Are You Just a Service or a Brand?

What Lovemarks Can Teach Radio Stations -- and Marketers

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Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
We started the 2008 school year in the Integrated Media program at Mount Hood Community College a few weeks ago. As is our habit, we are using Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands as the primary text. It's not because there are so many pretty pictures (which I definitely need), but there are clear and simple ideas that give our students a clear foundation for understanding the basic concepts of branding.

One of the questions posed to the students was whether they thought, here in Portland, they could identify radio stations that were true "brands." A few stood out (KINK, 94.7, KGON and Jammin' 95.5 for music, and KOPB and KXL for news and talk), but most, they felt, were just "stations" that didn't exactly connect with them. There were myriad reasons why this was the case. For the most part, they felt as though most music stations were "delivery systems" with some people telling them what the song was. Part of their reasoning was that there lacked, in most cases, a tangible emotional connection. Most of the people in our class are under the age of 25, pretty brand loyal and savvy and, despite the fact they are in what amounts to a radio creative class, struggled to find, with some exceptions, a reason that a radio "station" could be considered a radio "brand."

This takes us to Chapter 2 of Lovemarks. On page 35, Kevin Roberts discusses why brands are out of juice. In this argument, the most relevant out of the six listed are: "(Broken) Brands can't understand the new consumer." A good chunk of radio stations think that they have figured out their audience. Obviously, they don't.

Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, the listener didn't have this much technology at his disposal. Therein lies a great opportunity for renewed connection between radio, advertiser/brand and audience. Some companies are doing something about it by activating every possible asset across every possible technology and touch point and leavening it with some great creative execution. The key is that they are doing it with sincerity and they are working closely with advertisers to intimately align with an audience that, quite frankly, all of us are trying to understand because it changes so rapidly.

For a station -- for any marketer -- it can't be self-serving. Simple economics dictates a certain behavior, but long-term health and prosperity is purely based on developing fully functional programs that allows the convergence of content and technology with a relevant spin for the advertiser and listener. Millie Olson's exceptional post on Millennials is a great example of a fickle audience. I loved the last paragraph. Specifically, "Will they want it enough to succeed?" Turn that around to the radio industry and ask, "Do you want this audience enough to succeed?"

It takes a level of commitment and discipline that could be unprecedented. It also requires the "discipline" of letting go. A brand or advertiser should demand more and a station should be willing to go along for the ride as long as it is within the framework of what is good for the audience. Easier said than done, but there are some great stories emerging in this space and it may be the attitude that continues to move things forward.
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