Inflating Our Worries
August 13, 2013
Down But Hardly Out - Maintaining Your Advantages
Let's face it: being an idea person can be tough. It seems like everywhere you turn, barriers pop up. In the busy, fast-paced world most of us operate in, there is a tendency to want quick, bottom-line answers to most questions without inflating our worries.
One way to deflate our worries and maintain an advantage is as simple as finding a way to say no to the boss. There are two types of programmers who don't "yes the boss." The first is the pinheaded person who is so petty and small that they can't see value in any suggestion other than their own. The second is the one who has ideas and who is not afraid to suggest them, but who is big enough to admit that the other fellow's plan may be better and then proceed to get behind it. Failure to make suggestions is not helping the boss. Agreeing with him in everything he suggests is not helping him, either. Nor is it grooming you for a bigger role and more responsibilities.
With almost as many ways to program as there are markets and stations, Urban and Urban AC stations have become complicated formats. Obviously, strategies for future success vary widely. This decade has been one of adjustment, kicked off with a technology boom that has shifted the ground. Many of its effects are being felt for the first time. The radio industry, whose immediacy has always been a promoted benefit, has had to adjust to recent listening shifts. As a result, many stations are seeing their shares dwindle.
Why We Need PPM Adjustments
Getting credit for all the reported listening your station actually deserves is a ratings necessity and believe it or not, one that is becoming a lot tougher for some stations in dealing with Arbitron's conversion to electronic measurement. Studying and then adjusting for PPM are things that we want to look at this time. Understanding how features and other programming elements contribute to affect the overall health of the station brand is just as important in assessing their value as looking at their minute-by-minute behavioral impact. Certain PPM adjustments are absolutely necessary.
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario, which features two leading morning personalities, one syndicated and one live in a top-10 market: In terms of top-of mind awareness, both scored almost identically when portions of their shows were recorded and played back with the call letters removed before a focus group. Personality "A" was identified by 72%, while "B" had 69% identification. Both strong numbers for any personality.
There was one critical difference. Personality "A," who happened to be the syndicated personality, didn't mention the station's call letters because with syndication, things like call letters and real time just can't be mentioned every break. The PD's feeling was that since the personality is already well-known in the market and across the country, he believed that knowledge of his name translated into station identification. As it turned out, this was not the case and only 36% of his listeners could place him at the correct station.
By comparison, 55% of those who identified Personality "B" could place him at the right station. With PPM, some would say it doesn't matter since the meter should pick up what people are actually exposed to, regardless of whether or not their air talent mentions the call letters. The reality is that people tend to identify with local personalities more because they are local and can offer local information and facts that syndicated personalities can't, plus they can mention the call letters more, which can translate into higher listening levels, especially with PPM.
Never Overestimate Listeners' Product Knowledge
Product knowledge is the single most important thing your listeners can possess. It means the difference between consistent and inconsistency. The worst mistake a programmer can make is to believe that the audience knows all they need to know about the station. Most people can only name two or three stations. Considering how the ratings systems work, yours had better be one of them. Just because people have spent time on your part of the spectrum doesn't mean they'll accurately remember and return to it later, meter in tow.
That's why you must provide significant memorable elements to help listeners recall that they've listening to your station so they know where to find it on the dial when they're carrying a PPM or when they're asked about their radio usage in those markets that still operate with the diary.
The simplest thing you can do is speak to your listeners in their language. Your positioners and slogans should communicate the clear benefits your station offers and they should describe the sound. Don't try to ram your station's entire manifesto into a four-second liner. Once you've decided on a slogan, stick with it. People don't come to your station to hear positioners, so it's very difficult to burn them out. You don't need 25 to 30 different slogans in rotating position.
Contests & Consistency
Over the years we've mentioned that Urban stations should get to know what types of people agree to participate in surveys or would be willing to carry a meter. The greatest single predictor of who participates in ratings or perceptual surveys continues to be consumption. The more one listens, the greater the likelihood one will devote time to a study. Casual listeners (less than one hour a day) are highly unlikely to spend time filling out a diary or carrying a meter. That ancient notion of passive versus actives has very little to do with this fact.
When it comes to research results with heavy contest users, we've seen very revealing results. What the studies show is that people's agendas have nothing to do with station loyalty or acquisition of information about the station. They may simply have to do with winning contests. These people don't make good candidates for callout research, auditorium testing or perceptual testing. And they're poor choices for filling out a diary or carrying a PPM for any extended period of time, unless those activities are directly tied to the possibility of winning something.
Now that you know a little about the audience and how contests affect them, you should remember to strive for consistency. Stations that are consistent over the long haul will score. Of course, format changes and modifications may be necessary from time to time. In some cases, even though the format has evolved through several musically diverse arenas over the years, the station should still remain a consistent market player in the minds of listeners and the advertising community.
A contemporary format targeting adults can still take an aggressive current music stance. The ability to break new music and lead the way has always been an advantage for both Urban and Urban AC formats. For one thing, it helps create excitement. Programmers need to exercise greater discipline when competing with other adult formats that tend to be more scrutinizing of their product.
Urban Adult stations should use gold and recurrents along with their currents to help balance and position the station. Putting a sufficient amount of nostalgia, particularly from the past 10 years, on the air can help to satisfy those disenfranchised listeners who have recently strayed from the format. This can cause your station to score cume slices with the diary and PPM.
Both formats need to improve their skills in executing the format. Too many stations simply take callout research, positioning slogans, rigid rotation patterns and national charts and then "paint by the numbers." Remember, radio is an art form. True works of art aren't created by painting by numbers. Some programmers are too reliant on these devices because they lack or don't trust intuition and creativity. When using a map or GPS while driving, you still have to watch the road and use common sense..
Finally, inflating our worries is an increasing problem. One exacerbated when one person is now responsible for multiple stations, even multiple formats. Our industry is still adjusting to new conditions it faces in 2013. Trends are cyclical and the pendulum will keep swinging. As it does, realize that future format success will take renewed understanding and greater skills than ever. Remember, radio like history, has many cunning passages, contrived corridors and issues.