The New Radio: High tech = High reward

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Posted by on August 24, 2008 at 17:50:02:

As if radio programmers and marketers weren’t already bombarded with competition from emerging technologies, expanding workloads and job descriptions that have become virtually elastic, now one more item can be affixed to their already unwieldy tool belts. In 2008 a new fundamental need exists in radio: developing audience loyalty by engaging listeners via the multiple platforms that make up today’s radio brands. Not only are the stakes higher than ever, so is the degree of difficulty. Never before has radio been challenged by so many competing sources of stimuli, all fighting for the most cherished prize available these days: consumers’ attention span.

The New Blocking And Tackling

Just about any programmer in any format or market size will tell you that cultivating an ongoing, interactive relationship with listeners is part of the day-to-day blocking and tackling already taking place. Maverick Media country WAXX/Eau Clair, Wis., PD George House refers to such tactics as texting, interactive database marketing, listener rewards and streaming as “table stakes. If you aren’t staying with it, it’ll just pass you over; it has to be part of the modern, successful radio station.”

Clear Channel country WGAR/Cleveland PD Brian Jennings says that if programmers consider themselves “just a radio signal, we’re going to get a smaller share.” Those call letters represent something beyond a mere station frequency, so much so that he refers to WGAR as a “media outlet.” With consumer entertainment and information choices exploding, Direct Marketing Results president Tripp Eldridge believes it is critical for every station to develop “a richer relationship with the heavy radio listeners who are deeply loyal to the station. What radio can offer is to enhance the companionship with that key segment of listeners. Not everyone; not the entire cume, but the key listeners.”

In the technological revolution well under way, people love their gadgets. For broadcasters, the presence of a particular gadget helping drive this increasingly aggressive movement toward listener loyalty programs will become commonplace in the top 50 radio markets by 2010: Arbitron’s PPM. According to Emmis Interactive co-president Rey Mena, radio has already taken into account the changes necessitated by the advent of metered ratings. “It’s not about affecting recall—it’s about affecting behavior. That’s a fundamental shift because almost every single technique radio has used to drive that awareness is out the window. Now, it’s about how you build loyalty and an ongoing dialogue with that consumer.”

Fortunately, radio isn’t a helpless victim of this technology onslaught. In the last five years, the industry has embraced it, studied it and turned it into a valuable competitive tool.

That doesn’t mean radio as an industry has created its own infrastructure for high-tech, high-touch listener loyalty programs. Most of the radio groups R&R polled say they outsource a majority of these services. That has resulted in tremendous growth for such vendors as Enticent, which provides a listener rewards product called Sticky Fish. Of the estimated 500 stations running points-based listener programs, Sticky Fish claims to handle more than 200 of them, in addition to several TV stations and print outlets.

Enticent president/CEO Chris Bell helped make the distinction between a true listener loyalty program and e-mail clubs. The term “listener loyalty club” is almost a generic one these days, he says, with most stations inviting listeners to sign up for a station e-mail in order to receive contest and station information on a regular basis. The next tier is occupied by the several hundred stations offering points-based programs.

According to Bell, “When you move into points programs, you’re saying to the database, ‘I’m going to provide incentives for you to take actions that support the station or its advertisers.’ ” As listeners take advantage of those incentives, they accumulate points that can later be redeemed for prizes that vary in size and value.

“The basic concept is, rather than focusing on the number of people in the database, it’s the actions taken by these people that you can measure and feel,” Bell says. After enrolling in the points-based program on a station’s Web site, listeners choose from a menu of 15-20 actions ranging from simply tuning in to the station to keeping specific listening appointments, taking an online survey or attending an event.

For example, CBS Radio’s country WQYK/ Tampa has put together sweepstakes for such prizes as concert tickets, backstage passes and even a cruise. To sign up for the current hot item prize -- backstage passes plus a meet-and-greet with country act Sugarland -- listeners must turn in 500 points.

Since signing up with Sticky Fish in December 2007, WQYK promotions and marketing director Heidi Heinz says its listener database has doubled and that Web activity has increased dramatically. “Our traffic increased 64% in page views and unique visitors increased 75%, which means people who didn’t visit before are starting to come,” Heinz says, attributing the surge to station fans racking up points from the promotionally active station. “That increase in Web traffic is typical,” Bell says. “From day one, our clients see increases that go from 15% on the low end to a 1,000% increase in Web traffic.”

The cost for the Sticky Fish service is based on a station’s market size, ranging from a few hundred dollars per month to a few thousand, according to Bell. Clients are not required to share revenue generated from the program.


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