When Phantom CUME Dies, Your Brand Can Grow


(By Loyd Ford) I don’t believe there is a thing called phantom CUME. That’s right. The thing that consultants have talked about for decades as the reason that station ‘A’ cannot overcome station ‘B’ in diary market ratings – not true. If you are an insurgent in your market, this article is an attempt to get you to look at ‘phantom CUME’ in a completely different way and come to an actual choice that begins your path to victory in your market starting today.

Phantom CUME is a fiction lever that has become a popular way to explain why you are not winning when measurement is memory based, but it isn’t true. Right now you want me to prove it. To do that, I want to draw your attention to the fact that in human history some beliefs that often have been accepted for decades as real truth and they’ve ultimately proved to be fake once you sat them next to the real truth.

Here are some examples. If you are of a certain age, you remember Pluto in your string of memorization of the planets. But now we have learned that Pluto isn’t large enough to be a planet, so it isn’t. An example I use a lot is the popular saying “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” Not true. “It’s not who you know; it’s who knows YOU.” That’s true. I know Jerry Seinfeld and Oprah. How does that help me? Not at all. They don’t know me. If they were my buddies, how different would that be? Once you hear the second one, the first statement (assumed to be fact for many decades) becomes instantly known as not true.

In the famous Rich Dad Poor Dad book by Robert T. Kiyosaki he mentions this in another way. He essentially says people using the word ‘can’t’ are giving themselves an excuse to stop working on the real problem and just sit down. He recommends you replace the word can’t with the question “How can I…..?” For us, instead of saying, “I can’t because of phantom CUME,” go to work on the real problem.

In radio we sometimes say “we can’t win because we have a phantom CUME problem.” In other words, we SHOULD be doing better but the measurement doesn’t get us yet. That’s appealing because it means there is nothing you can do. It’s out of your hands. You have to wait. Well, it isn’t out of your hands and there is something you can do.

The Positive Fame Factor Is Real
In place of ‘phantom CUME’ I offer that your brand is either famous for something or your brand is not famous in your market. If you are not famous, nothing will help you become the winner. If you are famous for something positive, no such thing as made up phantom CUME will stop you from achieving market penetration and winning. The moment you toss the idea of phantom CUME aside and start actively working on the real problem – positive fame – you will begin the very real process of growing your brand.

When you decide to put phantom CUME theory down for good, I recommend you take a real look at your product and what it stands for today. What are the listener benefits that really set you apart from your competitors? What is the one thing your morning show is famous for? What is the reason listeners should choose your brand for at-work listening? Why should people in your market pay attention to your brand? In today’s world, you have to draw sharp definitions that are easy to understand in rapid sound bites and you have to prove you stand for those things by backing it up with real values. People don’t believe so easy in 2020 so don’t fake what you stand for.

Working on strategy that answers these questions at the consumer level (not just in our minds) is the beginning of addressing the real issues that hold an insurgent brand back from winning in today’s crowded world of media choices and hyper-short attention spans.

The more willing you are to tell the truth, ask the hard questions and motivate your team to roll up their sleeves and work on real positive fame, the faster you will find yourself growing in purpose, identity and brand significance. That’s ratings, revenue and winning in today’s universe.

Loyd Ford consults radio stations, coaches personalities, and provides behavioral and strategic programming to radio with RPC. Reach him anytime. 864.448.4169 or [email protected]


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