In The Loop

Co-Founder and Insights Director

This has no connection with the very funny movie about British politics!

It is about The Loop that drives our actions every minute of every day, conscious and unconscious, and has a major impact on how our listeners use radio.

It also matters because the marketing world, on which commercial radio depends for revenue, is heavily into the neuroscience of consumer behaviour, fuelled by continuous breakthroughs in understanding purchase decisions.

The Loop has 3 steps: Cue-Routine-Reward.

Before defining each step, it’s important to understand how the mind forms a daily habit by “chunking” – converting repeated actions into an automatic pattern, to conserve mental energy. A no-brainer to execute.

No wonder it’s hard to change ingrained listening habits!

Step 1 -The Cue triggers the chunked, automatic habit action, and is defined by any combination of location, time, emotional state, other people or the immediately preceding action.

Step 2 – The Routine is the action, which is not just about the P1 (Most) station, but also the entire daily menu of stations, that a person cycles through for specific needs. If you’re not on the menu you miss out, because they’re not thinking about it.

Step 3 – The Reward is the learned satisfaction, pleasure or fulfilment resulting from the Cue.
Radio’s strong link to lifestyle, is a prime candidate for lifestyle and emotional cues. Our recent Radio Today/Jacobs Media Techsurvey8 webinar discussed “emotional triggers”, and which medium or social channel “wins the First Occasion” of usage in the day (the top 3 being radio at-home, TV, radio in-car).

The key word is “emotional”: the right-brain driver of radio listening embodied in such needs as having a laugh in the morning; or the companionship and mental stimulation while at home alone, alongside a tedious job, and in-car on a long commute.

Reinforces the need more than ever, for radio to compete not just against other stations, but also other media, by providing excitement and passion Cues, well beyond the stereotypical “perfect music hour with less (insert name of researched irritant here)”.

Why compelling personality and other creative content makes all the difference in creating a winning Cue-Routine-Reward Loop vs. a bland music format.

But, there’s a larger, longer-term picture of opportunity for radio in The Loop.

i.e. understanding and monetising listener life-stages, when they are most open to change of habit in their daily routines.

This piece in the NY Times here is a great read, maybe scary for some, and details the neuroscience behind The Loop.

It tells the story of how Target forensically monitors customer purchasing patterns to the point where they can even anticipate an individual’s life-change, and customise marketing communications. The startling anecdote is about a father learning of his at-home daughter’s early-stage pregnancy from Target mail-outs!

The message for radio is having a much deeper understanding, not just Best Music scores, of your listener’s life for strategy, programming execution and sales benefits.

What are the major life-changes currently happening in your target?

How can you stimulate new Cue-Routine-Reward patterns to match the changes, by reflecting them on-air, in content and promotions?

How can you build life-stage campaigns for clients?

Can you gain new listeners because they’ve “outgrown” a station or format?

For example: moving on from the high-school teen station to one that better captures their bold new adult-world of work or uni. Replacing a fun&games breakfast with news&current-affairs, because of new family responsibilities. Or ditching the daily grind, at-work station, for one that better fits the new freedom of retirement?

Stay in The Loop … add life-stage matching to your strategy.


Eriks Celmins is Managing Director of Third Wave Media, Adelaide-based consultant for media research, strategy and content.


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