Will Smooth work?

DMG launch Smoothfm this coming Monday at 7am.

There has not been a genuine ‘Soft-AC’ station in Sydney or Melbourne for many years, so the launch will be observed with strong interest by the industry.

There is one important factor that will ultimately have a major influence on the success or failure of Smooth, and it is a factor which is out of DMG’s control.

We’ll get to that. First, let’s consider what is within their control.

Strategy

The launch of a new radio brand requires the identification and execution of a sharp, focused entry position to the market. Branding the station as ‘smooth’ sends a clear message about what it will (and won’t) deliver, and that’s a strong start. With a format such as this,  how it is ‘positioned’ is as important as what it ‘plays’: perhaps moreso. The positioning is critical to communicate the brand promise, so expect ‘Sydney/Melbourne’s new place to relax’ to be blanketed across the stations. Tick.

Don’t believe the hype about ‘playing everything from the 60s to currents’. That can only happen when, and if, the station is mature and owns a clear position. It isn’t a launch position, and DMG are too smart to go broad at launch. Expect a focused, clearly defined brand – probably less gold-based than most expect – with a narrow programming target at launch. Tick.

Marketing

Marketing, or lack of, won’t be a factor. Group Marketing Director Tony Thomas (left) has said “we will be investing in the millions, we will make noise in the market around this station”. The ‘Smooth’ marketing details were released yesterday (here).

By contrast, the Classic Rock format was not marketed at launch, and was given one modest marketing campaign 6 months in. This provided Triple M and WS/Gold with time to block, and subsequently blunt, the flanking strategy of Classic Rock.

DMG won’t make this mistake again, and appear to be investing in significant, and consistent, marketing on the Smooth brand. Tick.

Execution

The execution of Smooth will be excellent. DMG have experienced and passionate people putting the stations together on the ground at 95.3 and 91.5, and they will execute the Smooth brand very well. Expect the two programmers charged with execution of the strategy – Rohan Brown and Mark Robinson to be all over these stations like a rash. Tick.

Corporate Support

The commitment from the group executive will be absolute, because it can’t fail. Cathy O’Connor (below), and the rest of the DMG group executive, will be strongly supportive of the brand in every possible way, and it will be given the resources it requires to succeed. Tick.

 

Whilst the lack of a Breakfast show will limit the ratings upside of the brands, it is highly likely the planning and budgeting of the ‘Smooths’ evolution involves bringing in a Breakfast Show in each market for 2013.

Each of the elements discussed is within DMG’s control, and expect them to be very well executed.

However, there is one factor that will contribute to the success or failure of Smooth in a material way, and it lies outside DMG’s sphere of influence:

The Space Between the Ears

A new brand is fighting for the ‘space between the ears’. It is fighting to own a position in the mind of the listener. This is the greatest challenge the Smooth brand will face.

ARN’s Mix stations, irrespective of what they currently do, dominate the ‘easy/smooth/soft’ image in the listeners mind, so it is not a stretch to adjust the execution of their music position slightly to blunt the Smooth flanking attack. 

However the more fundamental question is whether ARN will adjust how Mix positions itself to further blunt the flanking move from Smooth. We will see.

There is no doubt that ARN will use Mix (particularly), but also Gold and WS, to block the Smooth position. They don’t need to mirror what Smooth does, and nor should they: they just need to blur it enough so that the new entrant is squeezed.

This is good defense.

And this illustrates why the strategic entry point for Smooth is critical. They need to ‘overcommit’ to the position, and the positioning, to such an extent that they are clearly the softest signal in the market – not in radio people’s minds, but in the listener’s mind. DMG will know this.

Any observer, or participant, who suggests that the incumbent stations will not block the Smooth flanking attack is wrong. The incumbents will play defense, and they should. That’s good strategy.

So will Smooth be successful?

Clearly it is premature to answer that question until we see how DMG implement what is within their control – but expect it done very well – and how the defensive game is played by ARN – equally, expect that done very well.

It will be interesting to watch.

I hope Smooth is successful.There are some very good people on the floor in those two radio stations who have had a tough time for a long time. They deserve success. And the industry needs strong radio stations.

A successful ‘Smooth’ would be a good outcome.

 

Dan Bradley is Executive Director of Kaizen Media; a boutique international radio consulting and artist management company, working with radio stations, media talent and music artists.

You can contact Dan here.

 

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