Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Does Your Station’s Marketing Kind Of, You Know, SUCK?

Radio marketers need to re-examine familiar methodologies
and question long-held assumptions in order to deliver results

There are two customer bases that all commercial radio stations serve:  listeners and advertisers.  A station may do a phenomenal job addressing the needs of the latter, but if it doesn’t also do a superior job attracting the former, the station won’t survive as a business entity.

In theory, it’s up to a station’s marketing team to lure and build their audience of listeners/customers in order for the sales pros to monetize them.  Problem is, most stations are relying on a familiar set of marketing tactics that are obsolete, misguided, or ineffective in a PPM world.

With that in mind, it would be helpful to take a look at five questions, the answers to which could indicate that your station’s marketing might kind of, you know, SUCK:

1. Is there a web content strategy in place?
Station websites aren’t just an extension of your brand, they’re also an extension of your business.  According to a 2011 survey by BIA/Kelsey, online revenue will increase by 15.1% in 2012, while on-air revenue will grow by only 3.5%.  If a marketing director isn’t taking his/her station’s website content as seriously as the program director takes the station’s on-air content, there are massive audience interaction opportunities – and accompanying revenue opportunities –that are being lost.

To populate a station’s website with content that attracts listeners (and advertisers) and keeps them coming back for more, it’s imperative that your content SERFS.  It must be:

Short – no long paragraphs or entries that require endless scrolling to read
Engaging – the content should be fun, snappy, and interesting to your audience
Relevant – the content should relate directly to, be a continuation of, or have a connection to your format and your on-air programming
Fresh – if you want listeners to spend time at your site each day, you need to update your site each day with new content that addresses their unique needs and tastes
Shareable – your content should be so appealing, valuable, and irresistible that your web audience is compelled to forward it to their social circles on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

By keeping the SERFS acronym in mind when vetting your station’s web content, you’ll have an effective benchmark to follow that will help to engage your current web audience, build new audience, and ramp up your online ad revenues.

2. Is there an accepted notion that outdoor ads lure new listeners and/or increase audience TSL?
Radio stations buy outdoor billboard and truck ads because they believe that such measures are a worthwhile way to influence consumer behavior.  The thought is that people will tune in or listen longer because they see a station logo on a huge roadside, building, or mobile placard.

The reality is that billboards are regarded in the ad world as being effective brand builders, not sales or audience builders.  According to ad expert Stephen Rampur, outdoor ads “create brand awareness and strong name recognition among passers-by.”

If a station’s goal is to truly inspire listening, billboards – especially those that feature a station logo/tagline/frequency/photo of an air personality - fall short:  their results are impossible to measure, they’re expensive, and they’re a non-strategic Hail Mary pass that won’t improve the fortunes of a struggling station.

In order for an outdoor radio station billboard ad to have a shot at influencing consumer behavior, it needs to pack a powerful and undeniable WIIFM punch (and by WIIFM, I don’t mean a misspelled version of the AC station in Elkin, NC).

WIIFM – which stands for What’s In It For Me in sales jargon – is the prime motivator to inspire a desired action.  In the case of the radio station billboard, the WIIFM would need to offer information about key station-driven benefits that are attractive, rewarding, and exciting to a listener, such as:

an upcoming or in-progress contest (on-air or online)
the benefits of joining a loyal listener program
web content that delivers immediate gratification, such as exclusive coupons or deals

Using bold graphics, tight and punchy copy, and – most importantly – an irresistible WIIFM message, a strategic billboard campaign can create the possibility for increased audience, improved web traffic, and enhanced revenue opportunities.

3. Is there a belief that the station van builds the brand, attracts listeners, and is a crucial element in the marketing mix?
Before minivans, SUVs, and Hummers took over the streets, a radio station’s van stood out.  When cruising around town or parked at a client’s place of business, the van – emblazoned with a bright station logo and encircled by enthusiastic listeners trying to get their hands on a free station t-shirt – attracted eyeballs and inspired excitement.

But with so many big vehicles now on the road, the novelty of a large station van is lost.  On its own, its effectiveness as a creator of floor traffic for the client that hires it is questionable, and its ability to generate excitement among younger listeners is also suspect.  As Hofstra University media professor John Mullen notes, “With so many distractions that are competing for listeners’ attention, you have to ask yourself:  is ‘sending the van’ a 1970’s idea that’s out of step in 2012?  Not only that, aren’t there other creative things that stations can do to build business at a client’s location beyond sending a few staffers, a vehicle, and a box of t-shirts that always run out?"

