Engagement May Not Lead To Marriage
January 11, 2011
But It's a Game-Changer That Could Increase Media Usage ... Even for Singles
We continue into 2011 with some fresh thoughts on the state of Urban radio, along with some little engagement secrets that could just make a big difference. As with nearly all media, the end of last year found many of us reeling from a nasty one-two punch of a dramatic fall-off in local advertising because of the recession and the digital revolution, which not only provides our audience with myriad new ways to get the content they want, but also lets advertisers know exactly whom their ads are reaching.
Somebody said recently, the biggest challenge we face right now is that companies are struggling to stay out of the way of their bankers. Experts say that the price premium for radio stations has fallen from 20 times earnings to eight times.
Regardless of who you believe, the fact is that most stations are struggling. They're struggling for audience and they're struggling for revenue. So as programmers what can we do? One of the answers is to understand the power and secret of "engagement." It begins with what we do between hit songs. Especially in a PPM world, we've got to go beyond the music and engage our audience.
We do this with the right music, talent, promotions and imaging, combined with relatable entertaining content. The key is to start by going beyond what listeners want right now to satisfy them; you also give them what they didn't even know they wanted. Become a station designed to start a conversation among its listeners. Using engaging and compelling content to drive usage requires constant show-prep and reappraisal.
The myriad choices before today's active audiences challenge even the best programmers. Given the warp speed of Internet-driven media, some of what we're trying to do may not be the right thing with current audiences. After all, the information highway is littered with media road kill: text, video and multimedia offerings mowed down by either weak creative execution or "research said" slavishness.
Now I'm not putting down research. Properly used and interpreted, it can provide valuable data to help us make informed decisions. What I'm saying is in recent studies conducted on audience experiences in which hundreds of in-depth interviews were conducted about how particular titles fit into their lives, as the research unfolded, with common themes that went far beyond traditional demographic and psychographic categories, some fresh data emerged. It showed that programmers often ignored the power of audience expectation -- how the audience is engaged with brands --at their own peril.
Factor analysis showed that these personally relevant responses correlated like atoms bound into molecules that collectively described a specific audience experience. In our definition they described the set of beliefs that people have about a media brand. Instead of terms often used such as features, for instance, the responses suggest more real experiences such as "makes me smarter" or "makes me think, laugh or chuckle" (in other words, "makes me feel good").
From a pure research perspective, regression analysis and hierarchical linear models showed that strong associations exist between experience and usage across many titles within a media such as terrestrial radio. The intensity of particular experiences was measured, rising or falling for different demographic cohorts. It's no shocker, for example, that teenage girls favored "something to talk about, which made them appear hip."
In the digital age, newspapers have faced severe challenges, particularly in regard to their readership. Creating "buzz" has long been an arrow in the newspaper editor's quiver. Radio can create that same type of engaging buzz by using water cooler stories ranging from Tiger Woods and Michael Jackson to Gucci Mane and Mariah Carey.
Why did your flight really get cancelled? This particular association is called a "talk about and share" experience. What makes listeners feel informed? What gives them something to talk about? What tells them your station is looking out for their interests? Studies show these to be the top-three factors in driving usage.
The same applies to radio. If you can engage the listeners, you can manipulate them into listening longer and more often. Remember there is a fairly wide gap between what you say and what your audience hears.
The key to effective engagement is always in the details of execution -- mixing creative vision and research insights around experience. This type of engagement can empower those who love our music and our stations. It can transform today's challenges into a powerful opportunity to serve and lead the committed audience necessary for ratings success and financial viability.