So, I’ve been involved with audience research for radio, TV, and digital now for a long time. Those of you who know me and have worked with our company are probably aware that my first job in the business was as a project director for the well-known media research company – Frank N. Magid Associates.
But the research flame was lit years earlier when I was a grad student at Michigan State. The only required course was a research methods class – and believe me when I tell you I had absolutely no interest in taking it. I was heavily involved with audio production and radio at that time – editing tape, producing programs, and preparing myself for a career on the air or as a producer.
But the prof who taught this class – Dr. John Abel – was a charismatic guy, and he was a huge proponent of audience research. In short order, he provided me with the basic logic that programmers and marketers could produce better content with the help of well-crafted and executed audience research. That class led to a research grant from the N.A.B., opening the doors to a career that always embodied asking people their opinions.
In more than four decades of conducting research, I’ve never looked back. Research can’t tell you everything, of course. It’s especially limited when you’re testing something new that’s never been on the air. That explains why so many new shows, stations, and films fail – it’s virtually impossible to pre-test them.
But when you’re trying to understand basic perceptions and behavior, a great research study can explain an awful lot. And that’s one of the reasons why radio companies have commissioned research studies since the ’70s. Most stations in the top 100 markets are conducting research of one kind or another. It’s considered table stakes in the most competitive battles.
But the real motivation behind why people relish and appreciate audience research basically comes down to one thing:
I was reminded of that in a recent Fast Company article about SurveyMonkey, the online research tool that so many people inside and outside radio use to better understand their competitive landscapes. It was founded way back in 1999, and more than 9 in 10 Fortune 500 companies are clients.
The company hit a crossroads following the sudden death of their CEO, Dave Goldberg, in 2015. So they did what they advise all of us to do: conducted their own research survey among customers to better understand their client base.
If you believe in the insightful power of research, you study your own business. And in SurveyMonkey’s case, the results showed them companies are more motivated by basic sense of curiosity than they are about data that will drive this quarter’s decisions. To emphasize this emerging theme, SurveyMonkey even renamed the street in San Mateo, California, where their new building is located at One Curiosity Way.
And it’s that core quality – curiosity – that makes great CEOs and managers, especially in an ever-evolving environment. Ironically, the idea behind the “Monkey” in their company name was playing off the fact that simians are curious about everything. And of course, you remember the Curious George character from childhood storybooks, that little monkey that got himself in endless snafus and predicaments.
Great researchers will tell you it’s that thirst for curiosity that powers the surveys they put together. And curiosity is the motivator behind why we launched our Techsurveys back in 2004. Today, we conduct these massive email database-powered studies for commercial, public, and Christian radio. And they’re driven by that thirst for learning and wonder that SurveyMonkey has tapped into.
As I tell radio operators all the time, your email database is a potentially powerful tool that should be used for more than just blasting out your weekend programs or client coupons.
So hopefully to satisfy some of your curiosity, here are 5 basic rules of the research road to help guide your in-house efforts – studies that companies like SurveyMonkey have made simple and affordable:
1. Remember who you’re surveying
If they signed up to receive your emails, chances are the people in your database are pretty dialed into your station. That’s not a bad thing, but it also means these respondents aren’t representative of your entire cume. It’s the old 80:20 Rule at work, and that means you’re talking to the 20% that drives a lot of listening. They’re also the people who show up at your events, play your contests, and provide you with feedback. So knowing what they think is a good thing, but it’s important to keep in mind they’re not necessarily reflective of your larger audience.
2. Ask actionable questions
Of course, the entire idea of being curious about your audience suggests asking questions that you’ve always wondered about. But that said, focusing on perceptions and opinions that can help guide your efforts, rather than skywriting about things that have little do with the mission, is what turns out to be most productive in audience surveys. Stay focused, and ask yourself what you would do with the results from each question – before you ask it.
3. Get some help
Just because a tool like SurveyMonkey is available for a very reasonable rate doesn’t mean just anyone has the ability to be a researcher. Get a second set of eyes preferably from someone who’s written questionnaires and analyzed data before. I do this type of “proofreading” for our clients, because with any type of survey research, it’s garbage-in-garbage out. It also makes sense to run a brief pre-test before you click “enter” and send the survey to your entire database. A small sample of guinea pigs can quickly inform you whether your questions make sense, and whether there are flaws no one caught.
4. Be discreet with your data
It’s important to keep in mind that when you survey the audience, they’re going to learn what you’re curious about. And that means the competition very likely will, too. Chances are, they’ve signed up for your database emails. So ask questions with the sense in mind that like social media, a web survey is something that just about anyone is likely to see. And then be sure not to leave your printouts around the station on unattended desks or in the copy machine. You’d be surprised how often research makes its way around the station – data that should have been locked up in desks that can cause serious problems.
5. Time is on your side
That first survey is exciting, but it also lacks perspective. What’s a good score? What’s a low familiarity number? And is the data being suppressed because the local baseball team in town is running away with the division race this season? You learn a lot about your audience by surveying them over time, creating what we call trackability by asking some of the same questions during every project. That perspective is essential to satisfying your curiosity and making smart decisions.
While your direct competition up and down the radio dial may or may not be fielding research of their own, your “outside competitors” – SiriusXM, Spotify, Pandora, and every other digital company – definitely are, using teams to pore over user data, gaining a better understanding of their worlds – and yours.
The research tools are there to help you better define your changing landscape.
So get curious.
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.