A number of years ago, we coined the phrase, "Retail Radio," a consultantese rip of "Retail Politics" – the fine art of working the streets to win votes. As we learned from Edison's Larry Rosin, the results of political races are often determined by a factor as simple as whether voters meet a candidate in person. This is why even superstar politicians like George Bush and John Kerry – with multi-million dollar media war chests – show up every day at spaghetti dinners, school presentations, union halls, and diners. They "get" the importance of these face to face encounters. This is why we have long emphasized the importance of radio hitting the streets, and working their metro areas in much the same way that politicians divvy up their districts.
Too often, marketers have been seduced by the power of the Internet to make quick-hit impressions and build brands. And there's no doubt that the efficiency of online word-of-mouth marketing has revolutionized businesses everywhere.
But at the end of the day, as they say, there's still no substitute for that low-tech/hi-touch impression. Marketer Ed Keller of the Keller Fay Group pointed out recently that the lack of trust in media institutions, coupled with consumers being bombarded by too much information to assimilate, has made word-of-mouth critically important – again.
This is one of the reasons why the Howard Dean campaign was unique, but perhaps not fully understood. Yes, Dean's team used the power of the Internet to mobilize his constituency, but also created those famous "Meet-Ups" that were the conduits for people to get together, spend time with one another, and communicate ideas. Radio has the power to use both tools – email databases to reach its fans, and the local community to bring them together.
As the new media environment creates a tsunami-like impact on radio, we cannot forget the genetic tools our medium has to touch people in a positive way – right where they live.