Legendary programmer, manager and consultant Neil Gallagher told RBR a story a couple year ago about a battle in Las Vegas which answers that question:
There once was an A/C station that dominated their major market. They had the best music images in the city. They were well known for presenting the grandest, most desirable contests and promotions with the most expensive and desirable prizes. They had the highest rated morning show with the city’s most popular radio personalities. They had an enormous database of at-work listeners that they worked religiously. They were the area’s dominate television and outdoor advertiser, presenting creative messages that tested extremely well in focus groups and articulated their benefits creatively and succinctly and in an extremely entertaining fashion. They had the most aggressive street presence in the city, appearing at virtually every event in the entire region with an imposing fleet of stunning vehicles. They owned the weather and traffic information images with their helicopters in the air, immense cellular phone reporter network and the market’s top television station’s popular, experienced and attractive weather reporter appearing frequently throughout every hour of the morning show. They were the poster child for being a wildly successful, dominate radio station.
They had very deep pockets allowing them to fend off any attack someone might contemplate. But they also had one very small “Achilles Heel” – a lack of strict discipline in music programming.
They were not alone in the format as there was a relatively new-to-the-format station in town that was very strategically oriented – and more disciplined.
Both stations used extensive strategic research. Both stations played similar “Power” and “Secondary” songs. Both played “Lunar” rotation songs for variety. It was this third category that was the narrow point of attack for their competitor. Both stations had different philosophies on how to present Lunar songs: the dominate station would play the newer releases they thought everyone would enjoy and a wider variety of gold that received less airplay over the years while their new competitor played songs that were well established from considerable air play over the years. Most radio station music programmers were tired of hearing these songs as they have been played to death in the minds of the music directors and they rationalized that listeners felt the same way.
Here’s where the competitor’s focus and discipline paid off big time. At the dominant station, the average “like-a-lot” and “like-some” totals of the newer songs and wider selection of Lunar gold records played was 20. This is because the newer songs hadn’t had time to establish yet and the “fresher” oldies based songs, though less tired, did not have as much passion with the audience.
On the new competitor station, the average “like-a-lot” and “like-some” totals was 40. In spite of the fact the programmers felt extreme discomfort playing those songs (feeling the songs were completely ‘burned’), they had the discipline to trust their instruments (research) and the laser-like focus to continue to attack on this narrow gap.
The Lunar songs were twice as popular on the competitor as on the dominant station (40 compared to 20 “like-a-lot” and “like-some” totals.) Lunars were approximately 35% of both station’s playlists. That meant that overall, the competitors music was 17.5% better than the dominant station's on average (50% of 35%.)
The luxury casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard were all built on a 6% spread. Within a few years attacking on this narrow distinction, the competitor took over the lead in the format by a margin of over 2 to 1. In fact, the former dominant station continued to lose audience to the newcomer and left the format a year later in major defeat.
Lest you think this was some weird anomaly, consider this information that The Research Group’s leader, Bill Moyes sent out to their clients in the mid-1980s.
The following phenomena are still true today:
Remember: nothing kills great advertising like a bad product.
- The average listener makes their decision on whether you will be their P-1 radio station based on the first 15 to 20 minutes or so that they listen. So every quarter hour of your programming has to be great.
- Of all the different things that would influence a listener to become a P-1 of the station, music is the most important (in a talk based radio station, the equivalent would be the information relevancy and desirability).
- The image “playing the best songs for your taste” correlates 3 times as much in forming P-1 status than does having a “fun morning show” or playing “lots of music”.
Both stations no doubt hammered "the best music" as their tag, yet it took listeners just one quarter hour to figure out for themselves which one was better.
This is why it's now pointless, if it ever was, to mindlessly repeat a slogan over and over.