Three ways to impact ratings by thinking “Outside-In”

Radio is a peculiar industry that permeates all aspects of a programmer’s life. A radio station requires so much time and attention, it is hard to keep perspective.

There are a million details, and it’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae.  This usually leads to a station that may sound great to the insiders, but those outside the inner circle doesn’t get it. That’s why I work hard with programmers to find an “outside-in” perspective.

Recently, I helped a client through an interesting exercise. We listened to a full hour of the morning show, imagining that we were outsiders that had never heard the show or radio station before. Then, without discussion, we all took notes. In one column, we listed things that we, as outsiders, would find confusing. In another column, we listed things that we would find ordinary or boring. Each person filled several pages by focusing on programming outside-in.

In today’s competitive markets, with more and more entertainment choices, it’s not enough to be the best radio station. Winning brands focus on the audience, even more than on the product. For some, this is an exciting breakthrough. For others, it is a daunting, scary venture into the unknown. It is out of their “comfort zone.”

Programming Outside-In

Here are 3 key concepts to help programmers learn to communicate from a listener’s standpoint by getting into the listener’s world:

1. Understand That Radio Stations Are Not That Important

Listeners simply don’t pay attention to what station is on while they go about their lives. They don’t compare stations. Their choice of station is a casual decision. They think you play the same songs every 20 minutes because they hear the most popular songs all the time, even if it’s not on your station.

It would be terrific if the audience actually did care, think, choose and pay close attention to our business. But they don’t.

We waste promotional time trying to demonstrate why Station A is better than Station B, or trying to prove that we play more music or better music than the other guy.

Music promos are loaded with hooks of songs that listeners don’t recognize and artists that aren’t relevant. These promos rarely cut through the clutter and hit their mark because they’re full of information and facts. But facts don’t sell. Emotion does.

It would be like Tide detergent airing television commercials claiming that the active ingredients in their laundry detergent get clothes cleaner than other brands. Or Coca-Cola trying to convince the audience that their recipe for cola is superior to Pepsi’s.

Those messages don’t stick because you don’t really spend much time thinking about or choosing laundry detergent. To the average person, they’re all about the same. the messaging must be outside-in to be effective.

Wouldn’t it be more effective to focus radio promo messages on how listeners can use our station and how we fit it into their lifestyle?

By all means, out-program your station by demonstrating actual programming benefits. Show them how you play more music than your competitor, but put it in terms that actually means something to the listener.

2. Listeners Categorize Radio Stations

Research proves that radio stations usually register a single dominant image in the minds of the audience. To listeners, the entire radio station is represented in that primary brand image.

Think about it, and it doesn’t seem strange or unbelievable. It’s the same with any product. A word, or perhaps a phrase captures the essence of every brand. That word may be fun, relax, party, or any number of images (positive OR negative).

In a programmer’s world, we think (wish) that listeners understand and retain multiple ideas and concepts. We want them to think of us as the station for variety, personality, new music, party songs and is easy to listen to at work. And more.

Many stations try to promote too many images and end up missing the mark on all of them. In trying to be many things, we fail to control the narrative and miss out on affecting images the way we would like. It’s the simple concept of concentration of force.

Programmers should clearly identify the station’s most important trait and lock in on it with a laser focus. Then develop multiple ways to support the premise.

3. Behaviour is Driven by Station Images

PPM measurement records actual listening, but actual listening is still influenced by perception.  Many programmers have eliminated or reduced station branding to the point that listeners have no way of knowing what or who they’re listening to, even if they want to know!

Scan the dial and you’ll hear station after station with personalities launching breaks without positioning their station, show or themselves. Recently, I listened to a CHR station for 90 minutes and the air talent failed to say the name of the station a single time. And the PD didn’t seem to think it was that big a deal, because:

We’re PPM. We get credit as long as the meter is picking up the signal.

That may be true, but listeners choose stations based on their preference, and P1 fans (super-fans) are many times more valuable than those who casually listen. Explain how never identifying the station builds fans.

Crest toothpaste doesn’t top promoting, positioning and marketing because “it only matters when someone buys our toothpaste. As long as they buy our tube, we make the sale”. Brand preference, top of mind awareness (TOMA) and brand imaging are major forces in listening choices.

Conclusion: Outside-In Programming

In our inside-out programming world, listeners are manipulated by our perfect execution and programming features. But in the real outside-in programming world, we should design stations to fill a mood or service. That’s how listeners are choosing stations.

Every programmer could gain an outside-in perspective simply by learning to listen to their radio stations with a different orientation.

Most programmers tune in for many hours a day, and pay particularly close attention to the elements between the songs. They become fatigued with these elements quickly and in their natural desire to be entertained by their own station, tinker with promos, production elements and marketing messages!

Constantly striving to “freshen” the station, they often succeed more in confusing the audience.

It’s a war out there, but it’s a war for the attention of the consumer, not just against other radio stations. Step back and think outside-in, the way your product is being heard.

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

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