The Future Comes To Those Who Make It

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Abraham Lincoln

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When you’re walking along the beach, early in the morning, everything past the waves on the beach is invisible. You know there’s an ocean out there, but due to the fog bank, you can’t see it. Just like you know there’s a future out there, but you can’t see it.

This is where so many visions fail. The people involved can’t see past the fog bank, so they avoid anything about the future, missing the people on the small fishing boat and the ocean liner carrying passengers to far away places.  There’s a critical shortage of the Christopher Columbus’, John Glenn’s and Elon Musk’s who saw a future and made it happen.

Some of this is a simple vision block, we tell ourselves we don’t have a vision and so concentrate on the tactics that wind up taking us nowhere.  But some of it is also because we’re so tactically oriented that we don’t take the time to dream.  We think we have to be in a state of constant busyness – and you know what they say about a body in motion staying in motion.

Finally, there are those who think that planning gets in the way of a grander scheme to which we’re only a part of.  There’s an almost Biblical ban on strategy because it could get in God’s way.  I could be wrong, but I subscribe to what a famous dreamer, Galileo once said, ” I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, intellect and reason intended for us to forgo their use.

The perfect way to predict the future is to create it.  There’s a wonderfully simplistic, strategic sense to that, Abe.

How Are You Doing In RLRT?

“If a brand is to really make a connection and to spark word of mouth, they must speak to the customer like a friend.” – John Moore

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You know, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and the others can be quite seductive. You post something, get some responses, a few forwards and it feels like you’ve really accomplished something. And you probably do accomplish…something. But we don’t yet understand what a “like” means or if “thumbs up” means more listening.  At a recent radio conference Mark Ramsey reviewed a study that showed no correlation between Facebook likes and success.

In books like The Passion Conversation” and “Face To Face,” and several independent research studies, it becomes clear that over 80% of word of mouth conversations happen in RLRT, or “Real Life, Real Time.”  That should get your attention.

So instead of social media it’s digital interaction, and the smart people will be planning for the bigger picture rather than just the smaller picture one.  Effective must overcome easy.

I know online interaction is easier to do, and I know it reaches a lot of users, but it overlooks the human or people part of the equation. The more effective interactions come from people to people efforts.

When Brant Hanson of Air1 decided to have the staff and band greet the listeners as they arrived for a concert, walking down a red carpet to their seats, that was human social interaction. Those people didn’t just attend, they bonded. When country stations do backyard barbecues with artists, they’re not just getting together for food, they’re bonding in a human way.

If you haven’t read “The Passion Conversation” you need to. It’s written by an acquaintance of mine, and someone I’ve talked about in the past, John Moore, along with some really smart people from a group called Brains On Fire.  It really is about building passion, and that happens most often in RLRT.

Taking A Risk

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” – Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, USN

The hurricane was somewhere between a category 3 and 4.  Out on deck you had to tie yourself to a rope to make sure you didn’t get swept overboard.  On a flat bottomed amphibious ship the tossing and turning were even worse.  But oddly enough I had the time of my life.  It was great to go out to the flying bridge and look forward to where one moment you had to look up to see the sky, and the next all you saw was sky.

That wasn’t the safest place the USS Raleigh could be.  But it was, after all, what the ship was designed for.  At the time I didn’t think about it, but it was my reaction to the hurricane -bring it on – that made the difference in the experience for me.

Which is one of the reasons radio faces some huge challenges.  The listener “experience” has become stale and predictable.  We’re mostly tied up at the pier, not sailing out for anything adventurous.  We’re more likely to copy an old idea and dress it up so we can label it innovative then we are to actually innovate.  We’re confused because what once was compelling content is now the norm, and we’re not sure, or think we can’t afford to be “unsafe” with the kind of innovation that’s compelling content today.  It’s different, it’s a change, and we’re all having some angst over that.

Innovation calls for a peek into the future, a perhaps risky move to help create the future instead of relive the past.  Much harder than most other things we have facing us.  But if we can’t break out of the safety of our own “box,” we may not have a successful future.

So start with something small, something easy, where you can try something new.  Graduate up to bigger and bigger ideas so that one day you’re changing the face of imaging, or personalities, to finally crafting a vision for the future.

Don’t imitate – innovate.  Don’t be so safe, step out, irritate, disrupt, and do something truly compelling.

 

 

A Cold Harsh Reality For Radio

“When you can’tchange the direction of the wind – adjust your sails.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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The radio world is buzzing about my friend Eric Rhoads email “A Cold, Harsh Reality for Radio” at the session at Convergence discussing the future of the digital, converged dash. The comment was made that, “AM and FM are being eliminated from the dash of two car companies within two years and will be eliminated from the dash of all cars within five years.”

Eric loves to shock people and tell them their life as they know it is over. Five years ago at a staff meeting in Rocklin he made a speech saying there wouldn’t be radio in five years. He does that because he has been trying to get people to pay attention to what was ahead for at least 10 years, but mostly people didn’t want to hear it. He’s become much more blunt as we kept moving down the line to the moment of change. I think he’s finally gotten people’s attention. And his case is being proven.

Yes, the “radio” in the car is changing. Showing my age again, I remember when there was only AM radio in the car. Then car manufacturers added FM. No one believed the sky was falling, instead they just began creating content for the new reality of FM.

The turnover cycle for automobile is several years…something Eric once told me ahh…several years ago. What that means is it takes years for sell enough cars to replace technology. Some of the low cost deals and specials from the auto industry may have accelerated that.

