Three Reasons Why Your Station Should be an Empire and Not a Castle

Jun 22, 2012

Remember scarcity? I mean, surplus is great, but it was so much easier back in 1992. Radio stations had lots of media competitors but there was only one platform to worry about: radio.

The internet and technological change has blown up all that. Radio stations are still on radio, but they can also be on Facebook, twitter, Google+ (heard of it?), on a website or a blog. That’s great but so can everyone else.

Your Peanut Butter is in My Chocolate

Slate makes podcasts; public radio newsrooms produce videos and text stories for the web; radio signals travel over cellular networks to smartphone listeners. The technology explosion of the past 15 years makes it easier than ever for all of us to get in each other’s... um, space. We want to jump onto many of these different platforms because our users are there, and frankly if we don’t, we’ll likely get lost in the crowd.

How do we stand out in the crowd?

There are a couple strategies: You can jump to these new platforms, trying to re-create all the elements of your radio station’s brand, building a castle around it, complete with moat. Or you can think about the different elements and experiences that make your station special and figure out what mix of them works in each space. Think of it as crafting your brand’s empire across a broad domain.

Which is better? We think you should be empire-building, and here are three reasons why:

Your brand is an experience. It’s stories that keep listeners confined in their parked cars until the end; shows that attract near-rabid fans; music and hosts that become a part of a listener’s life. Listeners may say they love NPR, or KEXP, or public radio, but before they got the brand, they were roped in by the experience - perhaps by Car Talk, or A Prairie Home Companion, or your blues show. So your station brand isn’t one thing - it’s actually a collection of experiences, each meaningful, each contributing to your strength.

Brand experiences are discreet. Your station may encompass lots of signature experiences: well-curated national programs, excellent local productions, award-winning news, engaging hosts, successful local events. All of these pieces add up to your station. But each of these great experiences by itself also represents your station. And this collection of experiences can be unbundled and reassembled in different ways as needed.

Too abstract? Yep. Here’s an example that will make sense: At your station’s signature outdoor live event, I’m sure you display your call letters, you sell t-shirts to fans, maybe you have brochures with the program schedule available. But you probably don’t stop the concert mid-set to introduce the entire station staff, nor do you play a 30-minute audio montage of your station, to promote your programs, nor do you pause for an hour to showcase that amazing episode of Radiolab you aired last week. That would be a dud. Instead, you select a few experiences that are perfect for the event: the t-shirts, the star host introducing the band, the really great event itself.

Ok, so we understand that concept natively, and we’re actually quite good at it. Let’s talk about a different territory where we often struggle with this idea: Facebook, twitter, blogs. These relatively new spaces seem to give us trouble.

On any given platform, some brand experiences work, and others don’t. Keeping in mind the outdoor concert example above, let’s talk about the station Facebook page. We’re trying to do a lot of things there. We’re posting all of our news stories; we’re posting our local program promotions; we’re posting all our station events, we’re giving away free stuff, we’re trying to get users to contribute comments on things. We’re kind of re-creating all the pieces of our radio station on Facebook and we’re doing it X times a day because a social media guru on a webinar said we should.

Sure we’ve got a lot of likes, but are we as successful on Facebook as we could be? Arguably, no, and I think we can sense it. And our engagement metrics likely prove it. So how do we fix it? We ask ourselves three questions:

  • What is the platform good for? Facebook, for instance, is a great place to find out about your friends and things you like, and share stuff with them.
  • What’s the most important key to success on that platform? On Facebook, the deepest level of engagement is sharing a piece of content.
  • Of my brand’s signature experiences, which ones best fit what users want from the platform? In the Facebook example, a great answer would be a selection of content from your experiences that are so engaging that users feel compelled to share them. On any given day, what meets that requirement? What doesn’t? The answer for Facebook will be different from the answer for twitter because twitter is different from Facebook.

What’s one of the best examples of a public radio brand that has asked, and successfully answered these questions, creating many great experiences on new platforms? Fresh Air, where Melody Kramer helped make it one of the fastest-growing public radio shows on the web. (Here’s our webinar where she explains how she did it.)

It’s not just social media: your website requires the same treatment, too. Don’t cram it full of everything you’re doing on your radio station. That won’t make your marketing and communications people happy, perhaps, but aren’t your users more important? What are the signature experiences of your station that translate well to the website? What can you do with your website that will result in a useful, meaningful experience for your users, and will cause them to come back? When you begin to carefully consider and answer those questions, you’ll realize why news stations have been so successful with websites that are much more pared down, like the River of News concept.

The thing about building an empire for your brand is how much easier it is to see some success on other platforms because you can tailor what you’ve got to each new destination so it matches what users want. As a new opportunity arises, ask yourself the questions above, find the answers, and build on your strengths.

Want to dive deeper into this concept of Brand Castle/Brand Empire? Watch this presentation by NPR’s Matt Thompson and Megan Garber at ONA 2011.