Interactive, Personalized, On-Demand
FMQB January 2005
John Silliman Dodge
Inventors are keen observers. They notice how things work...in nature,
science, business, human interaction...and they adapt, combine, modify,
re-engineer and otherwise monkey around until they come up with a
new solution, sometimes to a problem you didn't even know you had.
A classic example is the tale of the dog and the cocklebur. After
picking burrs off his retriever for the umpteenth time, some smart
fellow had a lightbulb moment. By design, the two elements, dog hair
and burr tips are perfectly complimentary. The burrs end in hooks-just
one cool way seeds hitch a ride-and the dog hair loops itself around
the hooks. Bingo, we get Velcro.
I hope you think like an inventor. I hope you look at
current phenomena in business, technology and society and wonder:
how can I take what's happening all around me and adapt, modify, combine,
re-engineer and otherwise monkey around until I come up with creative
ideas to make my radio station stronger, more competitive, less vulnerable
to attack, more must-have?
Now observe the iPod, Apple's little megaton bomb that
has sold ten million units since 2001 and is poised to sell another
ten million through the end of 2005. What do you think the light bulb
moment was for Steve Jobs and his tech squad? Marry the portability
of the Sony Walkman with the control of the computer in a too-cool
design. Seems simple enough. The great ideas always are. But what
made this particular gadget so successful? There are dozens of other
portable digital music devices, most of them cheaper, some with even
more features and functions than the iPod. But it doesn't matter.
The iPod is the hit device. People line up to pay the premium. Why?
Personality. While the other players are commodities, little beige
boxes, the iPod has more perceived value. The iPod inspires loyalty.
People even give these things nicknames. The other boxes have price
as their defining feature. They think the way to the customer's heart
is via the head. (Ten-in-a-row commercial free, anyone?) But Apple
went straight for the heart and made price a non-issue.
Our stations fall into one of these two camps, too.
We either have personality, we inspire loyalty, we lead with cool
design, we generate word of mouth or we play songs and speak slogans
that test well... and our listener loyalty lasts as long as the song.
Which station are you? Are you "must-have" media or a common
commodity, a button on the dial, a mere impulse away from tune-out?
You know exactly where you are on this scale. So does your listener.
Look at your 21st century customer: Blackberry in one
hand, iPod in the other, and a cell phone on the belt. Ask yourself
the defining question: how does my radio station fit into this person's
life? What itch do I scratch? What do I offer that he doesn't already
get via these other channels? If you respond, "I'm local, I'm
free, I'm convenient," give yourself a few points for hanging
Local, convenient and free used to
be enough when the listener's choices were few. Then ten years ago,
Boom! The Internet turned everything on its head and ushered in the
single biggest sociological phenomenon that media has encountered
to date. The Web created an entirely new set of behaviors and expectations
in the 12-34 demo, the younger end of which has never known a world
without the Web. I don't care how much money we spend on self-congratulation
programs, I challenge you to find a significant segment of this age
group who says they learn about new music via the radio. It's all
Web, file sharing, email, chat and IM.
Let's call this new set of behaviors
and expectations by a name Steve Jobs would appreciate: iPod. Only
for our purposes, iPod stands for Interactive, Personalized, and On-Demand.
This is the Web's secret sauce and the more we can adapt these three
features to radio, the more successful our stations will become.
Interactive. Meaning not passive. I'm involved, I'm
in control, I make a move and something changes. Traditional radio
doesn't respond this way. We're pretty much a one-way channel. Sure,
we test songs and we conduct focus groups and this feedback eventually
makes its way into programming, but there's nothing immediate or personal
or interactive about it, is there?
What to do: go beyond the phones and get listeners engaged
through every available channel. Email and IM are great ways to offer
instant and individual feedback. Mention this feedback in your regular
on-air routine. You can't respond to everybody of course, but you
can make a big deal about the folks that you do get to, and then make
sure the entire audience knows about it. The result: greater perceived
Personalized. Technology lets consumers personalize
their experience. Notice how everything is My this and My that? The
Web is all about me, me, and me. You don't expect ME to take the same
stuff you shoot down the pipe for everyone else, do you? I want you
to cater to me because I'm special.
What to do: use your site to segment your audience into
interest groups. Once you capture my name, address and affinities,
you can communicate in a seemingly one-to-one fashion and send me
an email every time my favorite band is in the area, or when the new
releases hit the streets, or when there's an event in my community,
or when the station has a promotion that ties to my interests. Think
of it as opt-in, direct mail marketing.
On-Demand. What, you thought only babies demanded instant
gratification? Look at Comcast. They know that when you want a movie,
you want it right now. You don't even want to get off the couch, much
less put on your coat and drive to the Blockbuster. The big attraction
to iPod is that you get exactly what you want when you want it. You
don't wait for some program director to read your mind or your mood,
you go get what you want for yourself. By contrast, we push programming
out on our timetable to a passive group of listeners. Hopefully this
coincides with what they want at the time but if not, well....what
are you gonna do?
What to do: take every bit of cool audio you have...interviews,
guest artist performances, great morning show bits, new music releases...and
either stream it or make it downloadable on your web. Promote the
site with the same energy that you promote the station because your
web is no longer a separate channel; radio and web should be joined
at the hip, one mutually supportive, integrated machine.
These are just a few simple suggestions. The most important
thing to do is stop freaking about the fact that iPods, Web channels,
satellite radio, WiFi, cell phone song downloads and cranial implants
have completely altered the playing field. Let's sniff the coffee
and generate inventive, creative solutions in response. Let's ask
a lot of very fundamental questions, such as "What business are
we in?" If Steve Jobs had said to his engineers, "We make
computers, we're not in the music device business," things might
have ended right there.
I would suggest that radio is not in the music business.
It only seems that way. We're in the relationship business. (Repeat
the mantra: we're in the relationship business.) We broker entertainment,
information, communication, but we're really about winning and keeping
loyalties. Our great advantage is familiarity (from the word family),
which grows from the relationships that our air personalities have
with their listeners. The more generic our personalities are, the
less true personality they have and the less they seem like real friends
and family to the listeners. Remember this the next time you tell
your people they talk too much. They might talk about the wrong things
but they don't talk too much. We'll address that important issue in
a future "Programming to Win" article.
Another bright thing to be optimistic about-we have
randomnicity. A huge segment of our listeners want to be surprised,
whether by new artists, new music, new information or new points of
view. As cool as it is, your iPod won't surprise you because you're
the one who stocked its little locker in the first place. So consider
everything that you and your on-air team can do to provide regular
Aha! moments, random occurrences which surprise and stimulate your
listeners, experiences that only humans can offer one another.
And while you're thinking about that, remember that
20 million iPod owners can't be wrong. Keep the acronym in mind and
be relentless about inventing new ways for your station to be more
Interactive, more Personalized, more On-Demand. It's a new way of
thinking, certainly. But adapting creatively to change is what radio