Occupying Mind Share
April 10, 2013
We're living in a time when one of the most important skills Urban radio programmers can develop is the ability to stay abreast of change. Trend-watching, information gathering and looking ahead are critical survival skills. One of those skills is part of a new concept that's already quietly making a difference in a number of markets large and small. It's called occupying mind share. It's a combination or series of little things that, when done right, can create a sharp listener focus and make a huge difference.
Occupying mind share can mean the difference between a P1 and a P2. One of the tricks or illusions involves changing the perception of our stations and stepping outside the format boundaries occasionally. The other trick is about increasing your audience share by scheduling the right crossover jams at the right times.
For Urban Adult stations, it may mean playing some of the same songs that straightahead Urbans are playing. You know, the ones that are extremely familiar, a.k.a. crossover adult party songs. These are songs from artists who would be a hit at any party, such as Alicia Keys, Kelly Rowland or Miguel. They're part of the new strategic thinking about music.
There has been a shift in the core of Urban radio's library over the past few years. We've been moving away from some artists that have been found by everybody's research and overplayed. There is a new theory that hip-hop is replacing rock with a younger male audience. It happens with every generation. In markets such as Chicago, Miami, Charleston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Dallas and Birmingham, the latest Arbitron trends show that the Urban or Urban AC station is not only the format leader, but also the market leader.
A Better Balance
If we've learned anything about market leaders in the last few years, it is that a well-programmed Urban or Urban AC station can become the new market leader despite the competition from format-similar stations that usually have larger signals, better research, and deeper pockets. It's even more important to maintain the proper balance between consistency and freshness. We can't hope to capture and keep an adult audience with nothing but oldies and ballads, even if they're the right oldies and slow songs. There must be balance ... balance in tempo, demographic appeal and freshness. It's a proven fact that the Urban audiences are trendsetters, so sameness will not work over the long haul.
If you're in a market where your competition is already doing some or all of these things, how do you combat them? You combat them by offsetting their advantages and using effective target formatting. Diversity does help heritage stations where you're trying to maintain a good balance of upper and young-end appeal. Ultimately, you're trying to drive it right down the middle base of the current available music. You have to have a keen sense of the music to ensure you're taking care of the right songs at the right time. You have to be careful you're not adhering to one specific sound in a 10-minute period so that the audience gets a pure sampling of everything.
It's a delicate balance because sometimes it slows the rotation process of songs down, given an abundance of one sound or another. It's why some successful programmers try to get to any many jams as they can (within reason) when you feel strongly about them, but it can get frustrating during the selection process when the rotations slow down. It's important to realize the dynamic of keeping a music mix diverse and balanced.
It's also important to be as aggressive as possible with digital platforms to enhance listener engagement. Urban stations need to engage their audience and have a presence where they can. One major-market PD we spoke with recently said his station has great social media interaction with the audience and huge web numbers. "We're constantly looking for new ways to change up and reach out, whether it's streaming shows, video shots with artists or expanding our web content. We want to be sure we're doing what our audience is doing."
You want to be where your listeners hang out, and they're hanging out on Facebook, Twitter LinkedIn and other places. Grow your database and collect deeper information by including links to contests, promotions and surveys that allow for the segmentation mentioned above. A post about a specific feature is appropriate for your fans, but you should make it conversational and benefit-oriented. You can't abdicate your database building to social media. The level of data you can gather through your station website is deeper, more lucrative and most critically yours.
A well-crafted tweet or Face book entry with a specific time to listen links to registration, exclusive info and survey can be very effective. You need to segment your info, provide an opportunity to drive listening occasions by reminding listeners of special on-air features, programs, artist interviews, morning show events, etc.
Hipness & Positioning
I've talked about the hipness factor and the difference it can make in occupying mindset for several years now The hipness factor is part of the target formatting process. The hipness factor must grow from "occasionally hip" to "always hip." The hipness factor should be delivered on a consistent basis in the liners, the contests, the way the air personalities handle callers, etc. The hipness factor is very much like the difference between a bank shot and a slam-dunk. They both go in and the score is the same, but true fans of the game want to see a little style and flair, and this is what the hipness factor provides. It helps if you have an in-house production director that gets it, too.
Now, the hipness factor itself cannot repair a floundering format. You still have to have the right music, and constantly adjust your rotations so that your station always sounds fresh. And you need the right positioning.
Positioning is a key part of target formatting. Here is where great copy, which is hip and geared to the audience that is there to hear the music, comes in. A positioning statement is a like a promise to your target audience, one which you can never violate If you expect to occupy mind share. Occupying mind share can translate directly into higher numbers. These positioning statements should offer a unique benefit to the listener. They serve as a point of reference, not just "#1 for hip-hop and R&B." That statement, like the music it surrounds, has to be changed, updated, and produced with different approaches for it to continue to be effective.
Make Your Own Hits
Finally, if you're going to move from being a strong alternative or P2 station to become the favorite station, target formatting should be a part of the plan. Sometimes you may have to disregard a series of music test scores and follow your gut. Keep in mind, just because a test group said that a song is familiar, doesn't mean they want to hear it over and over. At the other extreme is the notion that songs could be put into a power rotation out of the box.
But wait, what about the familiarity precept that says that listeners always want to hear songs and artists that they recognize? Regardless, they have to be balanced properly. Too much unfamiliar music sends the wrong message to the target audience. Who are they? They are people in the outside world, listening to traditional Urban and Urban AC stations. When you put a new jam in a power stack on a station that has high cume, you can, by simply playing that song every four hours, make it familiar to your audience. Sometimes this is what you have to do. You have to make your own hits. Now is the best time to do this. You still introduce new music first on the night show and then let it spread to other dayparts.
By making your own hits, and target formatting, you accomplish two very important things. You maintain freshness and flavor and occupy mind share. When you occupy mind share you will pick up new cume that becomes attracted to you. And finally, keep your sense of humor. As programmers we're attempting to appeal to an audience and a world composed of too many freaks and not enough circuses.