Stand By Your Brand

Make one point.
Make it simple.

Make it something worth listening to.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Find out what people want and give it to them. A recipe for success! Unfortunately, most radio stations are anything but simple. In my travels as a consultant, it’s amazing the number of stations that make listeners jump through hoops to listen. Too much “clutter” in stop sets and too many positioners creates confusion for the listener. It’s a recipe for disaster.

We need to start thinking of our listeners as “customers.” The better we’re able to understand how our listeners “consume” our product, the better we’ll be able to market, package, and produce a product acceptable to the marketplace. In essence, programmers need to become brand managers of their radio stations.

We live in an over-communicated society. For a radio station to succeed in such a crowded environment, the station must create a position in the listener’s mind. That position must take into account not only its own strengths and weaknesses, but those of the competition as well. When we think of computers, most people think of IBM, but IBM didn’t invent the computer, Sperry-Rand did. IBM was the first company to build a computer position in the mind of the consumer. Radio needs to do the same thing. Build a position in the listener’s mind that you’re a station with instant top-of-mind awareness.

Two Types of Customers

Radio is unique in that it has two types of customers — listeners and advertisers. Most companies don’t suffer from that phenomenon. Their customers are their customers. Radio has to “sell” its product to listeners on a daily basis. As the marketplace becomes even more fragmented with iPods, Internet radio, mp3’s, CDs, satellite and now HD radio, it’s the “brands” that people remember — the thing that makes it comfortable for people to go out, buy, and listen to.

The radio dial is filled with more choices than ever before. Listeners are consuming our product on a daily basis. You’d better be able to stand out in the crowd! The primary reason to create a great product is to create great revenue. The better the product serves and entertains the target listener, the better the opportunity to increase ratings and revenue.

Building Brand Loyalty

Brand loyalty is the Holy Grail for all brand marketers. It’s a lot of hard work to establish and maintain that relationship. There is a reward, and it’s given to radio stations that develop a successful consumer-product relationship with the listener. As programmers, we need to connect with people and develop a sense of satisfaction the listener can embrace. We need to know and understand listeners’ beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of our station. We’re in the entertainment business; let’s capture their imagination. Be creative!

Entertainment Value

Most of the fun has gone out of the radio business. It’s become too homogenized, formulated, computerized, and centralized. Radio needs to bring back the art and fun radio once enjoyed. This all plays into building a brand:

1. To create a brand you must create a unique brand identity communicating your benefits.
2. Once the identity is established, you need to build awareness of that brand.
3. Create brand loyalty.

Brands live in a highly competitive world. A brand may stand apart, but rarely does it stand alone. Your brand needs to push against commonality, driving a wedge between itself and your competitors. You must become a category of one. Miller Brewing accomplished this by hitting on a unique brand concept: “Tastes Great, Less Filling.” Miller Lite found a way to appeal to the rational and emotional sides of beer drinkers at the same time: Only Miller Lite could claim to be lower in calories (rational) while offering the taste beer drinkers wanted (emotional). Your radio station needs to accomplish the very same thing.

Over-Simplify Your Message

The most effective approach to take in our over-communicated society is the over-simplified message. Less is more. We need to sharpen our message to cut through the clutter. Jettison the ambiguities, simplify the message, and then simplify it even more. That way, you’ll make a long-lasting, memorable impression. Do you really think listeners believe we’re playing “a better mix of music?” Better than what, my iPod?

Drop the things you can’t brag about. Instead, brag about what you do best and forget the rest. Cut the crap and focus on making your strengths stronger. Stop insulting your listener with meaningless phrases they don’t believe. Relate to your audience. Find out what your strengths are and master them. Doing so builds a solid reputation and a following. Become known for doing great work in some area rather than mediocre work in a lot of areas.

You Look Marvelous

It’s important to come up with a signature style. Producer Phil Spector was sought out in the 60s by the Beatles and Rolling Stones for his unique “Wall of Sound.” His track record included producing such hits as “Be My Baby” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” by creating a dense, complex, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink” type of sound. He mastered what he did and people wanted to work with him.
Come up with a strong theme. Do your best to be entertaining, thought-provoking, and memorable. Develop bits that the audience will enjoy and remember. This will become your signature that no one in your market will be able to copy. Listeners don’t know what they like, but like what they know. Brand yourself in a way the audience can relate and embrace, and any recipe for disaster will soon be the ingredient for success.


A Terrible Thing Happens When You Don’t Promote…Nothing!

Listeners recycle your radio station an average of every 20 minutes. You always have a fresh audience joining your show. So, you need something original to sample, demonstrating your ability to entertain. Always leave them wanting more.

Define your station before you promote yourself to others. It’s called “Positioning.” How can we explain to others (promotion) what we do if we aren’t clear about it ourselves. Having a focus makes it much easier for the listeners to spread the word about you.

