Slogans - How Effective?

Hi, Doc.  Love the column.  This is a broad question and well, you aren’t a broad, but give it a shot.  (Get it, broad?)  Do listeners pay attention to positioning statements?  We are in the midst of changing the positioner of our CHR.  We can’t be “The #1 Hit Music Station,” because the guys across the street use that phrase.  Is plainer better (i.e., “Today’s Hit Music”) or is something stronger better?  Also, do listeners like hearing “best,” “#1,” “Leader,” or other affirmatives in positioning statements?  Thanks in advance for the answer and ripping my joke apart.  :) - Anonymous


Anon:  Thanks for the comment about the column.  I’m glad you enjoy it.  And yes, you really hit my humor button with your joke.  Like me, I’m sure there are many readers who fell out of their chairs because they were laughing so hard.  (Not!)  OK, on to your question…


Radio slogans and positioners are odd ducks.  That is, although listeners don’t usually consciously admit that a slogan or positioner is important to them, they do seem to have a persuasive effect.  This is evident in research studies in several ways.  First, if you ask listeners how important slogans and positioners are to them, most people will says “not very important” (or something similar).


However, when listeners are asked to describe their favorite radio station, or what they like most about their favorite radio station, most will include the radio station’s slogan or positioner (or a variation) in their answer.


The reason this is true is that it follows the basic rule of persuasion: repetition of a message.  In other words, if a radio station constantly says that it’s the “#1 Hit Music Station,” some people (not all) will believe it, or will at least identify the radio station with that phrase.


But I don’t want you to get the idea that you can sell listeners any bill of goods.  In other words, if a radio station says it’s the “#1 Hit Music Station,” it better follow through in one way or another.  If the radio station plays terrible music, has terrible jocks, or sounds as though it’s produced by a bunch of 5 year-olds, then the listeners won’t accept the slogan or positioner.  See what I mean?  The performance must follow the promise.


In reference to the positioner you select, keep in mind that an abstract phrase is usually more powerful than a direct approach.  For example, your competitors use the “#1 Hit Music Station.”  Does that mean the radio station’s ratings place them in the #1 position of Hit Music stations in the market?  Does it mean that they only play Hit Music that is #1 on the charts?  Or does it mean that listeners should go to that radio station first to hear Hit Music?  An ambiguous slogan or positioner allows listeners to interpret the message in their own way, and that’s a good approach.


I wouldn’t worry too much about using the “#1” idea.  While it may be important to some listeners, the ranking means nothing specific to many people because so many companies (and radio stations) use #1.  What you might consider is something that doesn’t use the #1 designation, such as the one you suggested (“Today’s Hit Music”).  You might also consider something like (and I’m not particularly good at developing slogans and positioners, so give me a break)…“Always Hit Music,” “Your Hit Music Source,” “The Leader in Hit Music,” or “(Your city’s name) Leader in Hit Music.”


As I said, don’t expect every listener to repeat your positioner back to you in a research study.  But if you hammer away with whatever positioner you select, you can expect it to have an affect.  Repetition of a slogan or positioner is important, and if the correct message is used, that’s how many listeners will perceive you.


For example, you should continually use the slogan, “America’s Funniest Person.”  People may soon believe you…well, maybe not.

Slogan Idea

We would like to research this idea but there is no budget for it, so please don’t slap me silly when I ask you what should be asked of our listeners.  In past research projects you have been associated with, how have the words “Hot Modern Hits” tested—either individually or in combination?  On the surface, it sounds very representative of what we do. - Anonymous


Anon:  Nope. Not gonna give you results from other radio station’s research.  Wouldn’t be prudent.


It’s not appropriate because the interpretation of words and combinations of words varies greatly from market to market.  For example, if I know that “Hot Modern Hits” is appropriate in Chicago, that doesn’t mean it will be appropriate in your market (wherever you are located).  I know this for a fact.  Listen to me now and believe me later.


I follow the rules of scientific research very carefully, and one rule is not to generalize results from one market to another market.  Each market is unique and it would be unethical for me to provide you with results from another market.


