September 24, 2013
Urban radio has always been able to balance itself and adapt to changing music trends. Now the question becomes how tough is it to navigate through all the cyclical changes and genres of crossover music? The answer is not that tough, providing you're not operating out of fear. Many programmers in both Urban and Urban AC who have failed, operated out of fear. Fear of what they might lose. Fear of how the audience and their peers would perceive them. Fear that they might make a bad decision. As a successful major-market programmer, I can tell you you're going to make some bad decisions along the way. But guess what? You're also going to make some good ones. There is some risk in being a programmer and you have to become a calculated risk-taker. There are times when you have to force yourself out of your comfort zone.
You must always respond to competitive changes in the market. Every competitive move subtly repositions all other stations. Even format changes and adjustments in different formats can impact your position in the market. Every decision should be based on a timely, market-based determination on whether your station continues to be relevant for the audience and even more important, a better choice than their other options. Many station failures occurred not because your station sounded bad. They failed because there was no unfulfilled need for the product you created in the market.
Target Formatting & Cume Duplication
There are a couple of new twists and closely held secrets that are already quietly making a difference. They are target formatting and cume duplication. First, let's look at target formatting. It's a combination or series of little things that, when done right, can create a sharp listener focus and make a huge difference. Target formatting can mean the difference between a P1 and a P2. One of the tricks or illusions involves changing the perception of your station and stepping outside the format boundaries occasionally. The other trick is about increasing your audience share by scheduling the right crossover music at the right times.
For Urban Adult stations, it may mean playing some rap songs that are extremely familiar, a.k.a. crossover adult party songs. These are songs that would be a hit at any party. 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 who have been found by everybody's research as 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, Washington, Charleston, Houston, Baltimore, Kansas City, New Orleans and Memphis, the latest Arbitron trends show that in many cases, the Urban or Urban AC station is not only the format leader, but also the market leader.
If we've learned anything about market leaders in the last few years, it is that a well-programmed Urban or Urban AC station (with a competitive signal) can become the new market leader --despite the rivalry from format similar stations who may have better signals, more research and deeper pockets.
How do you combat these things? You combat them by offsetting their advantages with effective target formatting. It has to do with maintaining 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. There must be balance, freshness and variety. 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 going to move from being a strong alternative or P2 station to become the favorite station, target formatting needs to be part of the plan.
Now, let's examine cume duplication. Cume duplication looks at how many people spend at least five minutes with your station during the week and the competition. For programmers, it's more insightful and effective to look beyond simply what other station(s) your audience is listening to and start looking at their consumptions levels. Your listeners might listen to several other stations but only two or three really get any sizeable amount of listening. That' why it's advisable to see how much your audience is contributing to your competition, in addition to simply knowing where else they are going.
For those of you in PPM-measured markets, pull out Arbitron's PD Advantage and track contributions by your audience to other stations. It will also show you some other key PPM metrics including occasions and the number of times the audience tuned to your competition, which is a key driver of Time Spent Listening (TSL).
Hipness, Positioning & Mind Share
The hipness factor is part of the new game with new rules. For Urban and Urban AC stations, 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 promos, 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, swagger and flair from their favorite Urban or Urban AC station. That's why they come to us -- and this is what the hipness factor provides. We can't afford to disappoint them.
Now, the hipness factor itself cannot repair a floundering format. You still have to play the right jams, 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, hip copy that is geared to the audience 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.
Finally, 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 was familiar or they liked it in a callout, doesn't mean they wanted 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 still 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 fresh 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. Fall is a good time to do this. You still introduce new music first on the night show and then let it spread to other dayparts.
By finding your own hits and target formatting, you can overcome fear-based thinking and win the new games with their new rules. And you accomplish three other important things: You maintain freshness and flavor and pick up new cume that becomes attracted to your station. As winter approaches, you will have picked up a younger, hipper audience that will grow with you.
Finally, remember our lives are not directed by the dreams that we dream, but by the choices that we make regarding those dreams.