Things are moving ever so quickly here in the U.S. as the entire population seems to actually agree on one thing:
Let's get back to normal.
We may have different paths about how to get there. But no matter where you stand on the big issues of the day, most people have a deep-down desire to take advantage of our changing COVID fortunes and return to their pre-pandemic lives.
It's hard to miss on the radio, especially in larger markets: concerts and even festivals are being announced on seemingly a daily basis. Everyone wants to touch their fans, perform on stage, and start cash flowing again.
Who can blame them, especially last year – or better put, a lost year for most musicians, and to a great degree, radio stations.
But all that may be changing…and quickly. As the CDC's mask mandate is lifted, and the U.S. inches its way toward the 70% vaccination mark, that desire for normalcy gets stronger and more powerful.
Last week alone, concerts, festivals and events were announced, one after the other. Promoters and planners will need to get the word out, and radio will no doubt garner its share of revenue in the process. But as any musician will tell you, there's more on the table than just ticket sales. There's a palpable urge to make up for the lost year. Among other things, fan engagement and merch sales are also up for grabs.
Radio finds itself in much the same boat. Yes, a robust rebound in advertising sales is, of course, critical as the recovery takes shape. But radio stations representing all formats have missed out on the opportunity to personally connect with fans in concert halls, sporting arenas, bars, clubs, charity events, and any place where the station van can go.
And then there's merch – part of radio's marketing and promotion fabric a couple of decades ago. But somehow over time, the industry has lost its merch mojo. Most stations do very little in the swag department. It has simply fallen off the revenue radar screen, despite the advent of online stores that diminish the financial liability of unsold T-shirts, hats, and koozies piling up in the prize closet.
That's too bad because when there's a special occasion – a birthday, anniversary or special event – that's the perfect excuse to design and market your own line of memorabilia.
While many in radio may be a little slow on the merch uptake, musicians totally get it. For so many artists and groups, physical music sales have dwindled. That has left concert tickets and merch as viable revenue generators. Except that both of these marketing sources were strangled by the pandemic.
So, now that the rebound is gaining momentum, imagine how the merch will fly off the shelves and hangers this summer (and fall) as fans scoop up commemorative shirts, hats, and everything else that proves their presence on the day the music came back from the dead.
Radio could and should cash in on the unbridled joy fans will undoubtedly bring to these shows. The groundwork is already there. Back in 2019 we asked the question in that year's Techsurvey – would fans buy station merch if it were available?
More than one in four (27%) said they absolutely would. And when we broke it down by format, we got to see some fascinating differences in merch interest among format fans. In fact, there was heightened desire to purchase station logowear among fans of Urban AC, Rhythmic Urban, Variety Hits, Country, and Classic Rock. How's that for a diverse group of radio listeners?
Sizable groups of radio station fans have the desire to sport the team colors, even nearly one in five devotees of News/Talk radio.
And this past week, Spotify released a first-ever “fan study,” aggregating data from myriad areas to provide a guide for musicians looking to get better at the art and craft of distributing, marketing, and monetizing their music.
“Spotify For Artists” is a slick piece of work, loaded with data, articles, and insights for musicians. The data visualization and cool packaging is worth your time, and the observations aren't just for people who make music – many apply to those of you who make radio.
There's a section on merch – tips on opening an online store as well as a hierarchy of the merch items fans of various music genres have purchased in the past few years. Would this data apply to radio formats? I'm hard-pressed to see why not.
The chart below illustrates the pecking order of merch among fans of Hip-Hop and Rock – two very different genres (formats):
Spotify has put together this beautiful package of knowledge and best practices for artists. For radio programmers and marketers, there's a lot to learn here as well.
And along the way of researching today's blog entry, I ran across a great guide by Sell Merch, sponsored by a full-service online merch retailer, Spreadshop. That's Sell Merch's cool illustration at the top of this post. While most of the resources are geared to musicians perhaps just getting started, their best practices and guidelines apply to any radio station or show with an enthusiastic fan base.
The Sugo Group lists 10 merch store solutions that any band – or station – can use to compare and contrast how these e-commerce engines are structured and how they perform.
Merch is just one area where radio broadcasters would be wise to go back to school. There is money to be made, as well as marketing benefits that can be derived by leaning into this opportunity.
As normalcy returns and people celebrate their lives, radio can be part of the story – the comeback and the joy. Commemorating these moments with shirts, hats, vinyl, and other “shtuff” is what it means to seize that post-pandemic moment.
All the resources in the post are available below:
“Spotify For Artists” is here. Thanks to Steve Goldstein for sending it to me.
The Sell Merch guide from Spreadshop is here.
And the Sugo Music Group's list of merch stores is here.