So I won’t help you with that, which means that you’re still stuck with a question you can’t investigate on your own.  So here are a few alternatives, none of which replaces the reliability and validity of a study conducted with a decent sample of randomly selected respondents, but if I don’t suggest something, you’ll go ahead and use “Hot Modern Hits” anyway and if it sucks, you’ll write to me and complain (that’s a long sentence, isn’t it?):

  1. If you conduct callout research with your cume or P1s (fans), tack two slogan questions on the end.  Ask respondents to rate the slogan on a 1-10 scale, where the higher the number, the more they like the slogan as a slogan by itself.  Secondly, ask the respondents to rate the slogan on a another 1-10 scale, where the higher the number, the more they think the slogan fits your radio station.

  2. If you don’t conduct callout research, then conduct the survey with listeners who call your radio station.

  3. If no one calls your radio station, then go out on the street in your home city, stop people and ask them the same two questions.  Make sure that the people you stop are your listeners by including a few screener questions at the beginning of the questionnaire.

Remember that I don’t like any of these options as a replacement for a valid scientific study, but it’s better than guessing and the results from any of the three approaches will give you an indication of how well the slogan is received.

Slogan/Name Wars

Love the column, doctor. I have a follow-up question about radio station names/slogans. Do they really work for stations? For an example, are the names "Star" or "Kiss" or "Alice" as well known to listeners as "Pepsi" or "Xerox" or "Tide?" Or is radio thought of as a utility, and the branding doesn't really make a difference? Thanks! -  Anonymous


Anon: Thanks for the comment about the column. I appreciate that.


First, you asked about slogans, but gave examples of names, so I'm addressing the names.


Although you're comparing national products with local products, the importance of a name is the same for a local business (or radio station) as it is for a national business. The name of a product or service is important because it gives consumers a way to identify the item. The name of a product or service is as important as your name is to you—it differentiates you from everyone else.


If a product or service does not have a unique name, it causes problems. This same confusion is evident if two or more people have the same name—something you have probably experienced in the past. For example, assume three people named Jim Smith are in a room. What happens if someone says, "Is Jim Smith here?" All three Jim Smiths say, "yes" because each didn't know who was being called. There is confusion.


Unfortunately, most of us can't trademark our names, so the confusion will continue. However, companies usually do protect their name via some type of registered trademark or service mark.


Now, in reference to radio, most radio names don't mean much to listeners. That is, I haven't seen listeners attribute more importance to the name "Star" as they do to "Kiss" or any other name. I also haven't seen that the name "Kiss" or "Star" (and others) means a specific type of music or a specific type of radio station. However, one exception comes to mind . . .


Radio listeners tend to associate the name "Cool" with Oldies music. That's probably because Oldies radio stations have used the name for a long time and it has become accepted by the listeners as relating to Oldies music. This is not true for "Kiss," "Alice," "Star" and others. Those names alone mean nothing to the listeners. However, they sometimes do develop a meaning after listeners hear the radio station and learn the association ("Kiss plays Top 40 music" or "Kiss plays hard rock music.")


Radio listeners will call the radio station whatever the radio station calls itself and therefore it's important to try to find a name that is unique and, possibly, means something beyond the name. However, just because you give a radio station a specific name does not mean that it will be automatically understood and accepted by listeners. For example, I have tested thousands of billboards for radio stations with unique names and the listeners have no idea what the billboard is for (I'm not referring to a misunderstanding because of a poor billboard design). The listeners don't associate the name on the billboard with anything. Not radio, not laundry soap . . . nothing. The billboard is a complete waste, and then the radio station wonders why the advertising "didn't work."


In summary, a radio station's name is important. If the name is unique, it's up to the radio station to teach the listeners what the name means—and don't be surprised if that takes many, many years for the association to be understood.


With all that said, there is one name that all radio listeners seem to understand—the call letters. The call letters can "mean" as much as "Cool" or anything else.


