Building Better Branding for Radio

When it comes to branding, many radio stations continue to rely on describing their music mixes or their market rank. That made sense when consumers’ primary listening choices were the stations on their FM radio. The most important thing then wasn’t getting the consumer to listen to the radio; the most important thing was ensuring that they tuned to your station.

As listening options multiply, more people are spending more time with more audio sources. There’s less friction in using Internet-delivered audio devices. Cars sold today have the capability of connecting to wireless Internet or allowing a smartphone to be connected to the car. Today, there are more credible threats to Broadcast Radio usage and TSL than ever before.

If content is the lifeblood of radio’s future, branding is its nervous system. To compete with services outside the controlled-competition of the FM dial, radio needs to think about branding in a wider (and more emotional) context. As a comparison, we seized on beer. (Why beer? Because it’s June. Because beer is good. While Ben Franklin probably never said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” we picked beer.)

Big beer brands long ago stopped talking about barley, hops and water. They build brands on emotional connections instead of describing recipes. Bud Light, the #1 beer brand in the US, continues to focus on experiences, locations and emotions associated with drinking a Bud Light. The #2 beer brand, Coors Light, asks “What would life be like without our mountains?” Miller Lite, the original light beer and now #3 brand, is pounding its heritage (and, sometimes, its calorie count).

If you follow the ranking of the biggest beer brands in the U.S., you’ll end up at #11, Blue Moon, before you find brand differentiation based on the recipe of the beer in the marketing for the brand. It’s true that many of the brands in the long tail of today’s beer market do focus on recipes. Broadcast Radio, however, isn’t playing for long-tail market share; it’s playing for the big shares found in the short head.

Successful brands are unique. If the chief differentiating points of your station’s branding can also be credibly claimed by other stations – and by Internet-delivered services like Pandora and Spotify – it will be difficult to get your brand into the minds and hearts of an audience.

Successful brands have purpose. What does your station do for listeners? Help them save time? Save money? Get through the workday? Keep them safer? Bring them together? Make their community safer or a better place to live? Make the world a better place for their kids? Help them meet new friends? Again, whatever the answer is, it should be something that isn’t also being done by legacy competitors – and newer online competition.

Successful brands tell stories. Of course, the stories need to be connected to the brand in question. In the Mad Men days, slogans ruled the world, but consumers have become less susceptible. While slogans once drove home important points of differentiation and critical benefits in just a few catchy words, they’ve become less trustworthy today. With more ways to communicate with consumers, well-told narratives can be more effective in getting ideas to stick with consumers.

Successful brands support things other than themselves. Radio stations often support charitable work, but with no unifying purpose that contributes to the brand of the station, most listeners fail to appreciate the effort. Involvement in Children’s Miracle Network is wonderful for many stations – and it’s even more powerful if all the station’s charitable works contribute to making the world better for children or some other idea that brings focus to the brand.

If you’ve been through focus groups or read verbatim responses from a study or just spoken with listeners, you know they forget the names of talent and specific events and promotions; but you also know there’s greater loyalty if you’ve ever really connected with them. Or, better said by Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”