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Listeners Aren’t Easily Impressed

Think You Are Better Than Average? You Have to Exceed Expectations.

People have expectations about your radio station.

This is obvious.

What’s not so obvious is that when you meet a consumer’s expectations you are, for the most part, being average. When you’re delivering an average product — unless the product itself is on fire, like country music in the early 1990s — you are unlikely to make an impression.

And a strong impression is vital to your success because that’s what’s driving a diary-keeper or wired People Meter person to vote for you.

Do you know what your potential audience’s expectation is of you? Research could answer your questions, but in today’s environment, you’re unlikely to have a research budget rich enough to delve into such a big issue.


(click thumbnail)She’s looking for an ‘oh, wow’ moment. Are you ready to give it to her?
So, how do you figure this out?

Begin your exercise by coming up with a list of audience expectations for your format.

Here are some examples. Your listeners expect you to: Play the most popular songs for your format; discuss topical issues; provide short, entertaining chatter; give away T-shirts at events; and honor their desire that you not go off the air.

Make your list as long as you can, but don’t stretch your assumptions beyond being reasonable. If you’re in doubt about what people expect of you, do three or four small focus groups with a volunteer advisory panel and you’ll see the trends fairly quickly.

As always with panels, if you can’t stop yourself from leading the group to give you answers you want to hear, bring in someone who can. Never ask the panel to predict the participants’ future behavior.

Stay in the present, finding out why they listen to the station. If you go off-track and ask them what they’d really like that you’re not providing, expect to get a mixed bag of not very reliable information.

As I know you realize, the next phase of this exercise is much more difficult. It takes ingenuity and a bit of risk-taking to devise and then implement a plan to exceed expectations in the niche you occupy.

The goal of this project is to create “Oh, wow!” moments for your listeners.

Here are a few ideas. It would be most unusual for a country station in any market to take a release from even a superstar like Alan Jackson and play songs from his new CD throughout the daytime hours — or all at once. Memorable? You bet.

How about an oldies station that, unannounced, played only sound clips (no music) from the decades they feature during morning drive and then never did it again?

What if a talk station surrendered its entire weekend to local high schools, each of which got an hour for the most articulate kids to talk about designated topics that resonate with them and their parents — sex, drugs, abortion, adoption, driving, money management.

How about giving away babysitting as a prize? Not money for babysitting… I mean background-checked, professional baby sitters who show up at someone’s house.

Part of the key is to do this with enough frequency to get noticed, sticking with the plan that these special moments are not something your audience expects. A to Z weekends? Been there. Local music on Sunday night? Done that. Evening of love songs? Um, okay.

Listen with their ears

Be certain you are doing something truly unexpected — not from your perspective, but from that of your audience.

I say this because it’s easy to deceive yourself into thinking you’ve created a magic moment for your audience when in truth you’ve simply met its expectation.

For example, it may be unusual for a music station to have an in-studio interview with a big star, but it’s likely your audience believes that you have them all the time. Radio has done a tremendous job of convincing people we have access to stars — so when you actually get hold of one, don’t be surprised if the audience doesn’t find this as special as you do.

I am not suggesting that this effort at creativity is simple or is every program director’s cup of tea. However, in your quest to touch your listeners in a way that they will remember, please consider investing the energy to identify what goes beyond exceeding expectations and be the one in your market to have listeners saying, “Oh, wow!”

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