Finally, there is one thing that I have always wondered about, and it comes from listening to radio listeners. Why do local radio stations (not all) have names and local TV stations do not? Why doesn't Channel 9 call itself "Kiss 9" or "Star 9?" (It doesn't matter that there are fewer TV stations in a market. Most cable channels have names, and most of the names identify the programming—"Showtime," "The History Channel," "Home Box Office," and "The Travel Channel.")


Today's Best Music, Today's Hottest Music, Today's New Country . . . there are more. When did "Today's" start appearing in the slogans of stations? Does it really make a difference to the listener what you use or if you use it at all? - Markus


Markus: You're making me rack my brain on this one. I think I can recall testing the word "Today's" in slogans in the mid or late 1980s. I would have to dig out the old boxes of research to verify that.


I believe it all started with a slogan something like, "Best Hits of Yesterday and Today."

Sly & The Family Stone (I Want to Take You Higher) "Boom Shaka Laka?"

Doctor:  I know this isn’t a significant question in the grand scheme of things, but it is something I need to know.  Please help me.


A few days ago, my boyfriend and I were scanning channels on TV and some movie (or something) had “I Want to Take You Higher” by Sly and the Family Stone playing in the background.  OK, so that’s the scenario.


The “famous” part of the song came on and my boyfriend sang, “Boom shaka laka laka boom shaka laka laka.”  I told him that’s wrong, that they actually sing, “Boom laka laka boom laka laka”—there is no “shaka” in the lyrics.


He said he bets me anything that he is right.  He says they sing, “shaka, and I say they don’t.  Who is right? – Melanie


Melanie:  When I first read your question, I thought, “I have been listening to this song since 1969…the boyfriend is right and Melanie needs to pay up (whatever “anything” is.)”  Then I started thinking that it may be possible that something “don’t be right” and I first decided to search the Internet for the lyrics.  Every site I found has the word “shaka” in it.  There may be one that doesn’t, but I can’t find it.


OK, so Melanie is wrong and she has to pay up.  But I thought I should listen to the song just to make sure….even though I have heard it hundreds or thousands of times since 1969.  Give Melanie a break.


I leaned over to my bookcase and pulled out Sly and the Family Stone Greatest Hits CD.  What the heck, I’ll give her a break.  I put the CD in my computer and hit Track 1…”I Want to Take you Higher.”  This is what I heard…and the important stuff comes from the right channel:


Beat is gettin’ stronger

Music gettin’ longer too

Music is a flashin’ me

I want ta, I want ta, I want ta take you higher

I wanna take you higher

Baby baby baby light my fire

Ha…Wanna take you higher


Boom laka laka laka Boom laka laka ook a boom


WHAT?? Where is the shaka stuff?


There is NO…Nada…None…Zilch use of the word “shaka” in the original Sly and the Family Stone version of “I Want to Take You Higher.”  I can’t believe it.  I also can’t believe that not ONE song lyrics site on the Internet has the correct lyrics.  They are ALL wrong.  Shame on them and good for you.


You can also hear and see them sing, "Boom Laka Laka" in several videos on YouTube if you click here.


OK, Melanie…you have not only changed my understanding of a song I have heard for decades, you have also won the bet with your boyfriend.  Tell him pay up and pay up NOW.  I hope you make the payoff REALLY good.


By the way…you also demonstrated one of the tenets (rules) of scientific research.  Scientific research is self-correcting…scientists are always willing to change long-held beliefs (or facts) when new information proves that the old information is wrong.   Good work.

Small Market Research

Is there such a thing as a market too small for you to do research? Also, why do people love to listen to countdowns? - Jiggy Jr.

Jiggy: The need to ask people what they want, give it to them, and tell them that you gave it to them transcends market size. The radio listeners in New York (#1) are no different from the radio listeners in Brunswick, GA (#277).

From what I have seen in research, people like to listen to countdown shows because they like lists in general (such as David Letterman's Top 10), they like to guess which songs made the list, and they like to hear the music.

