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It’s the Small Things

June 15, 2021

As The Ratings Experts, we wallow in data every day. We crunch the numbers to help our clients understand what happened to their station in a particular survey. The emphasis here is on the “what.”

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discussed the problem with big data. Not that it isn’t valuable. Every industry needs to understand how it is evolving. Deciphering consumer behavior is crucial to tailoring a product or service to keep up with what customers need and want.

However, oftentimes the “what” is not good enough – we also need to know the “why.” The article gave Lego as an example. In the early 2000s, Lego sales were plummeting. Based on data analytics, they determined their customers wanted instant gratification. So, their response was to make the blocks bigger.

It was a disaster. When they finally started to actually communicate with customers, they found out their assumptions were false. They determined that kids actually have a level of determination that drives them. The company returned to smaller blocks and is now one of the biggest toy companies in the world. (The article obviously offers much more detail on this case study.)

Which brings me to radio. We have a treasure trove of big data at our disposal. Sweeping studies like The Infinite Dial and the Jacobs Media Techsurvey provide an intimate look into how our customers behave. This is in addition to the weekly and monthly reports from Nielsen.

Once again, this all points to the “what.” It does not tell us why listeners may be gravitating away from radio or why PUMMs are slow to rebound from the pandemic. Why does the 18-34 age group spend less time with radio than previous generations? We can assume some of the answers, but you know what they say about assumptions.

When we work with our clients, we tell them there are generally four things that can affect their ratings:

  • Something they have done to their station – music change, a new morning show, etc.
  • Something their competition has done – marketing, clock adjustment, etc.
  • Something that has affected the market – big weather, Christmas music, etc.
  • Something Nielsen has done – a key listener left the panel or aged out of a target demographic, for example.

In the absence of knowing any of these “why” factors, we are often left with more questions. How do we fill the knowledge gap?

The simple solution is – talk to our listeners. We have more avenues than ever before to communicate with our P1s (First Preference listeners). I assume – there’s that word again – that most radio stations have some level of listener database. These people opted in at some point because they are at least somewhat fond of your product.

What do they think about what you are doing? Some of the most valuable information I ever received about my radio station came from direct conversations with fans. We conducted traditional focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and held random conversations at events. Occasionally, these comments would spark an idea. My main goal was to find out what – if anything – was causing them to spend less time with us. Because when you lose your P1s, you lose the game.

Fast forward to the digital age and our access to the audience has greatly expanded. We don’t have to invite them to a sketchy hotel on a Tuesday night for $75. Just writing that seems creepy.

We can hold a Zoom call with them. We can text questions. We can get them involved in the entertainment process. Listeners know what they know – they generally can’t comment on “what ifs” until they hear them. We need to get inside their heads, find out what they need and want, and then – give it to them.

Radio’s greatest strength is local. That is where we should mine for the type of granular data that can answer the big questions. The investment is time. The ROI can be huge.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant