Valuing Core Listeners' Core Values
by Jaye Albright and Michael O'Malley, Consulting Partners, Albright & O'Malley Country Radio Specialists (www.radioconsult.com)
Culturally, we’re at a point where values matter more than ever. How we do or don’t consistently embrace our listeners’ values – including honesty – will go a long way in shaping our future.
Many stations, while they certainly don’t intentionally try to violate listeners’ values, do.
Listeners bring expectations to each tune-in. While these expectations do vary across formats, truth and a sense of the station “understanding me as a listener” are nearly universally expected.
The 'big thing' for radio isn’t a format or even a musical genre. It’s a value-based proposition that goes well beyond music and our conventional ways of packaging formats. It’s a code of conduct that separates a station from . . . everyone else on the dial. And it’s listener-driven, and responsive to what the audience is talking about.”
Interacting with listeners all around North America has afforded us the opportunity to hear from our own consumers about the values they hold and the value expectations they have of radio stations.
Here age nine actions we can take to both reflect listeners’ values and be at the forefront of Values-Based Programming in 2007. They need to be inherent in everything to do, if you hope to stand out as unique in a world where tomorrow's listeners have attention deficit disorder. They're busy, they multi-task and unless something engages them and empowers them, they don't pay attention. Personalities that stand out as different from the majority of voices they hear on the radio will become tomorrow's stars.
1. Exude honesty, integrity and truth, and always be real. Listeners see through facades quickly and reject pretense and hype. This is true across all demos but especially true in those under 35 who see yesterday’s idealized superheroes not as icons but as phonies and laughable parodies. Don’t lie, don’t hype.
2. Be selfless and caring. No one is endeared to the self-centered. Listeners want stations to do good works in their communities. People are becoming more interested in the world outside their own circle. As Roy H. Williams noted, ‘be all that you can be’ is being replaced by, ‘do your part.’
3. “Get” your listeners. Have a thorough and intimate understanding of your listeners’ wants, needs, desires, attitudes, interests, opinions, relationships, frustrations, hopes and dreams. Make sure everyone on the staff has an intimate knowledge of these and that they become the touchstone for evaluating all you do before you do it. Adopt this new perspective: “This station belongs to the listeners, not to me.”
Ask: “What do they want and how can I meet the need?” Talk to listeners in their language about them, not in our language about us. Listeners live in a world where most decisions are rooted in emotions; make an emotional connection that transcends your music.
4. Treat listeners as treasured individuals, family members and best friends rather than a faceless mass. Demonstrate an unflinching commitment to listener satisfaction. There’s a growing collective cry among our audience of, “listen to us!”
Be about what THEY want not what we’ve always done. Be about creating programming and promotions to surprise and delight them as you would a loved one. Refuse to accept the “mailing in” of any aspect of your station. The more value you place on your listeners, the easier this is to do.
5. With everything you do, on and off the air and throughout your company culture, consistently communicate the principles and values jointly held by you and your listeners. NPR employees carry laminated cards with their values on it. Listeners are very aware of when this bond is broken by inappropriate promotions, content, etc. There’s no quick fix for broken trust.
6. Be “interestingly relevant.” Listeners have increasingly less tolerance for irrelevancy and boring predictability. Know how you’re being used at different times of the day and tailor content to match, from mood enhancement to feeling connected to enlightenment. Have strategies for in car, at work and at home
listening. Program to all 504 quarter-hours that make up Monday-Sunday, 6am-midnight.
7. Recognize that talent is vitally important in the values relationship, particularly in country. With every mic break and every personal appearance, talent has the ability to grow the bond with listeners or weaken it. Talent has the ability to be a key differentiating factor in a listener choosing one station or another and in choosing terrestrial radio over satellite, IPOD, CDs, etc. Spend time and money developing talent just as you do developing salespeople.
• Frequently mentioned problems: non-family-friendly content, wastes my time by talking a lot about nothing, tries to be cute/something he’s not, just goes through the motions, promises but doesn’t deliver
• Frequently mentioned positives: makes me feel good, are engaged in and really seems to love what they’re doing, understands me, is just like me, says things I was thinking or talking about, is always interesting to listen to, makes me feel like it’s just the two of us when I listen, treated me like I was someone special when I met them in person
8. Insure the value of your entertainment always greatly exceeds the cost of listening (commercials, non-relevant content). There is a maximum cost listeners will pay for entertainment. Control clutter and spotloads. Increase the entertainment value with infusions of magic, special programming that really IS special, true listener benefits that we promise then over deliver on, promotions with “money can’t buy” prizes, and fully prepped shows that are “great” at least once a week.
9. Understand that the “values story” doesn’t have an ending and that it will continue to evolve daily. Pay attention to what listeners are saying and always be prepared to act. Right now there’s a hunger for truth - from the replacing of sitcoms by reality shows to the greater outrage over lying about steroids than actually taking them.
Reknown San Francisco business consultant Keith Yamashita (FastCompany, June 2004) says, "All meaningful change starts with the right aspiration…(it’s) ultimately about engaging human beings to take a leap. The animating question is, What will you become?"
What we’ll become is at least in part dependent on how well we’re attuned to listeners’ core values and to what degree we’ll let our product by driven by these values. Take the leap in this non-leap year 2007.