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If you already have a radio station, you probably have a marketing strategy already, even if it's implicit. But it may be confused or contradictory. By dragging your marketing strategy - and the assumptions it embodies - into the light of day, everybody can examine it more clearly, and perhaps even improve it.
A marketing strategy for a radio station will answer these questions:
1. What are we trying to do with this radio station?
(And how will we know if we've succeeded?)
2. What sort of people are we trying to reach?
3. What do we want them to think about this station?
In radio management jargon, those questions are referred to as station objectives, target audience, and positioning.
Those are questions that any radio station might ask. But a community radio station can go beyond those, adding questions such as...
4. How can this station strengthen this community?
5. How can we improve the lives of the people we serve?
6. How can we build a community of listeners, helping them by encouraging them to communicate with each other, and not merely listening to this station?
These are serious questions. If you live in a rich country, perhaps they seem overblown. "Radio is such a minor part of people's lives," some broadcasters say. "How can our station possibly improve the community in any way? How can we hope to do more than entertain."
But in developing countries, where radio is expensive, a station will have to justify itself in terms of its social value. For example, in southern Africa where AIDS is rife, a vital role for radio is in social marketing: getting people to change their behaviour, for the sake of community health. In those countries, the success of radio is measured not in terms of audience numbers, or funds raised, but by changes in life expectancy.
Even in the rich countries, the increasing concentration of commercial power in the hands of fewer owners means that some ideas are squeezed out by commercial networks. Anything judged likely to interest less than a majority of the population can be, in effect, censored. But social trends have to begin somewhere: they need a platform for discussion. Community radio can be one of the most effective platforms for having new ideas reviewed and eventually accepted.
Imagine all the people who live in a station's coverage area as being within a set of circles, one inside the other, as if caused by a stone thrown into water. The smallest circles (closest to the centre) represent small numbers of people, while each successive outer circle represents a larger group of the population.
For each type of listener group involved with a community radio station, let's considers what types of marketing activity are best suited to it.
For most community stations (moving from the innermost circle toward the outermost ripple) the main types of listeners include:
1. People who are closely involved with the station: the full-time and part-time staff, management committee, volunteers, stringers, etc. This group probably includes you - because you're involved enough to be reading this book.
2. The regular listeners. They may spend a lot of time listening to the station, and some may donate money to it, but they're not involved in any other way.
3. The occasional listeners. Some will listen to other radio stations more often than your one, and others will prefer other media (print or TV) but may tune to your station at the few times they listen to radio. Some will know the station's name and perhaps its frequency on the dial. Others are accidental listeners. They may like what they hear, when they occasionally stumble on the station, but they don't know its name, or how to find it again. (Maybe they're not very interested.)
4. Non-listeners who live in the station's coverage area. Some will know about the station and not want to listen, while others have never heard of it, but might like it.
5. People who live outside the station's coverage area, and couldn't listen to it even if they wanted to.
Those five population groups are about the smallest number for creating a useful marketing strategy. Depending on your station's situation, you might want to distinguish more groups. For example, you could divide group 3 (occasional listeners) into two: the deliberate and the accidental listeners.
As well as the above successive ripples in the water, there are a number of smaller stakeholder groups whose members overlap with the above five categories. These may be small groups of people, but they can be important to a community station:
6. Program sources, both people and organizations. These will include government agencies, local authorities, and other organizations that the station mentions on news and current affairs programs, as well as organizers of sports matches and cultural events that are broadcast on radio.
You may want to divide this large group into three:
6a. Those that contact you, wanting material put to air (organizations that send you press releases, for example);
6b. Organizations that you contact, seeking information: perhaps including local libraries and government departments; and
6c. Organizations that fall into both of the above categories: local politicians, for example.
7. Suppliers of equipment, goods, and services. Local merchants, who will be interested in your station because they earn money from it.
8. Advertisers and sponsors. Some will be listeners, others not. Clearly, people who listen to a station will be more likely to advertise with it.
9. Representatives of funding agencies. These can include local, regional, and national government, as well as NGOs. Shareholders of commercial stations are in this category too.
10. Competitors: other media that compete for your audience's time, or perhaps your funding. These include other radio stations that serve your area, local TV stations, and local newspapers.
11. Opinion leaders, such as critics, advocates, and analysts. These include other media that may publish information about your station.
12. Industry organizations that your station belongs to: perhaps a national broadcasters' organization, a program-exchange group, a Chamber of Commerce, and an informal local media coalition.
Have I omitted any of your stakeholder groups? There are usually other groups, but these vary from one area to another. One example might be an educational institution that teaches media studies: its students may be a future source of listeners and workers for your station.
