Urban Radio's Net Generation - Unplugged
September 25, 2012
Are They Totally Different Or Just Younger?
They are variously known as the Net Generation, Millennials, Generation Y, Generation Jones or digital natives. They're not totally different, but they are younger. Whatever you call this group -- roughly those born between 1982 and 2002 -- there is widespread consensus among educators, marketers, policymakers and broadcasters that digital technologies have given rise to a new generation of students, consumers and listeners who view their world in a different way.
Growing up with the Internet, it is argued, has transformed their approach to education, work and politics. Unlike those who are a shade older, this new generation didn't have to relearn anything to live lives of digital immersion. They have learned not only how to survive, but thrive in this brave new world.
Fashion And Ratings Bling
One of the net generation changes that will affect Urban radio is the expectation and listening choices of the younger "Generation Jones." Some call them the "tweens." I call them "generation bling." They're the generation that looks at the epitome of hip as necessary. Young girls who search for expensive accessories, belts, purses and shoes such as those seen in fashion shows, videos and fashion magazines. Their male counterparts are looking for similar status symbols that identify them as not only being with it, but also being the trendsetters.
It's not just the rich kids who are driving these trends; it's any kid with an income. In spite of the economy, a lot more kids earn more money than they used to. They have part-time jobs and they feel they have the right to spend their money as they see fit. These young "blingers" will buy brands with allowances or wages earned from part-time jobs. This can lead to a fair amount of spending on brands once known only to the rich and famous. These "tween blingers" are much more brand-conscious than they used to be.
The interest in brands isn't just confined to the females. Besides tattoos, young men are now looking for brands with which to impress their girlfriends. What has happened is these young men and women have switched from being influenced by their parents and the brands they buy to being influenced by their peers and the brands they aspire to own. For many, identifying with a brand is part of developing an identity different from their parents. This generation's tweens have grown up confident that they will have lucrative careers, so they feel entitled to own luxury brands. This is the generation that is listening to radio less and plugging in their ear buds to other media choices more. Does this mean we have lost them as listeners forever? No, recent studies show simply that they will listen to their favorite radio station just long enough to hear the songs they eventually want to download.
As you may know, Arbitron is finding it more and more difficult to reach these young listeners, particularly young "cell-phone only" males. Why is it more difficult to measure the listening characteristics of young studs that are 18-34, whether they're straight or gay? There are several reasons. First, individually they're hard to locate, especially since many of them rock out with only their cell phones. Also, in many markets greater proportions of men between those ages attend college or are in the military. This means their names are not included within their local markets' telephone directories, the main source that Arbitron uses to develop its sample base.
Another reason is that young males are less motivated. Recent studies have shown that traditional marketing approaches are not as effective with young males as they are with other groups. And certainly for those who may be living with their parents or significant others, not all the mail that arrives at their homes gets their full attention. Arbitron will continue to test new materials and procedures designed to grab young males' attention. The goal is to achieve both consistent and long-term improvements.
Programming of any station targeted to younger men has become an even more challenging proposition. In addition to ongoing Arbitron sampling issues, the last few years have seen an explosion of competitive media and delivery systems. Everything from Internet audio services, satellite radio, Pandora, iHeart and Spotify to the recent emergence of cellphone MP3s mean the consumer is consumed.
Fresh Music Choices
The "net gen" urban programmers will have much less margin for error when making musical choices. The challenge is not only trying to propel cume and boost time spent listening (TSL) for their own product, but also to compel the audience to spend time with the media at all.
A number of group-owned stations have opted to switch out of Urban formats altogether rather than fight demographic trends or increased competition. Others have successfully remained having made significant adjustments to their targeting and music mixes.Hip-hop has spent the better part of the last two decades doing well in markets that never had a dedicated radio outlet before -- which proves that it is not necessary to have a significant African-American population for Urban music to develop a strong following. Salt Lake City is an example of such a market.
