Rebuilding Radio Stations as Brands

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At the All Access Audio Summit last week, NuVoodoo leader Carolyn Gilbert, Jeri Fields (our new VP/Research Insights), and I presented “Re-engineering a 747 at 30,000 Feet.” We started with tips for playing for present-day ratings success – and then pivoted to talking about the future. As Carolyn noted, “We don’t get to write the rules of the game anymore. We must play among the competition that exists today.”

Jeri’s experiences working with brands at Proctor & Gamble give her a different perspective on the tectonic shifts going on in radio listening and media consumption, “Other industries have been living in this world for the lifespan of their companies. There is re-tooling we can do. But we must act quickly.”

With our presentation, we set out to convince broadcasters of three things:

  • Gen Z really IS different from the Millennials and Gen Xers before them. Gen Z’s haven’t grown up with radio to nearly the same degree preceding generations did and their relationships with media and music are different as a result. We can’t expect them to “age into” radio usage; we need new offerings and new tactics to attract them to our brands.
  • Radio has adapted to new competitors across its century on the air, but new technology coupled with lifestyle changes brought about during the pandemic are forcing us think differently. A radio may not be the default audio source in the car. Internet-delivered audio becoming available in the car includes lots of options for music and spoken-word programming. Making matters even tougher, many people don’t have radios at home. We’re not fighting for share with other stations; we’re fighting with all the audio entertainment sources available.
  • Stations must function as brands – not just audio streams. The digital delivery options available today mean you can connect with and influence your audience many more times per day. To survive and thrive, stations need to stand for something beyond a mix of music.

NuVoodoo VP/Research Insights, Jeri Fields, cites, “To build a brand you must answer three questions: First, what do you stand for? Second, why people should care about what you do? Third, how are you different from the competition? It sounds easy, but it’s not. There will be bias, ingrained thinking, politics, and a whole host of issues to contend with to answer these questions. The answers must be in your DNA and be the ground from which all of your ideas, products – every action you take moving forward – comes from, no matter the marketplace shift, no matter the competition.”

Serving a local community is one thing that radio has uniquely in its favor as it retools to compete on the wider digital audio stage. Included in our presentation was new data showing listener reactions to stations taking on ten different community-minded causes. Many causes showed the potential to lift listening and affiliation with as many as 2 in 5 core format listeners.

Some music format core listeners predict they’d listen less (a few presumably because they don’t support the cause and perhaps others because they’re not interested in anything but music from their stations). Carolyn commented, “Your most popular song is disliked by 10% or more of your audience. These numbers are easily in low-risk, high-reward territory for the right stations.”

Ending children’s diseases was our third safest cause – one many stations align with in their support of St. Jude’s and Children’s Miracle Network.

Our number two was supporting women’s rights.

And the safest cause we researched was helping homeless people.

Of course, our data from across all 48 PPM markets is no replacement for local ascertainment and local audience research, but we hope it will spur discussion and action at the station level to better connect with the audience and the wider community. Community service is a unique plank in the branding of radio stations – and represents an area in which digital media providers cannot compete.