All of these groups have some kind of relationship with your station - some on-air, some off-air, some both. To survive well, a radio station needs to deal with all the stakeholders, and to understand their expectations - even if it cannot always fulfil them.
When you throw a stone into water, waves flow outwards, and gradually fade to nothing. Radio audiences are like that, too. If you don't keep "throwing stones into the water," the audience will slowly drift away. I've seen this happen many times, with stations that are complacent about their audiences. If the management is making statements like "They'll have to listen to us, because we really have no competitors" - that's when it's time to get worried.
But in fact people's habits are constantly changing, because their lives are changing. Listeners move out of the area, they buy TV sets, their radios break down; sometimes they die.
So to keep your audience, you must constantly renew it. Many other activities are vying for people's time, and a radio station has to work hard to keep its audience at the same size, by replacing every lost listener with a new one. This renewal is a major task for radio marketing people.
Thinking back to those ripples in the water: you need to encourage people to float in towards the centre, to replace those who float outward. So let's reconsider the first 5 stakeholder groups, in reverse order.
5. People who live outside the coverage area
Though some of them may be able to listen occasionally, you'll be wasting your time if you set out to attract members of this group. They're really not potential listeners at all.
4. People who live in your coverage area, but have never heard of your station
The task is to convert some of them into group 3, by making them aware that your station exists. It's no use advertising at them on air, because they don't listen to your station. Chapter 5's section on off-air promotion could be helpful.
3. Occasional listeners
What can you do to encourage them to become regular listeners? They already know the station exists, but they may not know the programs, or remember the frequency. The most common times for the occasional listeners to tune into a radio station are when the audience is largest, around mealtimes - but not early in the morning, when many people don't feel like trying new things. If you have popular programs that attract people who don't otherwise listen to your station, these programs are a good occasion for promos aimed at occasional listeners. And if they like what they hear on a promo, it's just possible they'll tune in at some other time - perhaps around the same time of day, on different days of the week.
2. Regular listeners
Here we are dealing with people who already spend most of their radio listening hours with your station. What more could you want from this keen group? Money from some, perhaps. Others could join your army of volunteers and helpers.
1. Listeners in the innermost circle
These are the most active listeners, the staff, and the volunteers. They are already highly involved with the station, and spend a lot of time listening to it. What more is possible? Well, they usually tire of these busy roles after a few years. Instead of losing them, why not offer them an opportunity to do something different? If a person has done something for years, it's all too easy to think of them as being able to do only that. Specially for volunteers, the chance to learn new skills (or to use other skills) is a way of keeping them. For any organization that relies on volunteers, the challenge is how to motivate them well, while remaining valuable to the organization. Many good people are lost because of poor interpersonal management - specially if they're not on the paid staff. (Chapter 10 has more on this.)
You usually find that most of the hours with the station are spent by a very small number of people. This is expressed as the "Pareto principle" or the "80/20" rule: it happens with almost every human activity, but in the case of community radio it's more often 90/10 than 80/20. In other words, 10% of your listeners may account for 90% of your person-hours.
Now consider how you spend your marketing time and budget. Is most of your marketing effort being spent on the people who have least to do with your station? (For most stations I've worked with, the answer is Yes.)
Radio listening is a habit, and habits are not easy to change. For most people, simply noticing an advertisement is not going to make them change their habits. Most new listeners to a radio station discover it through their friends, or by accident.
When aiming at people within your target audience, persuading them to become listeners, how should you choose who to aim at? Should you spend resources trying to persuade non-listeners to tune in, or getting current listeners to listen more often, or what?
To answer this question, I suggest you use the principle of triage. This is a military medical concept, invented by the French during the Napoleonic wars. When there are more battlefield casualties than a field hospital can handle, they divide the sick into three groups: (a) those who would die anyway, (b) those who would live anyway, and (c) those who would live only if they were treated. The top priority is to help the third group.
You can do the same with marketing. Divide the population of your area into three groups. There are those who already listen to your station, those who will never listen, and those who might listen if they were persuaded enough. This sounds reasonable, but the problem is that you can't find out who's in each group, or even how many are in each group. Unlike the medical situation, it's impossible to pick out listeners individually.
In practice, the most effective method is to aim your message more at existing listeners, and hope that some borderline listeners will be convinced.
What I'm suggesting is that instead of wasting your marketing effort on people in the outer ripple of the target audience - most of whom will never listen anyway - you should focus on people in the inner ripples.
Because word of mouth is the best source of new listeners, make it easy for your most faithful listeners to tell others about your station. Give them extra copies of your program guide, stickers, posters, and so on, so that they can give them to likely new listeners. Give them special incentives for winning new subscribers.
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