Radio’s Dead …. (Not Quite)

by | Blog

[3-5 minutes]

Every time I go to a small business expo, I find that most of vendors are offering marketing solutions for small businesses.  There are so many different offerings available to business owners:  social media marketing companies, digital marketing companies, email marketing platform providers, cable companies, outdoor and out-of-house companies, and even companies that specialize in only Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, etc. There’s a lot out there, and it can be daunting.

So far though, I have yet to meet anyone at these events from a single radio or broadcast television station.  While no one ever disagrees with the power of television as a marketing medium, it seems that everyone is foretelling the end of radio. “Radio’s a dying medium,” each of the AE’s of these various media options will tell anyone who brings up radio as an option for a small business owner.

Admittedly, I’m a fan of radio, and I enjoy these lively debates. However, I do find it tiresome is that none of radio’s naysayers has ever provided verifiable research to back up their issues with radio as a medium.  Specifically, they claim that radio is an ineffective way to connect with one’s target audience.  “No one likes to be interrupted by radio commercials.”  “Radio’s not going to keep up with smart phones, which is where we’re all headed.” and “Radio has lost its audience. People aren’t listening to regular radio anymore.  They’re on their iPods, smart phones, Sirius XM, Spotify, Pandora, etc.”

One of the key arguments against radio and for digital marketing (lumping it all together into one online mix) is that radio isn’t measurable, and that with digital, one knows exactly what they’re getting.  Both are myths.

Here’s the real truth:  1)  radio is measured in the same way that scientists conduct all research.  They use statistical analysis gathered from a slice of the population.  Nielsen tracks the listening behavior of genuine, verified human beings, which is not the case when measuring online media.  2)  According to a recent report published in the Wall Street Journal, 36% of all internet traffic is fake, using bots to hijack internal email servers, plugins that steal affiliate marketing links, identity theft and fake profiles and sneaky tactics leading to duplicate mouse clicks with spyware that “steals” human hand movement and generates additional click-throughs. See this article for more detailed information:   iMedia Connection.  The original findings were published in the  Wall Street Journal.

Speaking to the argument that, “No one’s listening to radio anymore,” consider the most recent information from Scarborough.  Scarborough is a United States based research firm that used a 3-part survey with over 210,000 respondents in this particular study.  Just an FYI, its multiple market and national studies are accredited by the Media Rating Council (MRC).

Scarborough’s most recent report showed that in the category of adults 18+ in Los Angeles, 92.6% listened to radio within the past week, whereas the number of adults 18+ who had listened to Pandora within the past month was 21%.  Incidentally, Pandora doesn’t have enough listenership to measure more often than monthly.  Also, the latest stats showed that only 10.2% of adults 18+ in LA listened to Sirius.

Another reason radio is so valuable is that it trumps digital mediums in ad recall — in other words, the whole point of advertising in the first place. (You know, the mental real estate we’re all hoping to acquire with our advertising efforts — so that when they need your product, they’re already familiar with your brand name?)

In audiences of Millenials and Gen Xers, radio had greater than 12.5% margin over search engine ads and more than 9% over mobile ads and social media.  Television ad recall still dominates all mediums, but with the multitude of channels,  shows, Tivo,  (not to mention Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.)  television is a far more expensive and complex medium to buy for a small business owner than radio.

Radio commercials are relatively inexpensive to produce compared to television spots.  There’s no Tivo with radio, so, if you’re making entertaining, engaging commercials that are professionally produced and fun to listen to, these listeners will very likely stay tuned in right through your spots.

Plus, nearly everyone (92.6% of 18 and over adults in LA alone, remember?)  listens to the radio on their commute to work or while running errands.  It’s especially valuable in Southern California because commuters here are in their cars for an average of 2.5 hours each day, Monday through Friday, and off and on throughout the weekends as they run errands. Don’t take my word for it though — hop on the 101 or 405 on a Saturday or Sunday after 10am and see for yourself.

Regarding the last argument about radio — that it’s archaic —  radio’s signal in the United States went digital (HD) back about 8 years ago.  It’s in your car, on your computer, and every smart phone also has an FM chip inside it where you can listen for free without incurring charges for data usage.

For some reason, this chip is not activated at this time, due to agreements with service providers who make money from data usage.  iHeartRadio and other apps use data, so service providers don’t take issue with it, and support those apps.  However, the capability to use your FM chip for free is in all smart phones, as all such devices must comply with FCC requirements that have to do with emergency information availability.  You can listen to or read the whole story here:  NPR.

Plus, each radio station has a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. and a connection to those can be included in media buys to augment your own social media efforts.  They have had email marketing programs for years now, with huge lists of listeners that can be drilled down to specific zip codes and more.  They have text messaging campaigns, pre-roll video capabilities just like television and YouTube, banner ads, and more on their websites.  There are syndicated shows that reach nationwide. There are concert events for many stations that allow for on-site, experiential marketing.  Having worked with promotion departments at radio stations, I can honestly tell you that a radio station’s Creative Services have a tremendous amount of flexibility.  If you know what to ask for and how to ask, pretty much any idea is possible.

And the reason that radio trumps television in this regard is that unlike television, most people (and yes, there is research to back this up too) listen to one or two stations whenever they turn on their radios.  In other words, it’s a station choice versus a programmatic one. Also, a lot of companies will allow their employees to listen to the radio at work, whereas television watching is considered too distracting.

Here’s another fact to consider: when you choose radio as a medium, you’re in very good company because every other medium advertises on radio.  Email marketing companies (for example,  Constant Contact), online service-pro connections (Angie’s List, to name one), search engines (Google.  And, who could forget the old Yahoo! jingles?), cable companies, television shows and movies, mobile service providers  — all of them advertise on radio. The stats from 2014  (Miller Kaplan Arase, LLP’s research) tell the story:  other mediums spent over $33million to have their advertisements sent across the airwaves of Southern California.

For the first two quarters this year, they’ve spent even more — from January through May of this year, over $22 million has been spent specifically by “competing  mediums” on radio media buys here in Southern California. Not only is radio not dead as an effective advertising platform; it’s thriving — partly on ad buys spent by the very entities whose account executives ring radio’s death knell.

If this arcane medium is so ineffective why are these media giants using it themselves? It’s simple:  the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  That straight line — especially in Southern California — can be navigated best, and at the best price, by surfing SoCal’s radio waves.

There is a lot of value in digital marketing (email, social media, Google adwords, etc.), but to discount radio as a powerful marketing platform for a small business is a mistake.  I disagree with these evangelists of the All-Digital Era.  For businesses in Southern California interested in creating thriving companies,  using radio as part of your media mix just makes a lot of sense.  Oh, and by the way, did I mention that radio is still free?