Breaking With Tradition In The Consolidated Radio Era

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(By Loyd Ford) You might buy into the idea that the radio market is mature and there are no real opportunities to breakout into the open with your brand or brands against entrenched leaders in your market. However, Coronavirus and the issues around it have strengthened the opportunities today because it has created an even more unpredictable environment for radio.

Not everyone is looking at their real competitiveness because of crisis. Research gathering has been reduced or eliminated entirely and the strength of what companies are offering along with how committed they are to marketing has been all but eliminated.

These are exactly some of the areas that can benefit from a solid look right now. It’s not “if” there was a way to win, but how. Your biggest opportunities may be in abandoning the norms of the last 30 years and innovating around the opportunities that create strength for your company. I’m not only speaking about programming here. I believe there are multiple opportunities presenting themselves today.

Millions Of Dollars Are At Stake
It always seems to be easier to look at someone else’s world and then relate it to ours. Schick and Gillette once (not very long ago) controlled 90% of the of the U.S. market in the category of razors. Understand traditional wisdom said it was financial suicide to enter the category of razors. Then, several upstarts popped up and took literally hundreds of millions of dollars from the leaders. This shift was rapid and dramatic because it involved a different way of thinking about competitive commitment and even style in the category.

These new companies simply didn’t act like the old ones. And no one would have said, “There’s room for a lot of growth in razors.” The fact that the attacks came from companies with no factory or traditional business models that looked anything like Schick or Gillette allowed them to be completely underestimated. Those big corporations were caught flat-footed and it cost them significant market share the leaders have never recovered.

What About You?
When considering competitiveness in a market, we all tend to look at the strengths and vulnerabilities of the radio brands in our market. We often use accepted versions of corporate strategy of recent times and focus on programming. If the upstarts in the razor category only focused on existing ideas, those hundreds of millions of dollars would still be pouring into Schick and Gillette today. Just like these smaller upstarts, I am drawing your attention to using the strategy of thinking like a small company to become large again.

Sir Richard Branson believes that when teams or companies become too large, he must break them up so they get their fighting spirit (and accountability) back again. He literally believes thinking like the big boys is fatal.

Success Is The Enemy Of Innovation.
The large corporations in our business have a lot of top down control baked into their business structure. They have no choice. They have significant debt. They have what they judge as an acceptable system-based strategy to collect revenue with the least amount of disruption in costs and often effort. However, if you find yourself trying to grow market share against a large corporation by you yourself using essentially versions of their philosophy, it will take more than ‘live and local’ to win the day.

A lot of people today inside our business question the present and future of our business. Some have turned the model into a service element to serve digital for much smaller profit margins. What if there was a different way to look at the problem and it started with believing in radio?

Doing what traditional corporate radio in your market has done in the past decade is less likely to bring you a breakout success against them.

Here is what I am suggesting you consider instead:
Making A Break With Today’s Consolidated Theories

  • Consider reducing commercial lengths and perhaps overall commercial loads (there are many different strategies in doing this; I am not suggesting you reduce your revenue expectations)
  • Place a premium of management attention on local direct business (radio gets power from being local and local relationships)
  • Consider placing your focus on smaller teams of employees, especially in areas of sales responsibility and buying a local digital agency with its’ own small sales team (yes, separate from your legacy radio sellers)
  • Focus on profit margin more than only revenue
  • Focus on relationships and build local alliances that allow you to launch quarterly market events when things return to normal that can become benchmark money makers in your market
  • Become more influential by considering launching lifestyle podcasts, videos and storytelling products that can help draw specific categories of clients to your units or teams (build these with client categories in mind)
  • Carefully review strengths and weaknesses of competitors, including those that come from size and corporate top down control in both programming and sales strategy
  • Make certain that your brand or brands have truly unique qualities that create real and meaningful separation from others in your market (again, this includes your sales approach)
  • Once your product is confirmed to be correct, select specific lanes of marketing and work to dominate that area of the market at a significant level to attain penetration (yes, marketing correctly is expensive, but your corporate competitors today won’t spend to keep up)

Making a break with today’s long-held consolidated theories may not be easy and involves risk, but great products often only break out by presenting consumers with a well marketed positive option that better serves their desires. This includes both traditional and nontraditional advertisers. Not just listeners. Listening to radio isn’t free. If you are still operating under the idea that radio is free, you are way behind today’s audiences. When listeners come in contact with your product, the faster they hear what they want, the more your product will benefit.

Radio gets its’ power from being local (as long as your product is correctly programmed and marketed). For several decades, radio has reduced and eliminated much of the unique talent, muted unique programmers who can rapidly shift market share and largely eliminated marketing to the point where most people in the business know there will be no outside marketing in the coming months. This has created a weakness we all know exists right now in the broadcast business with your competitors today.

Maybe it’s finally time to seize the day.

Perhaps it is time to stand out the way they do at Coke, Amazon, Apple, Walmart, Home Depot and many other brands you could be thinking about right now because they are visible, they invest in their products and their marketing. These companies focus their individual brands on being unique and solving what their target market desires in today’s busy world.

Restructuring your take on your business to include focusing on profit margins in digital and event marketing as well as traditional broadcast revenue sources (not just total revenue), redefining your products and lifting the lid on marketing can turn the tables on competitors. Schick and Gillette were once thought to be giants that were untouchable. If they can be disrupted, your radio market can be, too.

Perhaps the crisis of 2020 and the long chronic pain of cutting, cutting, cutting has created the perfect storm for you to now break out in your market by thinking differently and investing in radio again in both a traditional sense and in new ways to create your future.

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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