Seeking Suburban Cume
November 6, 2012
City Limits Shouldn't Be Listening Limits
Part of a new group of listeners with which many Urban stations share limited listening time are what we like to call the "suburban cume." For the most part they are the single professionals. They're following the jobs, but in a recent survey these Generation Joneses were found to be different from the married professionals; they feel slightly out of place in a conversation about children, a new minivan and the whole "we're headed for Home Depot" world.
The concept here is that if your signal extends beyond the city limits, so should your listeners.
Can you become the favorite suburban station and still keep your inner city audience? Because if you can satisfy that niche and super-serve them without losing your core audience, it could pay big dividends. Here's the secret:
In order to attract and maintain a strong suburban following, you must have a current image. I know, you're saying, "Tell the GM and the sales department that. They're all screaming 'Get me more 25-54s if you want to stay in that job.'" But guess what? Those 25-plus demos they think you should be chasing don't just want to hear a steady diet of oldies and ballads, no matter how much research forced them on the menu.
This is especially true during the fall and winter. You might think that the best way to grow audience would be to play more hit music. Unfortunately for many pure Urban stations, many of today's hits songs are ballads. So if you're an Urban station, what do you do? Regardless of whether you're a straightahead Urban station or an Urban AC, the smart thing to do is to freshen up and some add currents and tempo -- even in the case of the Urban ACs. Remember, not everyone, especially the young professionals, who listen to your station is going to the clubs or enjoy being "shouted out."
Check the latest population figures and see what the trends are in your market. Have there been population shifts? How many 20-somethings will start to work this year? And check the average age of these new suburbanites. You will probably find their median age is around 30. That would put them smack dab in the middle of the most desirable, saleable demographics. They're changing the culture and the color of the suburbs. Can you flavor the format a little so their fickle fingers will fix on your frequency? The fact is that there are thousands of them out there ... and we're missing out on them.
Recent studies conducted in several major and medium markets have shown that by the time these young professionals are ready to drink wine with a cork and the year on the label, they're ready for a station that not only plays their favorite jams but treats them like an adult. If they're going to listen to and enjoy the same station their kid brother or sister listens to, it better be jamming'.
There are markets and stations that have figured out how to capture this new suburban cume. You see them at the top of the ratings at various times all over the country. The problem is that sometimes these stations put the right combination together accidentally. Then when the book comes out and they're way up, they can't remember what they did. But we're not talking about having an accident; we're talking about creating a buzz.
Buzz is the word, and you can start one that will continue through the fall and into the winter. It's a lot of hard work and you have to utilize everything at your disposal, including the liners, interns, van and website. And you have to do it with less. The key is consistency. The billboards, print, outside branding, direct mail and website all have to be saying exactly the same thing. Same logo, colors, graphics and image lines.
Think about other industries that have experienced the same things. There's Starbucks, which is closing hundreds of stores in some markets where they were once across the street from each other. At one time, the Starbucks brand was everywhere.
Another good example is the athletic shoe industry. Both Nike and Reebok are looking a little worn about the heels these days. Despite the tremendous amount of advertising they do, they've all been hurt by the sudden shift to grunge fashion, the few really hot new shoes and tight consumer spending. Some industry observers say Nike and Reebok are out of step on the fashion front. Now they're both still making money, but not as much as they had hoped. Not as much as they had projected. Despite big sports-theme marketing efforts that focus on show performance, it's fashion and not performance that will spur most athletic shoe sales.
What's taking the place of high fashion kicks this year? Alternative footwear, regardless of cost. You see examples of it in music videos and artists' public appearances constantly. It's not just rappers who are shedding their sneakers. Those single professionals we mentioned earlier are wearing these hip, alternative shoes on the weekends and after work. They'll do the same thing if you suddenly become their favorite radio station. All you have to do is recognize them. Say and do some things on-air that lets them know that you know they're out there.
What kinds of things do you say and do ... and when do you do it? You start off by establishing your morning show and then follow with lots of current hit jams throughout the rest of the day. Notice I said current hit jams. Now that doesn't mean you can't play an occasional former #1, or throw in an active recurrent joint now and then, but if there's one thing that can bring these single and married young professionals to your side of the dial, it's freshness. Looking at it from a pure daypart standpoint, you want to be about 80% current, familiar and uptempo in the morning. Then you should move through middays about 70%-80% current with a slight tempo shift.
Afternoons should be at least 80% current, and nights should be 90% current. Nights is where you introduce the new music. The daypart difference should probably be high-profile artists. The idea here is that listeners love to hear fresh, new music by their favorite artists, the ones they're going to put on their iPods.
Remember, BET, MTV, VH1 and some local channels will be playing to this same audience, too. Some of these video outlets often get and expose this music on video before radio does. Radio is still waiting for the results of their callout research. Don't wait. Use your gut. You don't want your station to be at a competitive disadvantage. You want your listeners to be able to come to you for the new music they want to hear. You want to be able to give them the latest releases as soon as they are out. You have to take some occasional chances, and now is the ideal time to do it for the sake of freshness. There are still tons of music freaks that come to radio to learn what new songs and artists are out and what to download onto their iPods. And they get diaries and meters.
The answer to capturing suburban cume is to stay close to your listeners and understand what they want. Do that and own a position. The stations that own a position are the ones that are going to score. Play the best possible current music and make the station sound interesting. This means that weekenders and part-timers have to be really familiar with the station's signature sound. It also means extra effort and talent development sessions to ensure that the station remains consistent. Do all these things and then add focus. That way the music to these suburban ears will come from your transmitter.