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

Voice Command: Leveraging the Smart Home to Win the Connected Car

April 15, 2019

The combination of smart devices, mobile technology and voice command is changing consumer behavior before our very eyes.

Our homes have become a hub of smart and mobile technology impacting everything from TV viewing to changing the thermostat.  

Radio consumption is no exception. As Bob Pittman mentioned to Caroline Beasley, “Alexa turned out to be the new radio.”

Maximizing the Opportunity

While the internet provides for seemingly infinite capacity, human evolution has not kept pace. We are still limited by how many things we simultaneously pay attention to and create habits around in our daily lives.

As a point of reference, despite more than 2 million apps being available to download, people spend virtually all of their time with less than 10 apps, while their top 3 drive 80% of consumption. Three out of 2 million is the definition of a long tail.

Moving to the physical world, the limits of our mental capacity are alive and well. Research indicates that people across big cities and small towns visit just 25 places in the midst of their daily lives. In addition, despite the ability to have thousands of connections on LinkedIn and Facebook, offline, we only have active relationships with 150 people.

This never-ending digital abundance held in contrast with our scarcity of attention is a fascinating dynamic.

Leading the way in this fight for our attention and loyalty are the companies making the devices, notably Google, Apple and Amazon.

With all the promise of voice command, radio’s ability to generate Mind Share is going to be imperative. Not only is AM/FM radio offering curated, linear programming on a device built for on-demand personalization, but we’re competing to form habits and drive usage against every brand with a voice command strategy.

In addition, when voice commands are given to smart speakers, a single result is produced. Compare that to search results shown on a screen, which include multiple options both paid and organic. That means voice command becomes a winner takes all proposition.

While voice command skills need to work effortlessly, Top of Mind awareness comes first. Either your brand is asked for by name and you win the Moment of Truth or the occasion is lost.

Let’s Keep Our Eye on the Prize, We’re Playing with House Money

When it comes to fleeting attention spans and limited recall, radio’s position as the largest reach medium is a tremendous competitive advantage. People know us and love us.

Smart speakers around the house can be our development sandbox. 75% of radio consumption takes place outside the home. As a result, we can test and measure different voice command strategies that provide an incremental lift with more at-home listening, but the real win for radio will be when this smart home strategy carries over into the connected car and we continue to dominate drive time consumption.

In a world of global brands using chat bots and artificial voices to interact with consumers, radio’s local brands and real personalities will shine even brighter and provide a significant competitive advantage.

When it comes to who’s interacting with your station via voice command today, it’s your existing Super-Fans and P1s. According to Matt Bailey, president of Integr8 Research, “people who do still own a radio beyond their cars are four times more likely to stream a local FM station.” He continues, “Listeners who use radio do so because-they really like radio! … Instead of trying to win over the self-curation control freaks, or conversely the listeners who don’t care that much about music in the first place, radio should seek to maximize listenership from folks who already love radio.”

Further insight in this regard, comes from what we’ve discussed about heavy listeners for years. They give radio 31 occasions per week, compared with light listeners who provide just 7 occasions. As a result, your heavy P1s are the ones being consistently exposed to your smart speaker promotional inventory and email newsletter messages. These are the listeners who know your station inside and out, including their favorite benchmarks and when they air.

Remind them that if they get home early, they can still enjoy their favorite drive time feature, simply by pulling up the station on their smart speaker. Not only are you engaging those employed, heavy listeners who matter most to your ratings and revenue, but you’re actually generating more listening occasions. All that practice at home will continue to pay off as the competition for drive time and work place engagement increases.

These voice command insights will also help accelerate the development of habit formation as we acquire more heavy listeners by continuing to grow Mind Share for your local brands and win hard fought listening occasions.

We also know that even your best P1 listeners spend 94% of their lives away from the radio, so as you build momentum on the home front, your investment in an effective off-air messaging strategy related to voice command can be leveraged to accelerate momentum.

In the meantime, not generating sufficient traction with your voice command strategy? We can help drive Top of Mind awareness with those employed, heavy listeners who matter most.

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