Oldies-formatted stations should have had a tough time coming back from their mid-'00s exile. While nobody had to re-learn "Goldigger" or "We Belong Together," by the time the format returned with PPM's forced changes, several years' worth of listeners had aged out of the target demo, replaced by new 18-25-year-olds who weren't supposed to have any interest in the format or these artists. And while some secondary '80s and '90s songs did, in fact, go away others have persevered as all ages classics.
That era was followed by one in which the bling that hit fashion, electronics and music took its toll even more. While it's too general and perhaps too early to predict that the traditional Urban target demos will shift completely, a growing number of influential stations have already made plans to adjust their focus.
We predict that change will be reflected in national playlist trends for 2013. For smart stations, there will be a decrease in gold content along with an increased emphasis on current and recurrent jams.
Being more adventurous musically will mean an increased emphasis on personality and stationality. Killer, cutting-edge morning shows, either local or syndicated, combined with awesome imaging, extreme marketing, stronger websites and out-of-the-box promotions will become more important than ever in the coming year.
These are elements and tools that are going to be necessary to win over the "bling generation." They are what is going to be required to keep Urban stations sounding fresh, irreverent and relevant.
Behavioral Targeting Demos
Next, let's look at behavioral targeting. Behavioral targeting is simply looking at tracking consumers' behavior across the sites they visit and showing them ads relevant to what they're posting or where they're visiting. It also means recognizing that when, without really knowing they're doing it, stations literally barge into an ongoing conversation, talking about something at a time and place where listeners aren't really that interested. They get upset because they feel that their conversation and mood have been interrupted. That's why it's so important to know the type of content to put between songs. If it's not interesting and relevant, listeners will either tune it out or change stations.
Many advertising agencies now opt for the Web over radio because they think they can sell their clients more easily on a visual medium. But they're ignoring young boomers' lifelong love affair with radio. Yes, they may listen fewer hours now than they used to and they're probably spending more time on the Internet, but they still listen and they can still be influenced. One of the reasons is that radio leaves more to the imagination -- something these listeners appreciate. And crossover music means their children listen, too. And for those stations whose markets are being measured by Arbitron's PPM, remember those kids 6-12 have tremendous power because of unintended listening.
Remember too, these young boomers pass their music and listening habits onto their kids in a way previous generations didn't. This new generation and their kids will spend more money on retail sales in the next 30 years than all the previous generations combined spent in the last 100 years and that, of course, allows for a weakened economy and inflation. Clearly, they represent a critically important market and radio is uniquely positioned to reach them.
So now the question becomes, how do you reach them? The answer is you can win more new generation listeners by getting them more involved with your station. Run a series of contests and promotions tied in with station clients -- promotions that revolve around listeners' youth, history and the music of their childhood. The right song or historical sound byte triggers listener's memories and emotions.
Younger listeners tend to be more receptive to new music. The older you get, the less comfortable you feel about change. People under 25, especially males, enjoy hearing lots of new music. Stations gearing toward passive 39-plus listeners shouldn't play a whole lot of new music, but they still need to keep their stations fresh. They need to play the right new music. The problem is that many of these older listeners spend less time with radio and probably won't recognize some songs until they've been out for a few weeks.
The generation revolution is real and Urban stations should do everything they can to create a welcome environment for both groups of listeners. A recent study by the Pew Research Center, an American think-tank, found that Internet users ages 18-24 were the least likely to e-mail a public official or make an online political donation. But when it came to sharing political news, joining political causes on social networks or finding the one radio station they knew would always have the latest jams, they were far ahead of everyone else. You don't want them to feel that yours is an alien format when they stumble across your station.
One of the biggest obstacles our stations face in attracting and keeping young listeners is that audience's self-centered, short-term view. Twenty-somethings are typically far more concerned about hitting a party or getting a date for Saturday night than anything else. The key to capturing them is in the music, the content and how it's communicated. All of these things take time to develop and require tapping into these unplugged younger listeners' emotions, so that not only can we influence where their listening starts, we can also influence where it finishes.