I understand we hate labeling things—it pigeonholes us. But in your audience’s ears it helps to define what we do. Besides, it’s better to pick a label than let your listeners hang one on you. Is your radio station Blues formatted? Is it Country? Rock? News/Talk? Jazz? AC? Oldies? Maybe a combination of those or something completely different. What else do you do well? Concentrate on your strengths and market those.

Part of promoting your station is knowing what your target audience does on a daily basis. What do they read? Where do they hang out? What websites are they browsing? Do you have a Twitter and Facebook page? Does your station have a website? Does it stream? Knowing an audience means figuring out who they are, what they want, where they are, and how much are they willing to spend!

Promotions are very basic things. You can embellish them as much as you like, after the basics are in place. Radio people sometimes find themselves developing full-blown bells-and-whistles-flash-and-dazzle promotions, losing sight of the importance of simple things like first impressions, preparation, knowledge, and good-humor.

You must be visible everywhere. You should strive to present a positive image, to establish and nurture relationships, and make each event enjoyable for everybody, whether they’re faithful listeners (P1’s), strangers to the station or format, or the clients themselves. We all know it takes being out there to make those numbers happen. What we ought to know is that we need to be out on the streets all the time! If a client event isn’t going on, find out what’s happening in the community and tap into that. It’s as simple as checking out the newspapers and calling the Chamber of Commerce.

The key to any successful promotion, whether you’re promoting your radio station or client event, is total preparation! Hook your call letters into existing events. Start simple. Get permission to have your station van parked at the entrance of a local ball park. Find out if there’s a need for an emcee for an event and offer the professional services of a popular air-personality.

Develop an entire line of logo items: caps, t-shirts, sweats, polo shirts, jackets, handbags, wallets, sun visors, etc., all sold at events to benefit local food banks. Approach event coordinators explaining that items sold don’t benefit the station financially; proceeds go to local food banks in the country where the event is being held. The chance for on-air support plus that all-important “warm & fuzzy” created by doing something for the community, opens doors.

Remember, take pictures at the event and include them on your website and include crowds. Thank the sponsor for the opportunity to be involved in their or your event and express the desire to return. Always promote in keeping with the stations sound. If it’s not right, walk-away!

Defining your Radio Stations Unique Listening Proposition

Ask yourself: why should a listener in your target audience listen to YOUR Radio Station at any given moment vs the competition? You can extend that by saying vs anything else? Including turning off the radio.

List everything done on your Radio Station on a daily basis (on the air). I mean everything!
• We solicit phone calls
• We talk to listeners
• We sweep our quarter hours
• We ask trivia questions
Don’t just list features…Catalogue the things you do on your Radio Station performed repeatedly.
• We tease across all breaks
• We tease upcoming newscasts
• We provide weather checks
• We pound our station name into listeners heads
• We talk about the music
• We perform dedications
• We give showbiz news
• We plug the Radio Station website often
• We inform listeners how to contact the station
• We provide contest details
• We solicit listener criticism
• We mention the names of contest winners
• We inquire as to what listeners are doing
• We try to stump the sports or newscaster with sports trivia
• We provide artist information
• We mention listener birthdays
• We mention celebrity birthdays

When you “brainstorm” the answers come at the end of the session. It’s not the material on-top but the substance you must push for. Now, we’re going to examine the ways to take what you wrote down and proceed to make them larger than life for your audience.
If you start answering your on-air phone calls by saying—“Hi, who’s this?” This is NOT a unique listening proposition. It could be coming from any Radio Station in town. You must discover a way to answer your on-air phone calls that brands it as your Radio Station.

“Hi, what do your friends call you?” Sounds more like a private club. Brand it so it sounds original, real and relatable. Doesn’t need to be brilliant if it’s original, real and relatable. Just original!
How do you end your phone calls? Do you end them the same way as every other personality at the station, or did you create a unique and interesting method? NEVER DO—“What’s your favorite Radio Station?”

Time Checks—When you give the time, can you create a way that listeners know they’re listening to YOUR Radio Station? Can you whisper the calls? Work with a child to record your call letters. With all the big-balls imaging out there, what do you think will stand out?
If you give showbiz news, call it “Tabloid Trash.” Brand it on your own terms. Do custom jingles mentioning outskirt towns. Rotate them. Appears as if you’re including everybody. Obligate a staff member to compile a list of local pubs and bars. When someone calls, ask the caller “How’s everyone down at_______tonight or this afternoon?” Makes you sound “plugged-in.” This might be better used during an afternoon drive or evening show.

Have a list of area High School mascots in your listening area. This takes a lot more prep on the personalities part but how powerful is it when someone calls and asks, “Hey, how are the Cougars doing?” Your response can be “The Cougars are playing the Wildcats tonight. Who are you rooting for?”
Remember, preparing is caring. You’ll sound as if you know everything about your listeners. Understand what your audience does. When you promote the Radio Station website, give your listeners a reason to go see it. “To sign up for our contest “Beat the Toaster,” you must sign up on our website. “When we call your name at 7:20 every weekday morning, you’ll have ten minutes to call us back. We put the toast in and you must come up with the answer to our trivia question, before the toast pops up.” “Answer correctly and receive a $500 dollar gas card.”

