 to 2004, I was eating humble pie on a daily basis, as I deflected programming opportunities that would come my way. One of my best friends was so tired of me saying "No!" that he actually said, "I'm going to have to stop offering you jobs."
Two Pies For A Dolla
It wasn't the job he was offering that was making me reluctant, it was the "NEW PD" that had emerged in me; the one who learned from a past mistake. I knew that if I came back in a PD role, it couldn't be small, that it would have to have big impact and quick, so in markets where I could see the ingredients wouldn't allow that, I had to respectfully pass.
Then, Bruce Logan called me about Charlotte. I went.
I was doing my best to get my tail out from between my legs as I navigated 96-1 to historic highs and a format victory in just 90 days, followed by market dominance in less than 9 months.
It wasn't luck. It was purpose. Terri Avery had one of the best sounding Urban stations ever, and still does in WPEG, and John Reynolds was killing it in the Pop realm with WNKS.
Iron Sharpens Iron
They had already paved the ways for their brands, allowing me to be influenced by them to create my own brand. In the end, just like Starbucks and Dunkin, we all got better in the process.
The truth about my time in New Orleans is that I had the secret ingredient on the air the whole time. I just didn't pay it enough attention. On Sunday nights, I was airing Hollywood Hamilton's syndicated Rhythm show, and his website (in a time when websites weren't all that interactive) and ours, were getting passionate comments weekly. Had I just allowed it to catapult the station in the right direction fast enough, I could have saved face.
Look for next week's story; "How Hollywood Hamilton & Stacey Brady saved New Orleans; and then, ME!"