We often think of habits in negative terms – addictions in our lives that are inherently unhealthy. Whether it's overeating, alcohol, or opiods, we are surrounded by forces that are habit-forming – and therefore, not good for us.
But then there's the habit of listening to radio – specifically, a favorite station, morning show, or personality.
And the good news is that if you've got a strong brand and you nurture it well, any station, show, or DJ can create a habit-forming radio routine. When a listener in a focus group or on the streets mentions they're “in the habit” of listening to your station, that's a good thing.
And we see this quantified every year in our Techsurveys. In our “Why Radio?” series, we offer a wide variety of potential positives to our respondents. For each, we ask them to designate whether it's a main reason, secondary reason, or no reason or all for listening to broadcast radio. Here's how it broke down this year:
Not surprisingly, music, personalities and other core radio benefits bob to the top of the list. But habit is designated as a key driver by half our sample. Now, keep in mind, this is a web survey primarily comprised of email database members. So, they already buy into broadcast radio.
But to see that many people pointing to habitual listening is noteworthy. It means that for many, radio is part of the fabric of their routines – whether they turn on the radio when they put on a pot of coffee in the morning, when they get to the job site, and to keep them company during commutes.
Nielsen reminds us that success in diaries and meters is often predicated on creating more “listening occasions.” And oftentimes, this is interpreted as strong teasing, TSL contests, and simply keeping the audience moving forward throughout the day or week.
But habitual listening is the ultimate occasion-building activity. Yes, there are the manipulative methods to keep listeners coming back – at least for a while. And then there's the organic way that has more lasting value and staying power. Yet, most programmers don't factor that in to their regimens or strategies. Benchmark bits, great content day in and day out, and brand consistency are all ingredients that lead to habitual listening.
To get a better sense of how radio brands can create routine listening, I consulted with a guy who literally wrote the book on habitual marketing behavior – Nir Eyal. His book – “Hooked” – sub-titled “How to Build Habit-Forming Products.”
Eyal has created a – the “Hook Model” – activities that many radio stations, PDs, and air talent are doing instinctively, but could execute even better to instill more habit-forming listening.
I've cherry-picked some key points from “Hooked” radio content creators should consider, whether they work in the commercial radio, public or Christian radio.
Radio has a strong foundation in what Eyal calls “The Habit Zone” – “a behavior that occurs with enough frequency and perceived utility.” And because radio listening is so closely attuned with a daily routine – waking up, driving to work, spending hour on the job, driving home – radio fits the model well.
1. Radio must solve problems – In “radio-ese,” that translates to entertaining and informing an audience the moment they seek out this type of content. It also goes to the emotional needs consumers have – loneliness, moodiness, escape. Go back up to the Techsurvey chart I posted and you'll see those same emotions show up with strong frequency among core radio listeners. When radio is on its game, it provide companionship, mood elevation, and other “emotional problem solvers.”
2. “Triggers” help form habits – Eyal writes about external triggers (paid advertising), earned triggers (press releases, news coverage), relationship triggers (word of mouth), and owned triggers (email newsletters, apps, etc.). The problem with paid and earned triggers, of course, is they require repeated investment in dollars to continue working. They mostly function as steroids. And most radio brands no longer market in a consistent way, limiting the power of these external triggers.
But relationship triggers are why we measure each station's Net Promoter Score in each and every one of our Techsurveys. It's how we determine each brand's power of word of mouth – a key determinant in building habit. And then there are those owned triggers – email, apps, and even social media – where most radio brands have a checkered track record.
3. Emotional foundation – Eyal points out the need to know how listeners feel – not just “which stations play too many bad songs along with the good ones.” Great brands soothe a listeners pain by “laying claim to a particular feeling.”
In radio research and marketing exercises, we're taught to own format hills – THE Country Station, THE Classic Rock station, THE News Authority. But we've learned from Spotify playlist creation that most people use emotions to describe their self-programmed music collections.
The true “hills” radio broadcasters should be seeking to own are more along the lines of:
- Nostalgia – The station that takes me back to the good old days
- Relaxation – The station that calms me while I work
- Escape – The station that makes my commute tolerable with humor
- Assurance – The station that lets me know the world didn't blow up last night
- Energy – The station that rocks my world with with its upbeat music/attitude
4. Timing is everything – Eyal notes the importance of what the audience is doing by time of day in order to apply triggers (promos, language) that answer those feelings and needs.
5. Do a walk-through – Jacobs Media has done this a number of times in our ethnographic research – that is, spend an entire day with a consumer, watching how she uses various media and gadgetry at different times of the day. Eyal recommends the same thing – consider the path most listeners take each day, how it compares to what the competition offers, and how well your radio station meets those audience needs. The people below are from the original “Bedroom Project” we conducted with Arbitron back in 2007. They were amazingly insightful conversations and observations with young people using media.
6. Be different – Eyal says it clearly, “To hold our attention, products must have an ongoing degree of novelty.” There are too many radio brands on the air with a “novelty deficit.” There's nothing about them – the music they play, their personalities, their local connection that sets them apart. Thus, habits never form. Consolidation has led to more format duplication than it has format innovation. In a world of infinite exposure to music and talk, rethinking radio's limited “Wheel of Formats” makes sense. It's hard to become a habitual listener of the market's third Country station.
7. Connect with others – Thinking about loyal radio stations audience as “tribes,” one of the benefits from being in a group of like-minded and like-mooded people is connectedness with other people. The best brands – the heritage Rock station, the public radio News/Talk station, the Christian music station – often brings its audience together with the radio station in the form of events, open houses, and through social networks.
8. One-on-ones – Eyal recommends a sit-down with 5 customers in an open-ended setting to get at the emotional connection they have with your station (or others). Of course, this can be Listener Advisory Board groups (where doubling that sample is advisable).
But the real truth might emerge when you sit down with listeners in a one-on-one setting with no other people around. Letting them talk about how the radio works with them (or fails to) through a typical day (as well as weekend) speaks to how radio stations can fill an emotional needs in people's lives.
Habit is radio's best friend. If we understand it, we can nurture it, and grow it.
A synopsis of “Hooked,” courtesy of Medium and S1 Quan Ong is here.
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 1,200 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.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.
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