It’s very relatable, fun, different. You listeners know what a toaster is. Extremely visual and completely ridiculous. If another station in your market plays “Beat the Toaster,” they’ll seem pretty foolish. To hear “Beat the Toaster” you can only be listening to ___________________.” It must seize the attention of your listeners. The more you can make a feature your own (Branding), the more you stand out from the crowd.

5 Hard Steps to AM Radio Growth

In 1970, only 10% of Americans cumed the FM Band. By 1978, 50% of all radio listening was to FM. In 1983, FM became standard issue in all US built automobiles. How the FM band rapidly grew its appeal reveals a strategy that could work to recharge interest in AM Band listening.


FM radio grew because the band offered compelling, subversive programming. By 1970, AM stations had stopped experimenting, stopped questioning their own methods because they were minting money. Don’t risk that bottom line, buddy.


FM stations, in 1970, were losing money, had little audience, there was nothing to risk. Owners of AM/FM are suffered from an arrogance regarding FM. They believed that FM didn’t really count, FM wasn’t really radio. The National Association of Broadcasters didn’t recognize FM.


Corporate FM owners let kids like Allen Shaw at ABC, Randy Michaels at Taft, Jerry Lyman at RKO, B Mitchel Reed at Metromedia do what they wanted. They asked forgiveness (sometimes) but not permission. The toughest challenge: Convincing AM radio talent to come to the FM Band.


(Other owners took an odder route; they “solved” the FM problem by selling them off—in the 1980’s. Group W, for example sold WBZ FM—now MAGIC for $4M. That’s correct. And KDKA FM for pennies. RKO sold KFRC FM and WHBQ FM in the early 70’s for—pennies.)


Today AM stations are losing money, have diminishing audience and have nothing to risk except by—doing nothing. Doing nothing is a significant risk.






The key word in that phrase is not “sporting” but rather, “event.”


The AM Band can grow cume today. Every time a major league team plays baseball on an AM station, the cume increases. This phenomenon has been incorrectly interpreted as “SPORTS PLAY BY PLAY” is the AM answer. It is one answer. Compelling events, like an MLB game are key strategic elements to AM success.


The AM opportunity for growth comes from broadening the definition of “compelling events.” Mirror what the audience does: High school reunions, weddings, proms, intramural sports, bowling tournaments, beach parties, block parties. !




Money is not going to grow an AM station. Initially, successful FM radio shows were produced in church basements, house trailers and storage rooms. All that matters is what’s on the air. AM will grow from creative, passion filled content. When a station is “dead”, life does not spring from the poison that killed it.


Put this challenge to your staff: Do whatever you want with the AM.


It is noteworthy that the early, major FM format innovation; progressive free form rock, was created by AM Stars such as Tom Donahue, B.Mitchel Reed, Murray the K, and Jerry Stevens. At the time they were over 40 years of age and at the top of their earnings. They knew how to make radio and which rules to break; they had put in their 10,000 hours.. Those radio legends combined their skills with the open mindedness of fresh-out-of school talent to produce stunning, disruptive, fun radio.


The formula for AM success is: Proven radio stars + fresh out of school radio rookies minus rules. But if that doesn’t work, try something else.



    3. ENLIST CUME MAKERS. In our society there are consumers labelled “innovators” and “early adopters.” These groups of people try new radio programs first. They are opinion leaders. After you identify the people who are first wave listeners, get them involved with your station. Put them on the air, give them shows, and build promotions for them. Put them to “work” to talk about your station.


HINT: Top 40 radio was built by high school student’ request and dedications. Early Top 40’s featured high school student reporters on the air every night sharing news from area high schools. Those stations were the talk of the school every day.


    4. REVERSE THE DAY. The best daypart for sampling and experimentation is over-night. You may be surprised that many FM stations invested in over-nights first, morning drive, last. (Dick Summer was the first radio star hired by WYNY FM New York in 1978; he was the over- night host. Alex Bennett, fabled talk show host was a very early hire on WPLJ New York–he did over nights.) Morning drive listening is the most habitual and therefore the hardest from which to share cume.


As company after company has relegated their FM overnight programming to sterile automated nothingness, AM’s have been handed an opportunity to offer live, subversive, dangerous, interesting UNPREDICTABLE PROGRAMMING that will win attention and cume.



    5. POP UP PROGRAMMING. Nielson’s Portable People Meter allows radio to be measured electronically in real time. The diary ratings method necessitates that programming be consistent 24/7 in order for listeners to remember the station. NOT SO in a PPM market.


In PPM, short term programming and special events coverage can be measured and sold for guaranteed rates. Disrupting the “format” is not destructive, it may be essential.


WARNING. Innovation requires embracing change at all levels. Challenge assumptions, question every tactic. Do not question the need for innovation. Innovation is needed right now, just look at the current ratings trends of almost every single AM in the US. Let’s innovate before it’s too late.