If there's been a theme running through many of our most recent blog posts, it's been making your brand stand out – not just against other radio stations in town, but the myriad competitors radio broadcasters are now facing.
Spotify and Pandora, SiriusXM, Alexa and Google Voice, Joe Rogan and Michelle Obama, TikTok and Clubhouse.
Everywhere you look, radio is often being outgunned by technology – brands that are more innovative and future-focused, not to mention their thousands of employees and billions of dollars.
I've heard programmers, managers, and even owners lament about how radio can possibly compete against the likes of Amazon, Tesla, Apple, and other corporate behemoths that have built immense, multi-layered platforms. And oh by the way, these companies have the inside track on attracting – and compensating – the best and the brightest employees to their workforce.
Because that IS the mission – finding ways to stand out, connect, and engage your current audience, while attracting new users to the fold, even in an environment we couldn't possibly imagine just a couple of decades ago.
In the past, I've written about the concept of “high tech” and “high touch” – an idea popularized by Megatrends author John Naisbitt four decades ago. He realized that while technology would rock our world with amazing innovation and advancements, it can also be cold, detached, and impersonal.
Thinking about the ways in which brands interface with us, there are the hundreds of social media posts we scroll past every day. They're fine, of course, but they are also just a different form of “mass communication – a single tweet or post is designed to reach thousands or even millions of consumers. It's not easy to personalize them.
But your midday talent can post something interesting, funny, and hopefully, relevant. She can personally respond to everyone who engages with her. It takes more time to write a comment than it does to slap up an emoji or a GIF, but as we continually see in focus and L.A.B. groups, listeners are always impressed by any acknowledgement by the station, or even better yet, a personality.
It's similar with email. These are typically one-way communications between the station and thousands of folks who opted in to a database. Outside of the obviously machine-created “Dear Frederick” or “Hi, Jacobs” greetings (I get both of these a LOT), these communiques, by design, are awfully generic.
And they certainly don't leave a positive impression when they get your name wrong, or it is awkwardly used. If anything those hiccups signify the sender doesn't get it.
And after all, while we love the efficiency – time and financially – of the “email blast,” it has become exponentially more difficult for brands to get noticed with these mass messages. That's because most of us receive a high volume of emails every day, seven days a week. Some of us get well more than 100 emails a day.
When you skim them to filter out which are truly important, you sometimes end up missing your fair share of the marketing efforts brands are deploying to get you to open the email, read it, and maybe even respond.
On social media, they make it SO simple for you, you don't even have to come up with a simple one or two word response to a promotion, birthday, anniversary, or happy event.
Their AI comes up with generic responses designed to look personal. One click, and you've taken care of Ethan. Now onto the birthdays.
So on my good days, I employ a system where my messaging is read nearly 100% of the time. People notice my communications, and they always stand apart from the pack.
As often as I can, I write personal, handwritten notes.
Now, this is a commitment, and I need to be better and more consistent at it. But sitting down and penning a note, addressing it, and putting it into the mail is almost a sure-fire way to get noticed.
That's because few people take the time, effort, or care to do it.
It sends a message to recipients that you thought enough of them to call a time-out, and pen a missive of thanks, appreciation, or acknowledgement.
When they do, good things often happen.
I was scrolling through LinkedIn the other day, and ran across a great post from Mike Thomas Voss, market manager of ESPN 1000 in Chicago. Mike is one of the few people out there with a Marconi for both a music station (WZLX) and a sports station (WBZ-FM). He has strong instincts for entertainment value across the entire spectrum.
So, when I ran across this post, recounting an encounter that occurred five years ago, it jumped out at me. For Mike – someone used to being around celebrities – a rare handwritten note left an indelible impression. And it's a story he continues to tell:
That same week, my daughter, Allie, met up with us in Florida, flying from Detroit on a Delta flight to Ft. Lauderdale. She has no “status” with Delta, and bought a discounted coach seat. In other words, just another passenger on just another domestic flight.
But near the end of the trip, a flight attendant walked through the cabin, handing out personalized, hand-written postcards. What kind of impression did it make? Allie (also in media/marketing) was blown away by this surprising gesture, so much so that she told me about it, and kept the postcard to show me:
Especially given it was her first flight since the start of the pandemic, it had even more impact. For an industry that has had one of the cruelest years possible due to COVID, a genuine display of thanks and appreciation from one of its grassroots employees generated great word of mouth for the airline.
I am a “diamond” with Delta – the top of the heap – and I continually receive emails from Delta's CEO, Ed Bastian. They are casually branded “Your Update From Ed,” and they keep me up to date with what Delta is thinking and doing during the pandemic. They are well-crafted ostensibly by a marketing team, warm, and not very corporate. And I read most of them.
But a handwritten thank-you card from a flight attendant named Gregory is in another league entirely. It stood out, and far more meaningful.
Sure, it's old school. In fact, it doesn't get more analog than this. And that's precisely why it works.
It takes absolutely no effort to click on a “like.” A text message takes seconds to send. With many emails, perhaps a tad longer. Technology makes this message so easy, we often ignore these gestures. They're mundane, occurring loads of times each and every day, and they require minimal effort to crank out.
But taking the time to compose your thoughts and print or write a personal letter or card is attention-getting. In fact, it's such a great idea than an entire country is now trying it.
A fascinating story in Sunny Skyz describes a pandemic-inspired campaign launched by Canada Post – yes, the Canadian version of USPS.
Here's the concept: Every household in the country – all 13.5 million of them – receives a prepaid postcard. The mission? Send a message to someone you care about.
Canada Post is inviting the entire populace to send the postcard to anyone in the country – just to say hello, to check in, to see how someone else is getting by. As the President and CEO of Canada Post, Doug Ettinger, explained:
“Meaningful connection is vital for our emotional health, sense of community and well-being.”
Those are perceptive words from a government executive, who clearly has a strong grasp on what his citizens are thinking and feeling one year into the COVID outbreak. (We could use someone like Ettinger running our post office.)
The radio application? It's obvious. After a tumultuous year, broadcasters are just beginning to recover financially. The business climate and demand for spot inventory is improving, and stations and their companies are beginning to see a way out of this disaster.
But for many in the listening audience – the folks who have stuck with our stations through thick and thin – their futures might be cloudier and less optimistic. That means its a perfect time to receive a personalized postcard from a member of the airstaff, the market manager, or even the company CEO, thanking them for continuing to listen throughout 2020.
Yes, it takes a lot of time. But Thomas Rhett was willing to do the work. Also true for Gregory, that Delta flight attendant.
Marketing dollars? They'll be virtually nonexistent for most radio stations this year. But a few thousand cool station postcards at 36¢ a pop for postage, and your audience could receive personalized little analog Easter eggs from your station and your staff.
Who knows where they could end up? Or whether those fans you send them to respond?
Will it make a difference in your spring book, your Q2 sales, your investor calls, or your bottom line?
It's hard to say because it's such a small, personal gesture. But this is how you play a long game – it's how you create brands built to last.
For a couple of Millennials – a singer songwriter and a flight attendant – a few minutes of their time and a little ink created a lasting impression. And experiences passed along to family and friends, via word of mouth and social media.
And now I'm sharing it with all of you. And I bet some of you share it with others.
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