As a wise man once said, “Big wheel keeps on turning.”
It's a famous line in music that's a metaphor for the world in which we live.
Change is inevitable. We cannot stop it. Our job is to adjust, to be resilient as we can be, and figure out how to make it work for us.
In recent years of course, that big wheel is turning faster. Much faster. And we either adapt and innovate or we will simply get left behind. Not a pleasant thought, but a reality that history shows again and again that delay and/or miscalculations are fatal. That's the story behind the ultimate fails of Blockbuster, Kodak, Borders, and Toys R Us.
So even though you know this, let's review the “givens” as they exist right now today when it comes to where the media revenue is projected to come from. The statistical cold bucket of water below from Marketing Charts maps out our next several years.
There's not a lot of upside in swimming the wrong way here. A look at the newspaper and magazine projections tell us all we need to know. And the Yellow Pages are long gone.
But it's not as simple as “embracing digital” or committing to a “digital first” strategy. The digital devil is very much in the details.
As radio companies move headlong into the digital ecosphere, there continues to be much discussion about what types of digital assets stations should produce and market. There is no rule of thumb, of course, so we shouldn't be surprised that (as is often the case) many companies go their separate ways, carving out their own digital turf.
For some, it is services like SEM and SEO. For others, it's website design. Given the buzz over the last decade or so, several have gone the podcast route. Still others target website metrics with articles, videos, and other assets designed to aggregate page views.
Is there a “best practice?” Not especially. And like so many things in radio (clock/stopset design), there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the creation and execution of digital products.
But this is a very “researchable” area, at least as far as consumer behavior is concerned. Once you nail down how audience members typically behave online – and you net out the costs involved with conception and production – it ought to be much easier to decide what to make and how to market it.
Every digital product has its own degree of difficulty. For companies, it's often a matter of picking out the best and most strategic fits.
Podcasts, for example, have proved to be a tougher digital mountain for many broadcasters to scale. As we've learned (in many cases, the hard way), writing and producing a truly great podcast, or better put, a “hit” podcast is no easy task. It typically requires a unique concept (after all there are millions out there in the marketplace), exceptional writing, stellar production, and a proven marketing model.
At Morning Show Boot Camp last month, my presentation of AQ5 was followed by a fireside chat featuring Woody Fife (of “The Woody Show” fame) expertly interviewing his boss, Bob Pittman. They discussed a wide range of topics, particularly Pittman's amazing resume, featuring MTV/Vh1, Six Flags, AOL, and of course, his current leadership position at iHeartMedia.
When the topic of podcast success came up, Pittman explained there's a key reason why his company stands alone in the radio space as a flat-out success: iHeart uses their 800+ “megaphones” – the radio stations all over America – as his marketing machine.
If you're a medium market or smaller broadcaster, your ability to get the word out about your company's podcast is more likely to be stunted by your lack of marketing scale. And so it goes for every digital platform.
Broadcasters need to answer basic, but important questions. What are the factors to consider when building a digital content company or division? How can you make educated decisions that won't hurt your standard operating procedure of running your legacy company?
Our experience is that it often comes down to honestly answering these four questions:
1. How easily can you “digitize” your online audience? That is, it's one thing to generate downloads or page views. But retaining email addresses for your millions (hopefully) of consumers is the gift that keeps on giving. Being able to communicate with and market to these users long after an initial visit or signup is pure gold whether you're in public, commercial, or Christian radio.
To our detriment, radio broadcasters are conditioned to depend on the ratings to generate revenue. Digital media operators, on the other hand, are exponentially more knowledgeable about their audience. Nielsen simply tells us how many are listening, when they're listening, and how long they stay tuned in. But radio knows precious little about who they are and how they behave, aside from those big boxcar categories like Women 35-54 or Adults 25-34.
If radio doesn't know who is listening, it cannot adequately monetize them, much less account for them in ROI analyses for clients. Your most successful digital efforts not only will deliver audience to marketers, but they will provide key metrics that can precisely identify your users and how they behave. It is not enough to amass downloads or page views. You goal should be to obtain those digital fingerprints as often and as seamlessly as possible.
2. How difficult is it to create this content? Does it require a high degree of expertise? Does it strain the company and its core operations? Does it rely on teams of people, some of whom need to be highly compensated? And is it scalable? That is, are you back to Square One all the time – a clean slate – where you have to continue creating and generating content virtually from scratch? Or is there a duplicatable process that makes it relatively easier to sustain your digital efforts?
Too often, broadcasters have grossly underestimated how challenging it is to make competitive content in new media spaces. And it has led to some epic fails.
3. Does your audience already engage in this activity? If you're making podcasts, what is the reach and frequency of podcast consumption among your current on-air cume audience? Are they already regular users of other podcasts, so it's just a matter of enticing them to listen to yours? That is, is your digital product already in their media wheelhouse or do you need to find users elsewhere? The latter, of course, is a tougher road to hoe.
4. Is your time horizon realistic? Just as broadcasters have learned how hard it is to make new media content, it often takes time to build an audience in a new space. When legacy operators become fixated on how fast an investment starts throwing off revenue, they often lose sight of the climb it takes to achieve a digital hit, whether it's a podcast, a streaming radio station, or a video channel.
These four questions are best left to those of you insiders embedded in your organization. Outsiders like me can ask them, but you're in the best position to assess challenges and opportunities.
You know your people, their capabilities, and how stretched they already may be. While every piece of content comes with its own unique recipe for success, one thing is for sure: when it comes to making competitive digital products, the ones that truly attract attention and consumer action, there are few shortcuts and workarounds. Just like making “radio,” they require a base level of quality that only comes with planning, investment, time, and talent.
Tomorrow, let's get specific. Let's take a look at digital products that meet the above criteria, but may be flying below radio's radar. Our goal should be a relentless focus on digitizing audiences, creating compelling content as seamlessly and efficiently as possible, and mirroring digital behaviors our consumers are already engaged in. If we can marshal our efforts around these strategic endeavors, we can not only generate more revenue, we can play the digital game, and we can do it without disrupting the parent organization.
In other words, we don't have to reinvent the digital wheel. As a consultant, if anyone understands repurposing or reimagining someone else's success, I do. It's a talent and a skillset, and at times like this, it becomes a core activity.
Sound like a heavy lift? Not really. In the big scheme of things, it may just play right into your brand's sweet spot.
Or you may identify something I miss while you check off the above boxes.
That big wheel may keep on turning, but when you harness its strength and power, it can be a powerful force that can redefine your company.
See you tomorrow…with solutions.
On Thursday, Paul Jacobs, along with Saga's Katie Gambill, Audience's Creighton Green, and Now! Media's Tony Garcia will talk about successful ways of “digitizing” the audience at Radio Ink's Radio Masters Sales Summit in Cincinnati.