Desire Paths: When Best Laid Plans Go Astray

June 12, 2019

Architects and planners regularly apply sound design principles to help pedestrians navigate public spaces. Despite their acumen and expertise, people also have their own ideas and like to blaze new trails.

While this can be maddening to some in the urban planning community, others find it fascinating and embrace it.

It’s been described as “collective disobedience.” It also reflects our innate desire to find the shortest distance between two points.

The response to these paths usually takes one of two forms.

The authoritarian approach typically involves “blocking it off with some type of obstacle – a fence, a bush, a pile of brush, a sharply (if, in this case, politely) worded sign” (as pictured above).

Meanwhile, the democratic approach is to observe and learn as people vote with their feet. It’s an approach typically found on college campuses, where new paths are made permanent with pavement. For example, places like The Oval at The Ohio State University shown below.

This democratic approach is certainly more iterative and collaborative, but it stops well short of blindly formalizing every whim of the crowd, which can lead to a chopped up and “manic accumulation of concrete.”

As it turns out though, adopting a democratic approach to urban design rather than fighting to maintain an old school authoritarian model will more effectively meet the conditions and realities of planning public spaces and communities in an emerging Climate Responsible world.

Relevance to Radio

All of this presents an interesting analogy to the ongoing evolution of media consumption. Long gone are the days of the authoritarian delivery model as exemplified by Walter Cronkite’s famous closing line on the CBS Evening News, “That’s the way it is.”

When it comes to music consumption, waiting to hear your favorite song has given way to on-demand access to an entire library that’s available on your phone or smart speaker. As a result, the best programmers, like innovative urban designers, continue to evolve.

Just as paving every foot path is not good planning or design, neither is blindly championing user driven content as we continue to see on social media along with brand safety concerns among advertisers.

The professional curation of great content delivered by trusted personalities who inform and entertain is incredibly important and powerful. In addition, while radio is sometimes criticized for being too corporate and authoritarian, flipping a format, launching a morning show, and spotlighting new music are all examples of a democratic approach to programming.

Whether it’s public spaces or listening to the radio, people vote with their feet. Ratings also help ensure a democratic approach to programming. Are people utilizing the available audio sidewalks or do programmers need to pave new ones? In the case of ESPN Deportes, the sidewalk is being removed altogether.

For our part, we’ve been encouraging listeners to create their own path with station contest times. Dating back to the days of faxed-in contest entries, mailed-in reply cards and continuing today with mobile activations, we invite listeners to customize their contest times on a listening grid.

These heavy listeners get the very real benefit of maximizing their chances of winning, while specifically thinking about where they can fit more occasions with the station into their work day and commute.

Concrete paths aren’t permanent and neither are station formats. By adapting to changes in listening behavior over time, radio remains the 800 pound gorilla of audio and the best place for advertisers to reach the employed consumers with money to spend.

On behalf of Catherine Jung, Doug Smith and everyone at DMR/Interactive, thank you for reading and working to drive radio forward.

Andrew Curran, President and COO


This is Your Captain Speaking: Lessons from 39,000 Feet

May 13, 2019

After 105 years of commercial aviation (including buzzing the beach to land in St. Maarten), airlines are the definition of a boom or bust industry. In recent years, low oil prices, a strong economy and favorable labor contracts have helped unleash robust profitability.

What has been their secret to success? For U.S. global heavyweights – Delta, American and United, it’s a strategic focus on those who matter most. Specifically, high value and frequent business travelers.

Even Southwest, the industry’s most consistently profitable airline for 45 years, has undergone a strategic shift as they aggressively compete for business travel.

According to American Airlines, business travelers represent just 13% of their total passengers, while delivering 50% of the revenue. As a result, business travelers generate 6.7 times more revenue than leisure passengers who fly the airline just once per year and see travel as a commodity.

Over the last few years, basic economy has gone bare bones as carriers have realized they aren’t competing with each other (in this tier of seats) for passengers who expect top notch service. Rather, they are competing with low cost carriers like Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit, where you pay a la carte for everything beyond the bare minimum.

Not All Passengers (or Listeners) Are Created Equal

Business travelers spend more and travel more often. Same is true for your heavy listeners. They consistently deliver more occasions and TSL. It’s not simply about executing on-air strategies that keep them listening longer. By definition they have more time to give and come back more often. The key to ratings and revenue is for your brand to win more of these occasions from the heavies.

For airlines, it’s why frequent flyer programs are such an important part of their strategy. In fact earlier this year, American Surprised & Delighted their Concierge Key members with gifts allowing them to say thank you in a unique and personal way.

Earning and keeping frequent flyer status is so important that Delta just made headlines with Reclaim My Status allowing elite customers to keep their Medallion status despite a downturn in travel following a life event.

Hold onto your flotation device, because according to Delta, “We’re always looking for new ways to take care of our customers and that includes injecting even more empathy into travel … Loyalty goes both ways.”

Speaking of empathy and focusing on what matters most to business travelers, Delta is also currently testing free wi-fi on its flights.

Like audio, aviation has grown exponentially in recent years with more than 42,000 cities around the world being connected by a direct flight. More than double the number from 20 years ago. Meanwhile, passenger counts have also increased from 1.5 billion to 4 billion annually.

Yet, by focusing on the few who matter most (business travelers who spend more and fly more often), legacy carriers are consistently generating billions in annual profits, despite increased low cost competition and online booking sites that help passengers find the lowest cost flights.

As you know from your own recent travels, flights have never been so full.

Delta’s Reclaim My  Status initiative is a great reminder of the upcoming changes in PUMM levels as the school year comes to an end.

Who are your most important working parents and what’s your strategy to interact with them directly off-air this summer? With school out, their listening patterns will predictably change, despite no loss of affinity for your station or Nielsen doing anything wrong.

It’s not just the end of the school year or the Christmas season that changes listening habits. Life events can happen at any time. One of our clients recently received a comment from a loyal listener in their database who mentioned a death in the family, which caused them to drop everything for a couple of weeks, including listening to the radio.

As life returned to normal, they started listening again and reached out to let the station know how nice it was to hear their favorite personalities again and how much they missed the connection. The sympathy card this listener is about to receive from the station will certainly be prominently displayed all summer, not to mention the conversations it will create about the station with family, friends and co-workers. Safe to say, our client will be the only brand sending a sympathy card.

In the immortal words of Delta Airlines, “Loyalty goes both ways.”

For its part, American isn’t worried about trying to super-serve the equivalent of their cume – the 87% of passengers who fly only once per year.

Their efforts are focused on the heavies who provide a disproportionate impact.

For radio, heavy listeners deliver on average 4x the occasions and TSL as light listeners. As a result, it’s another reminder that not all listeners (or airline passengers) are created equal.

In fact, merely capturing audience data is easy. It’s about building relationships and using data analytics to identify those who matter most today, so you can increase their occasions, while deploying a strategy to cultivate more heavy listeners including the ones you’ll need tomorrow to continue driving ratings and revenue.

On behalf of Catherine Jung, Doug Smith and everyone at DMR/Interactive, thank you for reading and working to drive radio forward.

Andrew Curran, President and COO