Preparing for The New Normal

By Wayne Clouten, BPR

A lot has been written about the effect of the Coronavirus situation on media usage lately, particularly radio.  Amongst the scramble to identify things of significance one thing is becoming clear.  There are differences between radio usage in different markets. To assert that a behaviour or trend in one part of the World is necessarily representative of another is naive.  A lot of this has to do with how well-established radio is and socialised in terms of its “content position” within a market.  Where radio is more than music or is otherwise well established in the psych of the community, radio listening appears to be gathering momentum.  Where radio is not so well established or is fundamentally just about music then the picture is not so rosy.

At present a lot of radio station operators are asking the question, “is now a good time to be conducting research or should we wait until things are normal again?”

It is a very good question.  It is a difficult question for a research driven organisation like BPR to answer without appearing driven by self-interest however logic should not be denied just because it may be uncomfortable to express. So, at the risk of being accused of self-interest let’s explore the argument for research.

The problem with waiting for things to “return to normal” is that there is strong evidence things won’t return to “normal”. Laurence Fink the head of BlackRock, the World’s largest fund manager recently forecast that he believes that the world’s economy will be forever changed as a result of the Coronavirus issue.  Consequently, it is likely that attitudes and behaviour will also be fundamentally changed concerning many things when this is all over. The longer the Coronavirus Pandemic goes on for, the more significant those changes will be.

In markets where radio usage is going down there are some important questions that require answers. What does that tell you about your content?  In a time of significant crisis your listeners abandon you?  What does that tell you about your business model?  Yes, you have a great business model as long as the world is unicorns and roses? 

A key issue in not knowing why people listen or don’t listen at this time of crisis is not understanding how you can optimise for the new environment.  What could you be doing that you are not?  Are you delivering the right content at the right time? Are your presenters resonating with your listeners in their time of greatest need?

The sting in the tail of all this is that what radio does not provide to its listeners in terms of content at this time might be found elsewhere.  The threat is that listeners may discover that they don’t need to return to radio “when things are normal again”.  This is particularly important in terms of how we approach morning and afternoon drive content.  With a vastly diminished number of people commuting between home and work and listening in cars, the home for many is now a live, work & play environment.  Radio stations must think different, have a different narrative and measure different things.  Now with more listening in the home (but not necessarily to radio) stations optimising for the in-home listening environment is critical. 

With advertising revenues stressed it is completely understandable why stations may not be able to afford research but this does not change the fact that listening continues and your station’s longer-term future may be very well dictated by how well you respond to your listeners needs at this time.  It doesn’t matter whether you are in a fortunate radio market or an unfortunate radio market there are important reasons to maintain a level of insight – if you can. 

Habits and attitudes are rapidly evolving as people and communities self-isolate.  A radio stations greatest enemy right now is arguably the presumption that things will magically return to what they were before the Pandemic.  This unprecedented event we are experiencing is the ultimate “stress test” of radio and how important your station is to your listeners.  For some it will be an opportunity to discover how resilient their radio station business really is.  Stations that have the ability to seize upon the opportunity to get inside the head of their listeners (and possibly recently lost listeners) at this time will have a significant competitive advantage in the longer term because they will have a much better understanding of what really moves the needle. 

Radio stations that respond well to the changing needs and behaviour of their listener target at this time will come out the other side of this Pandemic with stronger brands and listener loyalty.  Those that don’t will suffer a deterioration in both brand and listening.

In 1888 Nietzsche wrote “What does not kill me makes me stronger”.  In 2020 we could rightly say, “The more I know about what almost killed me, makes me smarter”

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