Small Sample

I'm a college student and want to conduct a research study for my research class, but I don't think that I can get a large enough sample to make the study worthwhile. What should I do? - Mark


Mark: I'm not sure what you mean by "worthwhile," but my guess is that you don't think your research will be valid and/or reliable with a small sample. Don't worry about that. Your classroom work should provide you with the experience of conducting a project. There is no need to worry about the significance of the results. Pay more attention to the design of the study, sampling procedures, questionnaire design, and so on. You'll have plenty of time to worry about the validity and reliability of a study when you graduate from school. Learn the procedures now. Don't worry about the results.

Small Market Programming

I have had the opportunity to work in a top 100 market and now am an investor in a small market station.  Programming wise, I feel that listeners have the opportunity to hear top rated, syndicated and locally produced programming from nearby markets and therefore become used to a certain level of programming.  A level that sometimes does not exist in a small market.


Am I way off base or is it safe to say that programming features like obituaries really don't fit, even in a small market, especially when you're trying to take a few years off your listeners? - Anonymous


Anon:  Your question is one of those déjà vu things for me.  I can remember a situation several years ago when a small market radio station's morning show took a dive in the ratings.  The dive came shortly after the PD "upgraded" the morning show to match what the "big market" radio stations were doing.


I got a call to conduct a perceptual study to find out what happened.  The study found that the listeners did NOT like the newly designed (upgraded?) morning show, and one of the things mentioned by many people was that the "radio station eliminated obituaries in the morning show."  I'm not making this up.  I have the tables in front of me.


Now, I'm not saying that you must have obituaries in a small market radio station morning show.  What I am saying is that you cannot program your radio station according to what you think is good, or according to what another radio station is doing.  It's only in the minds of radio people that listeners, as you say, "become used to a certain level of programming."  The expected level of programming is a radio person's expectation and may not be the listeners' expectation.


You must find out what your listeners want.  You'll probably find that your listeners expectations are totally different from what listeners in larger markets expect.  My experience shows that listeners in small markets often rely on radio for different things than do listeners in larger markets, and obituaries (because of the feelings of closeness to the residents in the small town) is one example of a "use" difference.


Don't judge your radio station's programming or formatics on what the larger market radio stations are doing.  Concentrate on what your listeners want and you won't fail.

Small Town Radio

Should a small town AM/FM combo do any local news/events on the FM or should this be an AM event, perhaps in the mornings, as a news and information hour? The FM uses an Oldies format from a satellite service out of Dallas, TX. - DR

DR: You need to ask your listeners, but I'm guessing that since you're in a small market, you don't have a lot of money for research . . . or I should say that you probably have owners who don't want to spend the money for research. So . . . this is what I know about your question from the research I have done . . .

For some reason, and I don't know where this Urban Legend came from, some people in the radio business think that music radio listeners are a bunch of dumbbells who don't care about what's happening in the world. "Duh . . . a Concorde crashed in France? I'd rather hear another Billy Joel song."

Obviously, this is ridiculous. All of the research I have conducted or seen shows that music radio listeners are not much different from people who listen to other formats. Music radio listeners also have (oh really?) families or significant others, jobs, interest in local, national, and international news, and have checking and savings accounts, etc. Why would you want to send these listeners to another radio station to find out what's happening in the world? But I have seen this situation many times.

That's not a flip comment. Although I have heard thousands of music radio listeners beg their favorite radio stations for news and information highlights and to cut into a song (or any other programming) for special news and information, I have heard many PDs say something like, "We're a music radio station and don't do that. We would never cut into a song." Why not?

Oh! I get it! The process is: Find out what the people want and don't give it to them.

My question to you is: "Why would you not have news and information on your FM Oldies radio station?"

