(By Jeff McHugh) Years ago, stations would thump their chest about transmitter size. 5000 watts! 50,000 watts! 100,000 watts! Mine is bigger than yours!
My first programming job was at WWDM in South Carolina, nicknamed The BIG DM by listeners because of its thermonuclear signal. In the 1980s, we appeared in top-ten Arbitron ratings 120 miles away. But listener’s love for WWDM was not about the signal.
Then-owner John Marshall invested in music research and remarkable personalities. Alpha Media owns The Big DM today and it is still #1.
Stations used to brand with the slogan “on the air 24 hours a day,” and “broadcasting in stereo” until those attributes were no longer unique. It’s time for AM/FM radio to update its branding.
This week, I coached a team at SXM Media, the home of SiriusXM, Pandora, and Stitcher. We discussed the new Edison Research study announcing that half of Americans now pay for audio subscriptions. Wow.
People pay SiriusXM and Pandora for content – Howard Stern and better music playlists. Stitcher is the #1 podcast network even though other networks distribute more shows. Pandora is reversing a decline in listener hours by adding personalities from TikTok as “tastemakers.”
Listeners appreciate fewer commercials. But that is not the primary reason they have adopted streaming and satellite radio. It’s the content. “Commercial-free Monday,” and a “two-minute promise” only works when the product is good.
Music positioning is still important, but slogans like “Best Variety,” “The #1 Hit Music Station,” and “hits of the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s” will be less unique and impactful as your listeners spend increasing time with the wide, deep and on-demand music found in subscription and streaming audio.
The best branding strategy for radio in 2021 is spotlighting talent. The emotional bond between audiences and favorite hosts will inspire more station loyalty than all the above tactics combined.
Here are some strategies to consider as you evolve your station’s branding with changing times.
- Human connection in heavy rotation: Promote your top talent at least as frequently as your music position, every hour, every day. Include their name in your imaging; “KOST – home of the Ellen K morning show.”
- Replace the station voice: Your audience has a stronger relationship with your talent than a voiceover artist. Use their voice — as themselves in-character — on station promos and imaging.
- Website and social media: The first thing listeners should see when they visit your digital channels is the face and personality of your top on-air stars.
- “Best of” Promos: Short clip of your top show or shows that give people a taste of what fun it is.
- Character IDs: Even shorter clips that define the character of each star’s personality. Like this one or this one.
- V/O intros: Record your talent promoting tomorrow’s content and play it over select song intros throughout the day.
- Content before contesting: in external marketing like billboards and television, highlight personalities above any generic short-term giveaway.
Reach Jeff at [email protected]