September 14, 2012

The Loneliest Number
By Lori Lewis & Fred Jacobs  


Lori Lewis & Fred Jacobs

If you’ve worked in radio for three years – or 30 – you’ve been taught that it’s always been about big, box car numbers.  In short, the cume is the Holy Grail of metrics, representing the “circulation” of a radio station across a period of time.  If you have enough cume, chances are the ratings will follow.                                                                                                                        

And as the PPM journey continues to unfold, the emphasis on cume strengthens.  Arbitron says that stations need a certain critical mass of daily listeners in order to succeed in a metered environment.                                            

And yet, small numbers of people matter.  As PPM matures as a ratings methodology, and as programmers become more accustomed to its inner-workings, the grueling reality is that we are increasingly seeing the power that just a handful of metered respondents can have on the ratings.                                                                           

Sometimes, the few have a tremendous say in the outcome of the game.                                                                

Instead of letting that work against you, radio brands have an opportunity to make it work in their favor.   And they can do it one listener at a time.                                                                                                                                       

A recent blog post in the esteemed Harvard Business Review has stirred up much controversy.  It starts with the title – “Marketing Is Dead” – and it goes from there.  Penned by consultant and author Bill Lee, the article speaks to the power of social and community-based marketing and creating customer relationships.                                                

A key part of Lee’s premise speaks to the potential power of small groups of brand advocates:                                 

Find your customer influencers. Many firms spend lots of resources pursuing outside influencers who've gained following on the Web and through social media. A better approach is to find and cultivate customer influencers and give them something great to talk about. This requires a new concept of customer value that goes way beyond customer lifetime value (CLV), which is based only on purchases. There are many other measures of a customer's potential value, beyond the money they pay you. For example, how large and strategic to your firm is the customer's network? How respected is she?

One of Microsoft's "MVP" (Most Valuable Professional) customers is known as Mr. Excel to his followers. On some days, his website gets more visits than Microsoft's Excel page — representing an audience of obvious importance to Microsoft, which supports Mr. Excel's efforts with "insider knowledge" and previews of new releases. In return, Mr. Excel and other MVPs like him are helping Microsoft penetrate new markets affordably.                                      

Microsoft?  One guy?                                                                                                                                       

Every great radio brand has these core fans who listen and love the station, are connected to other people like themselves, and are ready and willing to help you market your brand – IF (big IF) as Lee says you “help them build social capital.”                                                                                                                                                                         

How do you do this?  The traditional radio solution is to bribe them – pay them off with prizes and other perks in exchange for their loyalty.  Lee’s solution – and ours – is to give them something to talk about, provide them with experiences they cannot get elsewhere, and help them better tell your brand’s story.                                                    These attributes run counter to the way we’ve always done it in radio, and as Lee points out, the traditional advertising marketing model.  And that’s one of the reasons why it can be so effective.                                                

A case in point that anyone in radio can relate to is happening before our very eyes in the face of Foo Fighters’ front man, Dave Grohl.Recently, Grohl went out of his way to fill a fan’s empty beer cup – in the middle of a concert.  Thousands watched while he took care of a single Foo Fighters fan.                                    

This was just the latest move in a career that has been highlighted by a series of good deeds that illustrate how Grohl cares about small groups of rabid fans.  And how those activities can be magnified to reach millions.                            

Whether it’s during a Foo Fighters show, his care for other rockers, or his attitude towards fans – Grohl has built a selfless brand – one that Foo Fighters partisans have pride connecting to.  They don’t feel “in the way” for being a fan.  And he understands that he can have impact by uplifting small numbers of fans.                                                                              

In today’s connected world, it is possible to pull off great deeds that impact very few people on the surface, but grow in size to reach thousands – or miillions.  The real win is in creating unexpected moments for fans.                                              

The core philosophical tenets of brand building and fan strengthening have changed.                                         

It’s more about carrying the belief that every person counts and giving fans – one at a time - those “Holy crap” moments.                                                                                                                                                               

Dave Grohl gets it – and here’s why:                                                                                                            

Grohl is genuine. His approach to positively connecting with fans is felt and displayed – even when you’re not looking. A few years ago when he recognized a fan with cerebral palsy from a prior Foo Fighters show in the crowd at a Queens of the Stone Age show, he invited her to attend a video shoot the next day.                                                        

Grohl is thankful. Gratitude (like his letter to fans after the Foo Fighters won five Grammy awards earlier this year) deepens the connection, while reinforcing and validating why we love the brand in the first place.                                           

Grohl still relates to his fans.  In spite of his superstar success, he never forgets what it’s like to be a fan – even when they break the rules to try and get closer to him at a show.                                                                                                

Grohl thinks “one fan at a time.”  He doesn’t worry about the fans who will whine about how he didn’t “fill up their beer cup.” It’s not about the number of fans he touches – it’s his spontaneous coolness that builds on his brand as the nicest guy in rock.                                                                                                                                                           

Grohl keeps the fans involved. One of the most recent examples was when he and The Foo Fighters put together a “fan’s garage tour” that took them to eight different fans’ garages to perform songs from “Wasting Light” which was recorded in Grohl's garage.                                                                                                                                             

Grohl’s approach can translate to radio IF the station is a “social brand”  – one that is willing to offer acknowledgement, unique experiences, and great moments of unexpectedness.                                                                     

It’s tough to do.                                                                                                                                                           

The key is not letting traditional thinking or the frenetic energy of each day distract you from creating those moments where you could be “filling up the beer cup” – one fan at a time.

Fred Jacobs is President of Jacobs Media. The Southfield, Michigan based firm consults many of America’s most successful Classic Rock, Mainstream Rock, and Alternative stations. Fred can be reached at (248) 353-9030 or


Nikki Nite,
VP of Prog. & Ops,

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