Simply sending the van to a client’s place of business simply isn’t enough to bring about the increase in customer traffic that your client is looking for.  To augment the probability of attaining results, the van’s presence must have an irresistible WIIFM at its core in order to entice attendance.  In other words, while the van’s presence may have been a compelling lure to attract a crowd in the past, it isn’t any longer:  there needs to be more thought and planning involved so that the client isn’t just pleased by the customer turnout, he’s blown away.

One possibility would be to heavily promote a contest on-air with a very attractive prize.  To be eligible to win, listeners would need to be at the client’s place of business at a designated hour when the drawing would take place (the prize, of course, would be the product or service that is sold by the client).  A twist on this idea could also build up your listener database:  the contest would be open solely to event attendees who are enrolled in your loyal listener program.

To truly make a van event eventful, and to create value for the existence of the van, you can’t just schedule it, send it, park it and think that your job is over.  The presence of the van at a client’s place of business or a local event must be strategically leveraged in order to attain the greatest benefits for your station and your client.

4. Is there a belief that social buzz around your station indicates the existence of a large and loyal listening audience?
When a station’s Facebook activity, Twitter conversations, and YouTube views start racking up big numbers, it’s pretty exciting.  It seems like something big is happening, and it’s taking on an incredible life of its own.  Many radio marketing chiefs interpret this attention as an indication that people love what their station is doing, that their marketing work is successful, and that their ratings are on the verge of going through the roof.

However, according to news site WND, a supposed correlation between social buzz and real world ratings is quite murky.  The reason is simple:  social buzz and social media metrics measure exchanges between your station (news, content, and brand) and your listeners, as well as the transmission of these exchanges with your listeners’ social circles.  It’s great for this heat to be emanating from your station, but in no way can it be interpreted as being an indication of anything other than your most ardent P1’s taking the time to pay attention to, interact with, and spread your content.

Having an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. is an essential marketing tactic for a radio station to support and embrace.  But misinterpreting a healthy social media buzz surrounding your station can create a sense of dangerous complacency and unfounded overconfidence.

In the past two years, dozens of stations across the country with robust social media traction have flipped formats due to low PPM measurements and disappointing profits.  Each of these stations had followers, likes, repins, and retweets out the wazoo, but in the end, station success isn’t determined by social media metrics.  It’s determined by the metrics that truly represent a station’s health or lack thereof:  ratings and revenue.

5. Is there an overall marketing strategy in place?
Many radio marketing chiefs make the mistake of thinking that implementing the right tactics – such as the ones listed above – will produce surefire success.  Not true.  What’s usually missing is a smart strategy that will guide a station’s marketing tactics toward a clearly defined goal.

In terms of their definitions, strategy is the big picture plan, while tactics are the moves that are used to carry out the strategy.  As writer and consultant Seth Godin points out, “The right strategy makes any tactic work better.  The right strategy puts less pressure on you to execute your tactics perfectly.”

As an experiment, ask all the members of your marketing team to define the department’s overall strategy.  Expect to receive a slew of “well, um, uh…” responses.  If anything more coherent is offered, don’t be surprised if everyone’s thoughts are not only completely different, but kinda sorta wrong.

The director of marketing needs to create a clear and concise strategy statement that will be the roadmap for all of your department’s efforts.  This statement should be built in conjunction with the general sales manager, because it’s his/her team that the strategy will be serving.  It should also be vetted by the OM, GM, and PD so that everyone is aware of the plan and how it will benefit their respective departments.  Finally, the strategy statement should then be shared with the entire marketing squad, so that all members understand the overall goal of their daily efforts.

Radio station marketing that sucks isn’t terminal:  with a determined effort, it can be successfully reversed.  However, to make changes that will yield positive results and vigorous ROI, one must honestly acknowledge the suckage.  Due diligence that examines the extent of the suck must be performed and a smart plan needs to be launched that will set your department – and your station – on a cost-effective path to superior ratings, better profits, and 100% suck-free marketing results.

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