Tearing Down To Build Up
November 1, 2013
There's been plenty of talk about the Connected Car lately, and I've made my own thoughts known on that subject before, so I'll leave all of that to someone else (Joel Denver covered the conference on the topic in Detroit for Net News last week, Fred Jacobs has been writing a lot about it, they can fill you in). I want to talk about something else we can learn from the auto industry. This one isn't technical.
If you listen to NPR and Chicago Public Media's "Planet Money" podcast, you might have heard the rerun this week of a segment about Ford's attempt to revive the Lincoln automotive brand. The shorthand description is this: Lincoln has dropped to last place among luxury car brands. Ford's aware that Lincoln has come to mean nothing to younger car buyers and is selling almost exclusively to older buyers. It's been relegated to being grandpa's car and the vehicle of choice for town car drivers. Ford has embarked on a campaign to change that.
But there's another case study to consider. Audi, Volkswagen's luxury brand, used to be down in the doldrums, too, a dowdy brand with embarrassing and potentially disastrous sudden-acceleration issues. Now, it's the number two luxury brand and wildly successful with younger buyers. How they did it, and what Lincoln is doing, are instructive for radio, which is also looking for answers to reach the next generation of customers.
What did Audi do? They blew it all up. Threw out pretty much everything. Started over. Opened a totally separate headquarters with separate everything from the parent company, redesigned the line from the ground up, improved performance and design, marketed the hell out of the new line with irreverent ads, embraced the kinds of things that appealed to youth, including hip-hop, with Audi mentioned in rap lyrics, and cut inventory to get that scarcity allure going. The result: Success.
What did Lincoln do? Well, they had good intentions, but the marketing was a little odd and not quite pitched to the right audience -- the self-important "rebranding" as "Lincoln Motor Company," ads evoking that youth icon Abe Lincoln, one revamped model that still kinda looks Ford-ish, ads stressing concierge-like service that seemed more like you're buying a stalker along with your car. They didn't quite tear it all down. And it didn't take off; Lincoln is still down at the bottom of the rankings.
Still, Lincoln has, at least, the self-awareness to understand that the idea is to throw everything out and try new things, even if it's been difficult to commit to it 100%. And it's a long-term strategy -- you have to give it a decade to really take hold, and they know that. That's enough time to cast off the shackles of having to sell what might be perceived as slightly gussied up Tauruses and become its own brand. There's time and opportunity.
So. Talk radio. Right. Let me just say first that I'm not going to suggest that this is for every traditional talk station -- there's still money to be made and success to be had with the old style, even if that target's aging and eroding. This is for stations in rough shape, the ones where the profits are going or gone, the second or third talker in the market, the ones looking at a downhill slide. You can be Lincoln, waiting perhaps too long, making tentative moves to change or at least tread water. Or you can be Audi, tear it all down, and take chances that will pay off in the long run. Really, all of radio can think about that, from show hosts to group owners. Sometimes, the road to success is to throw all your assumptions out, wipe the slate clean, and rebuild from the ground up like you're all new. It goes to what I wrote the other week: We need new ideas. We need to try new things. We need to not be afraid to take chances, even if they don't pay off in the first ratings period or the fourth or the tenth, and we need to embrace the attitudes and culture and needs of the next wave of consumers, so they become the next wave of listeners and the next wave of loyal fans.
Or we can take half-measures and still be seen as a relic of the Boomer generation, the Town Car of media in an Audi/BMW/Tesla world. Whatever choice radio makes, and the content that results, is as important, maybe MORE important, than whether AM and FM are on the Digital Dash.
Whether you do a traditional show or you've torn it all down and are doing something different, get your show prep needs filled by All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, the best source for stuff you can talk about on the radio, on a podcast, on a stream, or to yourself in those lonely moments. Go take a look by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where every story is individually linked to the appropriate item. It's all free, too. And this week, it's "10 Questions With..." someone who's starting from the ground up again, Keven Cohen, who's launching his own Talk format at WQXL in Columbia, SC -- instead of leaving a market he loves, he's taking the entrepreneurial route, taking over a local station and programming a full lineup with himself, a market fixture, in mornings. If you're worried about your own future in radio, you might want to observe and take notes.
Hey, sorry about last week's missing column, a casualty of the untimely death of my computer. I'm sure it would have been a great column. Guess we'll never know.