Today's #TBT is journey back into the blogosphere five years from right now – August of 2018 to be exact. It was a pre-pandemic world where we didn't know from N95 masks, social distancing, or swab tests.
But our lives and perspectives were changed by COVID, perhaps for generations. We've seen this in our research – both qualitative and quantitative – on all radio platforms. The pandemic may have been global in scope, but it was felt most powerfully locally. In just days (and then weeks and months), local issues became most important to our lives and families.
Who in town had hand sanitizer in stock? Which businesses were requiring masks? Which schools were open? And where could be buy rapid tests? And later, who's on the school board? And who's my state senator? So much of our lives were being determined by decisions being made within a few miles of where we lived and worked.
We saw this manifest itself in our research, too. Jacobs Media's COVID studies throughout 2020 brought this issue to light, and we continued to see evidence in our Techsurveys of a higher awareness and interest in all things local – including local radio.
This blog post was written more than 18 months before the first COVID cases came to America. But even in 2018, we were seeing signs of a resurgence in hometown happenings. – FJ
Every major brand may have a global strategy, but more and more these days, they're thinking local.
That's because whether people live in San Francisco, Schenectady, or Shanghai, they care very deeply about the their communities. Major companies have come to realize that in order to expand and prosper, they have to reflect and respect the local zeitgeist. With the help of technology, this is becoming more seamless to do.
Take the New York Times, for example. Despite the travails of most newspapers, the Times is far from “failing,” and is enjoying some of its best financial quarters. Yes, a great deal has to do with their product – their content and the quality of their staff. But a great deal of the newspaper's success is coming via the digital route, including expansion to foreign markets.
A recent article in Nieman Lab lays out the Times' global domination strategy. And it starts with attention paid to local markets, according to journalist Shan Wang.
Today, the Times has north of 2.3 million subscribers, and a growing number is from outside the U.S. Canada is the biggest “international” market, but expansion started in Australia in 2017.
And it starts with figuring out the local market. The Times' Jodi Rudoren says that research in other countries always points to the same common denominator:
“Local stuff will overindex everywhere.”
Whether it's Brisbane, Barcelona, or Berlin, readers want to know their personal geographies are prominently covered. And when they're able to “connect the global and local” by making their national coverage relevant to locals, that's when the strategy becomes the most powerful.
Technology plays a major role in sussing out the local mood and attitudes. Sydney bureau chief Damien Cave says a key is tapping into existing tribes, such as the Facebook group “Yanks Down Under.” And the Times' own Australia Facebook page is a great source of feedback to help avoid content that will offend local sensibilities.
A different application for tapping into the local mindset is now being employed by Metallica. A recent story in Digital Music News by Paul Resnikoff reports that Lars and company are using Spotify local data as a barometer of what Metallica songs locals in Austin, Ann Arbor, and Amsterdam are streaming.
With that feedback in hand, the band changes up its set list each night, based on this granular local information. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek points out that “We've never before been at a place in time where you could make as many informed decisions and understand your audience as well as we can do now as an artist.”
And as the aforementioned Lars Ulrich notes, there are certain core classic Metallica songs that are popular everywhere. The local Spotify data, however, identifies those secondary and tertiary tracks that help make their shows special.
This idea of using digital media as a sort of “data concierge” is something radio stations could take advantage of. While local callout research is still a tool that thousands of programmers use, some of the very same digital indicators the New York Times and Metallica use are available to any station.
Of course, there are no better brands than local radio when it comes to knowing their markets. At least that's true in theory.
But too often, companies acquire stations or hire programmers, talent, and sales managers from outside the market. A healthy respect for the local history and traditions is a key to success whether you're selling time or playing hard rock music in arenas.
When it comes to the importance of local, we see the same phenomenon as the Times and Metallica in both our commercial and public radio Techsurveys:
Note: The original chart that appeared below was from Techsurvey 2018. I have replaced it with the updated version from Techsurvey 2023, conducted in January and February of this year.
These are powerful numbers, they're trending up, and they impact pretty much every demographic group – gender, generation, ethnicity.
Even radio stations without the luxury of local research can benefit from some of the same resources global brands routinely use to focus on communities and metros – streaming data, social media groups and pages, local podcasts and the people who present them. All these tools are available to stations in all sized markets.
Radio has myriad challenges, and one of them is the intrusion of big media outlets from Spotify to Apple Music to SiriusXM. Knowing your local roots has never been more important in radio remaining relevant to hometown consumers.
The world is moving faster than ever, and technology is rapidly reaching the points where Artificial Intelligence, voice, and attribution are all new terms that will rock the world of radio.
And yet, one thing is for sure…