Effective Format Penetration
March 8, 2011
Maximizing Moments Of Choice
Not every programmer fully understands effective format penetration. They don't know that what separates and distinguishes a station is being in a position to provide some musical identity. Some music fits very well and reinforces the station's core identity. Other music expands the variety of music.
Unfortunately, music test mean scores often do a poor job of telling us which songs play well with the other songs. Urban programmers have to know more than the mean score. Power songs are not just songs with a high test score. They should be the songs that influence and reward the people who believe in who you are. They should say "Thank you" for sitting through a six-minute stopset. They should say, "Yes, you are rollin' with the right station." They should buffer weaker, non-centered and unfamiliar songs.
A very effective "trick" is to closely monitor format penetration. If your station is really on target, its format fans should choose your station more often than those listeners who are not the pure core Urban format fans. It is a very compelling analysis when those listeners are your own.
Your station should be a club that listeners want to join. It will be if its music is on target, if your jocks and imaging are hip. Listeners will want to join your "club" if the air personalities can consistently make the audience think, laugh or chuckle. The really great jocks can do all three, over an intro and across the quarter-hour.
Urban stations are going to have to take a serious look at their vulnerabilities, particularly on the weekends, when many under-paid part-timers are struggling. If you're in a competitive market with a weak part-timer, you could be in serious trouble. Many listeners re-set their pre-sets on the weekends and that's new cume that's there to lock up or lose. And saying "but we've always done our weekends that way" or "I just don't have time to work with my part-timers" is no longer valid. In fact, it's downright dangerous. Radio must still be a dependable source of predictable entertainment. That extends to the weekends now more than ever.
The Growing-Shedding Theory
Urban radio, unlike Rock or Hot AC, may have time on its side, but it's still affected by the "growing-shedding theory." What that really means is that we have to grow more audience than we shed. We've no time to waste. The fact is that as our audience ages, it will also become more affluent and more mainstream. Those kids who go off to college may wind up in a town with no Urban station. They may be forced to listen to satellite radio or the Internet when they're in the dorm -- and another format when they're in the car with their friends. When they return home, their matrix and listening habits will have changed.
Generally speaking, our continuing research shows that even those in their teens and early 20s seem to be more open to accepting other forms of music. Imagine a format that moves from Hoobastank to Gwen Stefani to Beyonce to Hinder. Then after the stopset, the music machine lifts off again with The Black Eyed Peas; Nickelback; Eminem; Nicki Minaj; Chris Brown; The Fray; Earth, Wind & Fire; Sean Paul; Michael Jackson; and Ne-Yo.
Done right, this could prove to be a respectable mix of old and new, of pop and reggae, of grunge and synth-pop. Another trick of the new influence game involves increasing Urban radio's Time Spent Listening. Just what are the new influence tricks to this old game?
First, we have to determine who are the heavy listeners or users of the station. Most average quarter-hours (AQH) still come from the heavy users, not from our casual listeners. So to fight off the format similar competition and improve our TSL, we must concentrate on the heavy users. We should design our presentation and arrange our music and other elements so that our heavy users, as well as the Urban "music freaks," will love the station.
Make certain the music is properly dayparted and balanced. Are the rotations set up properly? Does the format offer the variety, tempo and texture that research shows the audience prefers? The TSL could suffer if we're sidetracked by industry trends, weak research, no research or a program or music director who pays no attention to the research. I've seen situations in which a lot of program and music directors who didn't grow up on research, even though their stations pay for it, ignore it or never learned how to use it to its fullest.
Improving Commercial Stopsets
One of the often-overlooked "tricks" that can make a difference is improving and limiting the stopsets. Everybody has commercials, yet some stations seem to keep their audiences right through the stopsets. What's the real trick here?
For one thing, listeners will find it a lot tougher, more irritating and frustrating to sit through stopsets that include a series of local commercials that sound bad because they were poorly produced and written. Fortunately, most agency-generated commercials are not the problem. If the production is sharp, well written and well produced, about useful products and services, you have a chance to hold your audience through the stopset. And before they know it, they are back to music, the jocks and the fun. You've just got to remember to hook on the left side of the stopset with a tease that makes them want to return or stay tuned.
An overwhelming majority of stations have a problem with length. Many salespeople who write their own copy tend to write lengthy copy that they believe will help their client. The reality is that if the audience tunes out because the commercial is both long and boring, nobody benefits. Many salespeople are not trained writers, and they tend to think that newspaper or print copy will work on radio ... and it simply will not. Bad copy or poorly written and produced commercials can ruin Time Spent Listening, even if the music and other elements are right.
Your Time Spent Listening is the byproduct of keeping your valued guests happy. Understanding this is one of the new tricks of the game. Some of you may remember when Hot AC was born. It was born out of a need. There was a need to keep their young adult listeners happy. There was a need for a format that Hot AC eventually became. Hot AC really took advantage of the hole when Top 40 over-rapped and over-danced. Now, in 2011, Urban cold be the format that promises to save its audience from the blight of too many interruptions, too much repetition and too many alternatives.
To do this we have to influence our audience with the right dayparted and researched music mix and something other hybrid stations can't offer yet. A strong personality approach, filled with local content that our audience can identify with.
Musically, Urban radio needs to create new stars for the format. An iPod can't create a new star. And recent studies have shown that people still have to come to our stations to find out what to download or put on their iPods.
All of these things we've mentioned will affect how well our stations do. And for those who see the big picture, the other trick is to continue to market effectively and use your influence well. Re-focus brand distribution and take full advantage of new opportunities, such as smartphone apps and side channels. There's a lot more technology than there has ever been. It's another way for our product to get out there.
We have to learn to really listen to each other, feel each other and respect space -- dark and light, personal and public. We have to understand we can live together without living alike. We can talk without saying the same thing. We can conquer the final frontier the same way NASA did ... with our own space program.