I have to tell you that of all the things I’ve been involved with in my professional life, especially since forming Jacobs Media 30 years ago, DASH ranks right up there. We hit a “responsive chord” (as Tony Schwartz called it) as evidenced by the nearly 300 engaged professionals who showed up in Detroit last week.
Representing companies as diverse as Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Chrysler, Panasonic, Pioneer, Mindshare, Initiative +, Nielsen, ESPN, NPR, Pandora, Slacker, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Aha, and of course, leaders and managers from dozens of radio companies (who are now a few steps ahead of the game), I can tell you there was a lot of IQ and brain power in that room, constructively discussing today’s challenges and tomorrow’s possibilities.
(Above, WWJ/Detroit’s Jeff Gilbert, GM’s Greg Ross, Pioneer’s Ted Cardenas, Panasonic’s Hakan Kostepen, and Toyota’s Wayne Powell.)
DASH wasn’t just a conference about new technology. Attendees heard some common themes from the auto experts that apply very much to radio’s challenges: differentiation, innovation, listening to consumers, and building a great experience. Believe me when I tell you that every radio person in that room was taking notes.
They weren’t chasing a myth or the next bright shiny object. For both automotive and radio broadcasting, it doesn’t get any more real than the “connected car.”
There have already been some thoughtful reviews and analyses written about DASH. Eric Rhoads – our partner for the conference – put together a great post and you can access it here.
And Canadian journalist, music geek, and analyst Alan Cross was also in the house, and wrote a thoughtful, smart and savvy Top 10 list of his own. Read it here.
I have my own set of takeaways as the resident Detroiter on the DASH partner team, so here’s my are my key takeaways from the conference:
- The next big thing is your dashboard – Consumers are excited by these systems, and they’re driving dealership traffic. Larry Rosin presented videotaped interviews with owners of “connected cars” and you could clearly see the impact these systems are having on content choices. They need to be simpler and more intuitive, but the reality is that they’re here. New car sales in the U.S. will easily top the 15 million mark this year, and according to GM’s Greg Ross and Toyota’s Wayne Powell – both of whom participated in a key DASH panel – most of those vehicles will be “connected” in some way. As one panelist humorously noted, the new dashboard is “the most expensive iPhone accessory ever built.”
- What’s the difference? – The automakers are working hard to create and refine their systems – and there is no standard. For the foreseeable future, it’s every OEM for themselves, and that doesn’t count companies like Pioneer and Panasonic, both of whom were represented at DASH. And that urge to be different and compelling needs to permeate over to the content creation side of the street. What’s different and unique about your brand, and why should “connected car” owners take the trouble to find your content?
- Personality matters – Our local Detroit DJ panel made a compelling – and entertaining – case for the power of “live and local.” But they also urged the broadcasters in the room to take risks and try new things. Great advice from the air studio, and something that every broadcaster should hear loud and clear. We have said this many times in this blog, but broadcast radio is no longer just going at it with in-market stations for ratings – the larger competitive landscape now covers an almost infinite array of choice. Defining the “why” of your station brand is at the heart of the challenge.
- What’s new? – From the automotive companies to digital channels, everyone’s working hard to create new and different offerings to charm and captivate consumers. As Larry Rosin noted about the new dashboards, they offer “a barrage of new.” This is an area where radio lags behind. Familiar, dependable, and consistent radio brands have their value, but in this environment, broadcasters need to address the question of “what’s new?” and get serious about innovation, R&D, and investment.
- It’s not easy – A number of DASH sessions made the point that getting your content in the dashboard is no simple task. Our very last session featured Ford’s Scott Burnell interviewing NPR’s Sarah Lumbard and iHeartRadio’s Brian Lakamp. They thoughtfully addressed the high degree of difficulty of approaching OEMs with cogent, compelling proposals of partnership. Both Lumbard and Lakamp were articulate and passionate in their descriptions of this arduous task. Broadcast radio is not simply going to swoop into this space, talk about how great it is, and create new partnerships. It requires a lot of work.
- The Gen Y conundrum – Several of the auto executives at DASH acknowledged the challenge they face with Millennials, some of whom are putting off buying vehicles in favor of public transportation. Panasonic’s Hakan Kostepen noted that no company has the ability to change a generational mindset. But there is also confidence the automakers are working hard to research and create products that will appeal to Millennials. And let’s get real about the numbers: while more than half of New York City residents take mass transit to work every day, only one in ten Los Angelinos takes a subway or bus to work. And in metros like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and Miami, it’s less than that. Maybe some Gen Yers would like to ride a bus to work, but in most markets in the U.S., it’s not possible or desirable. On the radio side of the street, a more proactive, realistic approach to understanding and targeting Millennials would be smart. In this case, radio’s leaders could benefit from the approach the automakers are taking in addressing this challenge head on.
- Sales challenges – One key aspect of DASH was showcasing car dealers who are the true contact points with consumers and their “connected cars.” As we saw, their sales and marketing priorities have changed, and radio may have missed a memo or two. While some are focusing on that dealer from Grand Ledge who has totally moved away from radio as an advertising vehicle, they may be missing the larger point – this is a time for the radio industry to decide to go all-in on the “connected car” and to redefine its relationships with OEMs and the people on the front lines selling and servicing cars – the dealers. Radio sellers need to take a step back and actually listen to what moves the needle at dealerships, and then determine how they can uniquely meet those needs.
- Intersection spawns innovation – Dozens of leaders from the automotive industry came to DASH for one reason – they are interested in the radio business. They wanted to see first-hand what radio is thinking and creating because they simply don’t know us. Valerie Shuman’s roundtables introduced attendees to the concept of collaboration. I think most of them would tell you they enjoyed hanging out with professionals from different industries. So now what? Will radio go back to business as usual or are we going to commit to working together as two storied industries with a deep history? Are we going to take the business cards that were exchanged at DASH, pick up the phone, and start the process? Is the radio industry serious about engaging with automakers once this conference’s glow begins to fade? And that leads us to…
- A consortium? – It was first floated at the Arbitron sponsored “Radio & The Connected Car” session at The Radio Show in Orlando last month, featuring Strategy Analytics’ Roger Lanctot (a big presence at DASH) and me. Greater Media’s Peter Smyth suggested it at DASH. But it will require more than the formation of a group and a logo, as evidenced by the HD Radio Alliance’s checkered path. We frankly needed more participation at DASH from the heads of radio companies, and if a consortium is to be successful, it will require more than lip service. Radio broadcasting CEOs need to show up, invest, and make this a priority. Otherwise, the results are predictable, leading to yet another missed opportunity.
- Take a drive – It is stunning to realize how few radio broadcasters own or have ever driven a “connected car,” experiencing precisely what consumers are seeing, thinking, and feeling when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle equipped with SYNC, Entune, CUE, or UConnect. Before the end of 2013, I strongly advise you to buy, lease, rent, or test drive a “connected car” and see for yourself just how this technology is rocking our world.
- You need to be there – Will there be another DASH? We’ll see. If you’re just reading various summaries from DASH (like this one) or tweets from #DASHaudio, I can tell you that being in that room was an entirely different experience. We hope our efforts in the “connected car” space stimulate radio broadcasters to show up for events like the Consumer Electronics Show and automotive conferences. As we have pointed out the past, they are typically devoid of radio executives, and that’s a missed opportunity.
On the first day of DASH, Toyota’s Wayne Powell said it best when thinking about how the automobile industry succeeds:
“Our business is all about partnerships. We are a car company. We are not necessarily experts in media or the internet. We have to have good partners.”
The time is now for radio to step up and answer the bell. Thanks to those of you who supported DASH.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.