Radio myth-buster #2

Co-Founder and Insights Director

Don’t listen too closely to your active listeners – they’re too biased!

Traditional thinking says focussing too much on your core listeners will lead you down the path of narrowing your appeal to just a few “rusted-on” fans, becoming less attractive to a wider audience, and limiting your share potential.

You’re only preaching to the converted, and you need to go after the “passive majority”, not the “active minority”.

Here’s a reality check on why there are much bigger risks in under-valuing your most loyal and active listeners.

Firstly, there are of course situations where non-listeners are considered, such as in broad market research studies, and when building a new format or regenerating an established brand. Even then, you need to be very selective about who influences your strategy, well beyond demographics such as age and gender, and much deeper into detailed “psychographic” segmentation of entertainment and information needs.

But once you’re in the daily battle for listeners in your competitor set, your heavy-listening P1s (Preference 1 –those who listen to you most of the time), are gold.

In just one example from survey diary analysis, about 60% of your quarter-hours come from about 25% of your cume, like the famous 80/20 Pareto Principle of 80% of sales coming from 20% of customers.

Drilling down further, the heaviest-listening 10% of your cume, who listen to radio over 5 hours a day, control about 40% of your quarter-hours, which could theoretically mean that only a handful of  people a week in the total sample, are a major influence on how you’ll feel on survey day morning.

Another 15%, who listen about 2-5 hours a day, control 20% of your quarter-hours, while the remaining light-listening 75% of your cume (passive majority), account for 40% of your share.

These numbers will vary by demographic, format and market, but the principle remains.

So let’s talk about those dangerous, active listeners!

They’re so biased, their survey diaries have your name all over them, they support your client promotions, drive your social media, feed your interactive content, and attend your personality/artist meet&greets. If they win most of your prizes, so what? They deserve them!

Above all, and something every consumer brand aspires to in the new social-marketing world, they are connectors and advocates, who will influence their friends’ opinion of your brand – good or bad. As discussed in this excellent 2009 Deloitte study “A New Breed of Brand Advocates”, with much relevance to radio.


And why you can’t take them for granted is reinforced in the study: as your heavy-listeners are not only fans of your station, but also of your format category. Whether it’s CHR, AC, Rock, Talk, Sport etc, they’re always open to something new and interesting on your immediate competitor. Fresh content and innovation always matter!

They may love your breakfast show, but if you listen carefully to them, fixing what they dislike about it can only improve the show for potential new listeners.

And if your heavy P1s complain about song repetition and you know their burnouts, don’t dismiss them as being “too close”, but do something about it, or they’ll disappear along with all those quarter-hours.

The path to ratings growth in today’s sea of short-attention-span entertainment alternatives is to be both different and best in your format category, appealing to your Ca$h-Core, those active people who are passionate about radio , your format, and station; listen for hours every day; have strong opinions about your (and your competitors’) personalities and content; are social-media connectors; and will influence their friends.

Minimising creative risk-taking, and diluting your points-of-difference and competitive-edge by over-balancing towards passive and non- listeners at the expense of active fans, will only result in bland, commoditised content that sounds like a weak version of your competitor.  And will drive away your Ca$h-Core with a loss of over 100 quarter-hours per week per listener.

Winning is thinking Passionate over Passive!


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


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