Monday, 30 May 2016

Is there a point in a positioning statement?

My favourite ever Radio 2 positioning statement was ‘Different – Every Time You Listen’.  

We knew what they were getting at, but the claim flew in the face of every piece of established radio wisdom. Having said that, Radio 2 enjoys bucking trends with some considerable success.  Do listeners really want 'different'?  Whatever listeners think they want, the evidence suggests they actually seem to plump for fairly well-known songs and get irate when a presenter even dares to go on holiday for a week in Cleethorpes.

The matter of branding statements was raised in a Tweet today from the annoyingly clever James Cridland, which linked to a pithy blog from Kevin Robinson. Despite the fact Kevin has his own branding statement ‘Programming – Branding - Mentoring since 1985’, his remarks suggested that great brands don’t trouble with them. "Disney – no slogan. Netflix -  Amazon – no slogan". He went on to assert: "Think you need a position or slogan? Get rid of it today. See if the customer misses it".

In radio-land, we know many music radio listeners seem to like this ‘Variety’/’Mix’ thing.  Every time I’ve ever researched station positions, many listeners enthuse about stations which play "a bit of this and a bit of that".  Respondents in focus groups even trouble to use their hands  outstretched to demonstrate the two extremes. The challenge is to define your variety vs someone else’s.

The extremes of the range of variety enjoyed are tightly contained within the walls of the listeners' general appetites. They mean a variety of  material they like, not genuine variety. In quantitative research, I recall that whenever the proposition was A plus B, where the two are actually a little different (e.g. 'Today's Best Music and your Favourite Oldies'), the appeal scores fell and the hate scores grew, as listeners disliked one of the options.

I’d agree with Kevin that listeners may not heed positioning statements.  In an exhaustive series of focus groups a couple of years ago, we gave each dutiful respondent (music radio listeners aged 25-44) a set of cards, each bearing the positioning statement for all the market's stations: ‘More Music Variety’, ‘Your Relaxing Music Mix’, ‘Number One Hit Music Station’ and our own bright ideas (present and proposed).  Without exception, the results suggested that even when we all jollily mention our statements in just about every link and commission TV advertising to bolster that reputation, bloody listeners still get the answers 'wrong'. They attribute the statement they find most appealing with the station they find most appealing.

One thing's for sure, if you’re going to trouble with a positioning statement, it needs to be sufficiently different from everyone else's to do be of more use than one of Marconi's balloon aerials.

Smooth was attributed correctly to its own claim better than most, simply because of the word ’relaxing’.  You have to own a word before the statement becomes anywhere close to being safely yours. (22 Immutable Rules of Marketing, Ries & Trout).  Remember, however, that the meaning that listeners infer from a phrase may not be what you intended.  You may not think your station is ‘Easy Listening’, but listeners may define it as exactly that,


Listeners will describe your station in their own words. Just ask those stations which have experimented with updating their name: deploying such clever tricks as shunting the frequency to the beginning or end; or adding or taking away 'FM' or 'Radio' at will.  Save yourself the trouble. Stand at a bus stop and eavesdrop. They'll tell you what your station's called.

And, in radio, you are only as good as people think you are. Listeners will choose their own words to describe you - and it's good to take a listen to establish what those are. Work backwards. Imagine what you’d like listeners to say about you when asked, and seek to make sure you deliver on that promise every time they listen. If you’re delivering it well enough, you may not need to explain what it is.  

Check my book 'How to Make Great Radio', available now from Amazon. Techniques and tips for today's radio broadcasters and producers

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