What’s Your Story?

Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” − Seth Godin


Apple has a story.  Budweiser has a story.  Nike has a story.  In-N-Out Burger has a story.  Most successful brands do.  They have a story beyond their “product” that has been burned into the minds of the consumer.

Microsoft doesn’t.  Microsoft is a utility program – a good one – but a utility program mostly purchased transactionally instead of emotionally. There aren’t a lot of positive Microsoft stories. Stories are what people remember.

Take that all down to the level of say, your radio station, and how does it translate?  Is there a story you tell everyone about the station – one that is about the music, but beyond the music at the same time?    Something that taps into your listener’s passion? Something that’s uniquely yours and not shared by other stations in the same format?

This post is a “how to” one.  Here are two people who can help:

The right story starts with the “why.”  Simon Sinek’s concept links well with media brands.  You just have to figure out why your station does what it does, and why people become fans. Chances are you can weave those into a terrific story.

You can also find help from author Donald Miller’s Storybrand site.  You may recall Miller from his book, “Blue Like Jazz.”  Someday, when I have enough time, I’m going to attend his sessions on building your brand’s story.  But I’ve already learned from him the value and importance of the right kind of story.

How Many Shades Of Blue?

What tribes are, is a very simple concept that goes back 50 million years. It’s about leading and connecting people and ideas. And it’s something that people have wanted forever.” – Seth Godin


As they often do, Fast Company provided a moment of insight and inspiration for me. It’s a story about naming a brand based on the color they use – especially the legion that use the color blue.

According to them, “If you are able to distinguish Facebook-sapphire from IBM-azure, then you are either incredibly observant or around these particular shades so often that they’ve seeped into subconscious associations.”

I wonder if that’s true with radio? We all want to think we are differentiated enough to have our own color of blue, but is it true? If we showed generic logos in our color and typeface, would they know us? Better yet, if we ran three air checks with the station name edited out, back-to-back with four from other stations, would we be differentiated enough to be recognized?

Here’s what I would say is the probable answer, “Your fans would, but it would be a struggle for everyone else. Your fans, your tribe, are the ones with the emotional connection, while everyone else is using you more as a utility. We’re not as different as we think to the more casual listener.

But differentiation actually isn’t the topic of this posting. It’s the common rallying cry that radio is a cume business, and success is proportional to the size of your cume. That may be true if your mass appeal, as the large cume is the boat in which your fans float in, but not so much if you’re not country, CHR, AC or talk. But sometime those stations are so mass appeal they get their success from being everyone’s number two station more than from a tribe.

Isn’t the key here to make sure the tribe is a larger one, so you have enough people to make a difference, but being distinctive enough so your tribe feel “special?” Otherwise you might be like smooth jazz, where the tribe was passionate enough to “vote” the station to success with a diary, but not large enough to sustain itself commercially in a PPM world.

There’s nothing wrong with having a large cume unless you’re sacrificing tribal distinction to get It. In the end it comes down your fans, who give you the preponderance of your listening. They want to feel special and they want to feel included.

Experience Over Performance?

“If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.” –  Jeff Bezos

BMW, who has been using the slogan “The Ultimate Driving Machine” for years, has decided to shelve it, according to The Wall Street Journal.  Somehow they’ve decided that the experience of driving the BMW, in the form of “joy” will yield more results than horsepower, handling, and acceleration.  They’re going to focus on how the BMW affects the consumer instead of the attributes of the car.

What an interesting idea.  So it would be like a radio station focusing on the intangible benefits of the station instead of the amount of music or a contest.  It would be like a “family friendly” station attaching itself to the emotional aspect instead of the intellectual aspect.  They’d quit talking about their “safe music” and start talking about how that makes the listener feel.  A rock station wouldn’t talk about rocking hard, and would instead focus on the value of being a “bad boy.”

Focusing on the experience created by listening to the radio station has been a continuing refrain from Goodratings for a few years.  Someone else can be family friendly or play hard rock, but if you focus on the experience it’s unique to your station.  As BMW said in the Journal article, it’s about the “value beneath the skin.”

Radio imaging is frequently one of the worst waste of times on radio.  It’s sloganeering at its worst, and meaningless hyperbole at the best.

The political people seem to understand better than we.  They call it “messaging.”  Here’s what WikiPedia says about political messaging:

The message of the campaign is what ideas that the candidate wants to share with the voters. The message often consists of several talking points about policy issues. The points summarize the main ideas of the campaign and are repeated frequently in order to create a lasting impression with the voters.

In politics the focus is on ideas, not “facts” or features.  Compare that with what you hear on the radio.

Listeners As Hostages

The corporate website is an unbelievable collection of hyperbole, artificial branding, and pro-corporate content. As a result, trusted decisions are being made on other locations on the internet. – Jeremiah Owyang

I was in a meeting with some broadcasters not too long ago, talking about the future of radio, when one of them said, “Radio will be fine, what other options do listeners have?”

It took me a few seconds of asking myself, “Did he really just say that,” to realize it’s not an uncommon belief.  Too often we radio people think of our listeners as hostages, people who have no other option than us.  Maybe that was somewhat true once, but it sure isn’t any more, they have so many choices and options that we can easily become irrelevant.

The Association Of National Advertisers revealed that brand experience and having a strong brand story were key to success now. Oh yeah, and a focus on the customer.  I’d modify that to be a focus on where the customer is going instead of where they’ve been.

The ANA annual convention was full of advertisers like McDonalds and Wal Mart explaining how they’re refocusing on the consumer to rebuild their business. Maybe that’s why Wal Mart just decided to carry caskets in store, but that’s another story.

Comments line those, and AOL offering Kevin Bacon as the anti-change agent, make me feel a little better about radio and it’s lack I’d “customer” focus. The ANA convention tales about the rests of more studies about consumers in this one meeting than all of radio probably did all of this year. We don’t need research, we have extraordinary mind-reading skills. Here, put this tin foil hat on and tell me about your listeners.

We’ve got to understand that content isn’t king, the listener is. It doesn’t start with us and our content, it starts with the listener.  But where the listener is going, not where they’ve been.  The entire media paradigm (yes, there’s that word again) has changed, and no one let’s you know about it better than Media Futurist Gerd Leonhard.  You can see his video, “Challenge Your Assumptions” on my website here.

You can’t believe the options your listeners have now, and will have in the near future.