As we saw at the December Arbitron conference, there is an organization working with auto manfacturers to design the digital dashboard. Sirius, iHeart and Pandora are all represented in the digital dash, because they have made it a priority and actually done something other than play Chicken Little. Many of us chose not to be a part of that dialogue.

Here are some other things to consider:

* For the majority of people, streaming radio is available right now through a mobile device. I don’t think that will change, because my mobile device will always be more customized to me and my likes than anything in a car.
* Radios will not be eliminated from all cars in five years. At worst what’s now called a radio won’t be in NEW cars in five years.
* As often happens, I’m not sure anyone has really taken the time to find out what the consumer thinks of radio disappearing from the dash. Not having something I’ve always used may not be met with as much excitement as the manufacturers seem to think.
* While everyone is focused on the absence of radio from the digital dashboard, the auto companies are also working on putting unwired Internet in the car. That will allow any station that streams to gain entry. Still think the cost of streaming is too high

Like Eric, I’ve been talking about the future for years. I’m sure my clients thought I was obsessed. Now it’s happening, the comfortable radio business we’ve known for 50 years is changing. Change can be hard, but like the wind it’s neither good or bad. It’s our response to this than makes it good or bad. It’s our choice to either give up and accept what happens, or change how we see radio today in favor of what radio will look like in the future. It’s different, but only impossible if we sit and do nothing. Even if some auto manufacturers do eliminate radio from the dash in two years, it will be several years before we are seriously impacted. We have time to plan and act.

Which takes me to what Mark Ramsey talked about last week. Simply, the conversation shouldn’t be about what platform we’re on, it should be about how compelling our content is. Not how good it is, but how compelling it is. And that’s where the true failure will be, understanding the difference between between creating and copying. . The difference between differentiated and sound-alike. The difference between compelling and good enough. I’m not sure there’s enough commitment to those principles. Many of us are more likely to just keep on doing what we’re doing on other platforms, as if that will make the difference.

None of us will escape the results of what was discussed at Convergence, but we can adjust our sails to the wind.

The Future Is Yours To Write

“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” – For What it’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield

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As I sit in my hotel room in Mexico,watching the waves come in I find myself pondering radios future…because it’s my future too. But as Buffalo Springfield says, it ain’t exactly clear. My friend Mark Ramsey blogged about that every thing recently, and thinks there are two stories running in radio broadcasters heads.

The first story is “one where radio reacts reflexively to claims that “nobody cares about radio anymore” with evidence to the contrary. It’s one where broadcasters illustrate radio usage as being as great or greater than ever despite the huge number of distractions consumers have today that never existed before. It’s a story where we attack the new competitors as being “outside” our category or being “less than” radio in one way or another. As the attention and interest surrounding radio alternatives rises, we go for the jugular. We recognize that advertisers are attracted by these shiny baubles and fear the notion that they will take their dollars, previously earmarked for us, and devote them to these new ideas.”

This is a story of “if I close my eyes no one will see me.”. That worked when we were kids worried about monsters in the room at night, but it’s pretty delusional for adults of today. Even if it’s not exactly clear, there is something happening here.

The second story is one where radio welcomes new competitors because in the cold, harsh light of day those competitors may earn a seat at the table, but it’s still the kids’ table. And smart broadcasters know that these competitors will simply make their industry better, because that’s what competitors do.

This is the story where radio acknowledges that while reach is still awesome, folks are not listening to radio as much as they used to and that’s okay. Why? Because it’s not radio’s fault – it’s not because radio’s “bad.” It’s the “fault” of the zillions of alternative ways people spend their time nowadays and it’s why NO mass medium has the same intensity of usage it had 20 years ago. So get over that. The listenership is not going to iPods or Pandora or wherever. In fact, it may not be listenership that’s going anywhere. It’s time that’s going places. And time will follow whatever fun and entertaining things can fill that time, whether those things are audio-only or not.

Being a change agent, I chose the second story. In the 70’s it was pretty much radio only…if fact AM radio only. We were in control and could do what we want. Then came FM, and later on Al Gore invented the internet. Oh yes, then Steve Jobs put music on the telephone. A whole new playground. There are now hundreds times more attention grabbers than there were in the 70’s. And…wait for it…things aren’t going to get any less distracting. People aren’t going to drop other media to return to their one true love, radio.

Let’s forget about radio for a minute and think about people instead. We all know there are people who only want the music, and nothing else. Focusing intently on the music and paying scant attention to everything else will only hasten our demise. Others, like Pandora, have an on ramp for those people because it is only music… we don’t. Those people are going to go to any media that gives them their music without talk. We aren’t going to change that. Then we have the attention deficit disorder generation who actually are going to chase after the newest thing. We can’t change that either.

So what can we do to continue success? Forget the past and focus on a future rooted in the reality of today. Stay focused on people, the listeners who are loyal, and what they want. No, really, what they want. The reasons they listen to you beyond the music. The actual essence of the brand. You need to figure out how to be magnetic enough to draw listeners away from other sources, to you.

One answer goes to people, and by that I mean your people, the ones at the station. If listeners can get your music elsewhere, the number two success element of the station is who is on-air and who backs them up. That’s another blog for another time, but the answer to writing your future starts with forgetting the good old days and paying attention to the realities of today. Music is the foundation, the stage everyone else performs on, the start of your brand. But it’s not the only part of your brand.