Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 1
What is radio marketing? sections 4-5

1.4 Product orientation and market orientation

Fifty years ago, most firms had a product orientation. They were mainly interested in producing things. Because anything that could be manufactured was soon sold, customers were taken for granted. The term "customer service" was unknown. But in the last few decades, attitudes have changed - both for sellers and for buyers. Customers now expect a high level of service, and firms that don't provide it are not thriving - unless they have a monopoly. You can see this in the way they define "quality." If the producers have a different idea of what is quality in a program from the customers' view, that seller-perceived quality is wasted.

Organizations with a product orientation try to sell whatever they can make, without trying to find out if it's what the customers want. Sony is famous for this. Sometimes they have great success - e.g. the Walkman. Other times, they flop - e.g. the Elcaset. (You haven't heard of it? That proves the point.)

An organization with a market orientation thinks that its most important asset is its customers. It believes that, as long as it has customers, it only needs to find out what they want, to produce that for them, and therefore to survive.

That's not always true for radio - or any other government-funded medium. In parts of the world where audience research is almost never done, radio stations survive, with no way of knowing whether anybody listens or not.

The most successful organizations can be found somewhere between these two extremes. Organizations that only follow the wishes of their customers often go broke when the customers change their minds more quickly than the organization can react. On the other hand, organizations that provide what they think the customers should have (even if the customers don't think they want it) often have very few customers.

Creative organizations - which include radio, as well as the arts and entertainment industries - are different from most, because their output is always varying. It's not possible to find out exactly what the customers of creative organizations want. Ask them, and they say "Something different. It's your job to entertain me. I can't tell you what I want yet, but offer it to me, and then I'll let you know if I like it."

For creative industries, a simple market orientation doesn't work: it needs to be combined with a product orientation.

Most radio stations that I've worked with - even community stations - are much closer to the product orientation than to the market orientation. That's partly because they don't have a direct, regular way of hearing from the audience: they're so busy broadcasting that they don't have time to listen.

However, the main reason for having a community radio station is to benefit the community, not to benefit the staff. Therefore, the most successful community radio stations focus a lot on their market orientation. They have many ways of listening to their audiences, ranging from formal audience surveys to inviting listeners to drop in to the studio.

If you draw a line with 100% product orientation on one side and 100% market orientation on the other, I suggest that a radio station should try to be about two thirds of the way along the line: closer to market orientation than product orientation - like this:

market/product balance seesaw

Why not try to be halfway along the line? The reason is that radio workers (because they're not constantly dealing with listeners) tend to slip back towards the product orientation. If you try to be closer to your listeners than your producers, you might end up in balance between them.

1.5 The three goals for a radio station

Almost anything that a radio station tries to do can be classified into one of three types of goals:

Different types of station concentrate on different goals. Commercial stations focus mainly on making money. Government and community stations concentrate on earning respect - among various sections of the population. All three types of station usually want to build an audience - either as large as possible an audience (for commercial stations) or a large enough audience (for others).


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