Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Getting On The "Brand" Wagon

"Fibber McGee and Molly," "The Jack Benny Show," "NBC," "The Mighty 690," "77-WABC," "Color Radio," "93 KHJ," "Westinghouse Broadcasting, KDKA," "WCCO, real radio," "WSB, Atlanta," "Paul Harvey News," "The Big 8," "The best variety," "Kay Lite," "CHUM," "EZ," "The most music," "CKNW," "Magic," "Continuous country," "12 in a row," "Mix," "New."

There, in 50 words or less, is a history of "brand identity" on American and Canadian radio.

I wanted to remind you that the concept of building brand awareness and recognition has been around for quite awhile in the radio business. That seems necessary because blogs have popped up in the past year or two promoting the concept of brand loyalty marketing and research as if they had invented the idea.

Perhaps a reality check is in order here.

I remember when we all started doing callout, then focus groups, then diary reviews, then auditorium music research, strategic planning sessions, perceptual studies, cluster analysis, multi-variant crosstabs, "fit" testing, diary-based research, market segmentation and now brand identity research.

All of them have been valid techniques to solve certain sets of problems. Yet, it seemed like each somehow replaced its predecessor, making it useless and outmoded. If you weren't doing the absolute latest research and marketing technology, you were just simply OUT of it.

That brings us to the current fad, "brand loyalty" research.

Having observed some very aggressive radio stations which were doing the most sophisticated research and marketing tactics being beaten handily by "less state of the art" radio operators, I've learned a thing or two about lemmings, those omnipresent radio birds.

The concept of researching brand loyalty is based on a truism - the average person will listen to three radio stations per week. Arbitron and BBM researchers claim that 96% of all radio listening is encompassed by these three positions on the average radio listener's hierarchy of usage. PPM usage data has shown that the average listener actually visits more than twice as many radio frequencies in the average week.

So, the question is -- if you're station #4 in the average radio listener's mind in your market, you may be able to build higher cume audience, but you'll never get your fair share of time spent listening until you can climb at least into that #3 ‘top of mind’ spot.

The Kirby Confer Group created the "Kay-Frog" brand in both San Bernadino-Riverside (KFRG), in Altoona (WFGY) and in other Ohio and Pennsylvania markets to brand their stations as fun, irreverent and entertaining. Clearly, the brand worked. Frogs are now quite successful in markets from Santa Rosa to Gainesville.

“Young Country” built a powerful brand in Little Rock, Detroit, Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle in the early 1990’s, but only one of those stations (WYCD, Detroit) continues to exist.

Two decades ago, Seattle’s #2 ranked country station (KRPM) called on New York advertising guru Dale Pon to create a "brand" that would render KMPS' "12 in a row" brand useless as a benchmark for owning the "most music" brand in country listeners' brains.

Pon, who previously created the very successful "Flex Your Plex" campaign that had built KPLX a "brand" in Dallas, gave birth to "Twice As Much Country Music."

After an expenditure of considerably more than half a million dollars in media advertising, KRPM abandoned the "Twice As Much" brand, and then adopted a totally different brand - K-106. That station is now pop CHR KISS 106.1, of course, and now Entercom is coming up on its first year of building 100.7 the Wolf (KKWF) as an emerging country brand in the Puget Sound.

Following the success of KPLX’s relaunch a few years ago as "The Sound of Texas 99-5 The Wolf," Wolves have popping up from Cincinnati, Portland to Nashville and many points in between.

Will this one be as memorable as "Kay Frog," still around and successful two decades from now? Or, as forgettable as "Twice As Much Country"?

How about “Jack,” “Bob,” "Earl," and "El Patron?"

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, this much I know. As Coca Cola learned when it attempted to change its formula, a successful brand identity takes years to build and can be lost very quickly.

Creative, forceful brand identities endure over time.

This is true with Ivory, Hertz, GM, WGN, KMOX, WLW, WPOC, KILT, KNIX, Country 105, KMLE, JR-fm and, maybe - in your market - YOUR call letters.

If you need a new brand identity, we would be happy to help in the process of researching and innovating one. However, there is quite a bit of brand switching going on in our medium today. THAT alone might possibly be the best argument for NOT changing your current brand identity, as long as its working positively for you.

"Be what you are, intensively" is a great prescription for success in any field. Can listeners care or recall what you are, when what you are changes or is several different things simultaneously?

The current crop of excellent research people doing brand awareness and loyalty research will no doubt spawn many exciting and successful "brands" that will be touted widely.

They will sound sexy and alluring.

And, it will be tempting to tag some of them onto your current identity. Or, replace your current brand name with a new one.

If you're considering a change in identity, A&O would recommend asking your audience before you do it. But, if your ratings are good and your station is well positioned in your market (we can help determine this), there is no reason to change identities just because it's the "in thing" to do.

Or, as Coke discovered, you could be making a "classic" mistake.

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