Small Town Radio - 2

I totally see your point on my previous question. The way news and local info are handled now, the local Ops Manager jumps into the morning satellite program with the local events, but then jumps back into the satellite whenever he gets finished—VERY often in the middle of the satellite jock's break or in the middle of a tune. Being a music intensive FM in a small town, should a local stop set be blocked out ONCE per hour during 6-9 a.m. for news and events or devote one hour in the morning for this—such as the 7 a.m. hour? - DR

DR: You're asking me a question that should be answered by your listeners. However, let me pose a few questions that may help you decide (assuming that you can't conduct a research study to find out):

1. Do all of your listeners tune to your radio station during the 7 a.m. hour?

2. Do all of your listeners want a one-hour news/info program or just the highlights?

3. Do you have the personnel to put together a one-hour news/info block?

4. Is there enough information every day to include in a one-hour block?

5. Do your listeners tune to your radio station to hear mostly music or mostly news/info?

6. Would a one-hour news/info block fit in with the listeners' perception of your radio station?

My guess is that you answered the questions in this way:

1. No

2. Don't know

3. No

4. Don't know

5. Music (probably)

6. Don't know

So . . . What do you think? News on the hour and/or half-hour or a one-hour news block? By the way, your decision should NOT rest on the fact that you are a "music intensive FM in a small town."

Finally, it sounds as though your OM needs some training with satellite feed cut-ins.

Small Town Yardstick

Roger: First thanks for answering my questions! I'm disappointed but not surprised that there hasn't been any research on playlist lengths. You're right that unless you set up two identical stations with identical coverage areas and even the same jocks and promotions and give one of the stations half of the other's playlist you'll never know. Unless I win the lottery and have $110 million to blow, I know that ain't gonna happen! :)


I may be about to get a job as OM/PD/MD in a tiny market outside of Arbitron's reach. They have enough to run the station, but with 9500 people in town they're sure not going to set up a bank of callout researchers.


How do I get a balanced view of what the area (which actually is about 65,000 total) thinks about our programming? How do I test songs and other elements?


Sales will be a good indicator of local business owners' impressions of us, but if sales are bad and they BELIEVE listenership is down, I have no idea how to prove it one way or another and if it is I don't know how to check for what the problems might be other than taking blind shots in the dark.


I've gotten the impression you don't see request lines as reliable and the Internet as even worse. Surely just asking around town isn't going to give me a balanced or big enough sample, is it?


The only thing I've been able to come up with is me single-handedly doing callouts on recurrents and gold and keeping track over months to get a general feel for each song, or maybe set up a hotline with a recorder to get listener's opinions. Maybe we could have the system record responses to a number of hooks—kind of a "call-in" instead of a call-out? Although, I'm not sure how I'd block numbers from calling back too frequently.


ANY suggestions on measuring the listeners' acceptance of programming elements would be appreciated! - Anonymous


Anon: While I know that I always say that you need to ask your listeners, I also know that it's not always possible to do so. This is especially true for radio stations in very small markets…those that don't have money to spend for research.


However, if you are in a small market (and you say you are), that doesn't mean you can't use your creativity to develop ideas to find out what the listeners want. My first radio job was in a very tiny market…market 9,423 or something, so I can identify with your situation.


First, when it comes to collecting information, I advocate that any information (as long as it is collected in the best way possible and interpreted as indications of what may exist), is better than NO information at all.


So yes, I am against using only request lines and the Internet data to make decisions. The responses aren't random. However, you can use this information as indications. As I have said before in this column, if you get 100 phone calls from listeners complaining that your morning show team is using too much obscene language, there is an indication of a problem…a problem that needs to be investigated using some type of research approach. Maybe you could invite a random group of 40 or 50 listeners to your radio station and conduct a few focus groups about the morning show.


As I said, use your creativity. In a small market, you can pass out questionnaires at remotes, look at the comments from listeners call-ins, ask people to visit your radio station to listen to a few hooks, and so on. If you have a college or university nearby, contact the journalism, marketing, or business departments to find out if a professor would be interested in conducting research for you as a class project.


Remember now, excluding the information that might be gathered by a local college or university, I am not suggesting in any way that you use the other information to make decisions. Use the data as indications of what your listeners may think and try to corroborate the information with a scientific approach.


By the way, in reference to your comment about testing playlist length…I'm amazed at how many decisions are made, beliefs are held, and procedures are followed in radio that have never been tested. I have talked to many people in other businesses who are amazed at how the media industry shoots "from the hip." I guess radio and TV people just know what to do…they must be born with this knowledge.


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