Episode 9: Warren Kurtzman of Coleman Insights on radio, podcasting and their audiences
The President of Coleman Insights (a top media research company) discusses how radio keeps 92% of its listeners during commercials. He also discusses how streaming providers and podcasting are changing the audio space.
Rudy Fernandez: Hey everyone. This is Rudy Fernandez from Creative Outhouse, and this is a really neat episode with Warren Kurtzman, the president of Coleman insights. And we first learned about Coleman when we were doing some research on media trends. They have lots of terrific research on radio, podcasting, and music on their website. So I wanted to learn more about that. Now, even though Warren and I just met on this call, I can tell you he is a super nice man and a patient one because we had some online technical problems and it took three attempts at this conversation before we ever got one that worked. So he’s a prince. Now, the first two minutes of our conversation, the audio isn’t great, but after that it’s fine. So stick with it because Warren shared a lot of fantastic knowledge about the audio space. Check it out. Welcome to Marketing Upheaval.
Earcon: You’re listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse.
Rudy: Well, welcome to Marketing Upheaval. My guest is Warren Kurtzman, the president of Coleman insights. Coleman does extensive media research and they are experts particularly in the audio space. So today we’re going to talk about radio, which is one of my favorite subjects and podcasting and music testing. Warren, thanks for joining me today.
Warren Kurtzman: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
Rudy: So I know Coleman helps radio stations build their brands and, and develop content. How do you help radio stations, especially as rapidly as things are changing? How do you help them develop content and develop their brands?
Warren: Well, we do that primarily through market research and I’ve experience working with audio brands. So we do a lot of consumer research where we find out what consumers like, what they don’t like and what they perceive radio stations and other forms of media, including other forms of audio media providing them.
Rudy: So radio has been around for a long time, but what are some of the changes you see in this space in the last, let’s say five years or so?
Warren: Well, that might take up the rest of your podcast. Quite a few changes in the audio landscape. The radio industry has changed dramatically. It used to be a highly fragmented industry and nowadays consolidated with, in most markets, three, four, maybe five operators running most of the radio stations. And the landscape in which a radio stations compete is completely different. Used to be that they had almost a near monopoly on the way people could consume audio, particularly as they were consuming it on the go. And of course today with the rise of streaming, with the rise of podcasting and other ways that people can access audio based entertainment digitally on the environment in which radio competing, nothing like it was just a couple of years ago.
Rudy: I love radio. We have some great case studies for radio. There’s a lot of ways to reach an audience these days. It still reaches about, is it about 90% of the U.S. every week?
Warren: Yeah, about 92 – 93% of all Americans listen to the radio every week. That number is actually remained remarkably steady over the years. It’s a little bit higher with older consumers and lower with younger consumers. So there is the potential that that number will come down in the coming years. But so far it’s remained remarkably stable. The vast majority of Americans listened to at least some, AM or FM radio every week.
Rudy: So with all the changes, how has radio managed to stay relevant?
Warren: I think there’s a few ways that radio has managed to retain its relevancy. One is its ubiquity. We can listen to radio pretty much everywhere we go, especially of course when we’re in cars and for the vast majority of cars continue to offer AM and FM radio. So it’s just available to people in a lot of places that they often go. But the other thing is I think radio is that a pretty good job of responding to the changing consumer environment, the, you know, new competitive environment where there’s a lot of digital offerings available to consumers. By doing things like what my company does, you know, doing regular research, making sure that they stay on top of what consumers want and what they perceive radio as offering and understanding what they want from radio. So I think the combination of the two has allowed radio to retain a good degree of relevance.
Warren: They’ve had a real substantial impact. Um, you know, just on one level they’re just another form of competition. So they take away the amount of time that is available for consumers to consume audio. It’s another place they can go and that certainly is taking, uh, you know, some bite out of the amount of consumption of radio that goes on out there. Um, the other thing is it’s changed what people are looking for from radio stations. You know, before easy access to music was, you know, so readily available. People relied on radio stations overwhelmingly to hear their favorite songs. And while they continue to do that in substantial numbers, radio stations need to be more than just the source of their favorite songs. Because after all, if I want to hear my favorite music completely customized for me, I can go to a streaming platform and I can listen to that. So radio stations need to be multidimensional. They need to offer a lot more to consumers than just being a source of the music that they want to listen to.
Rudy: Yeah. What was that term you used? Because I guess, I think you’re right. When I was growing up, you had to wait for your song to come on the radio if you wanted to hear a song. But now it’s music on demand,
Warren: A curated experience. What a, you know, there are still plenty of times when consumers want that curation experience. They don’t want to have to do the work to build a playlist or seek out something that’s been completely customized for them. Sometimes they just want somebody to do the work for them and make it a real passive experience so that they can listen while they’re doing other things. You know, it’s kind of the equivalent of, Hey, I can go to Netflix or Hulu or another, you know, streaming platform and watch whatever TV show or movie I want on demand. But, you know, sometimes I just want to turn on the TV and flip through the channels and see what comes, you know, what’s being delivered to me by people who are not doing it customized for my schedule. So there’s still a lot of people out there who at least on occasion want that curated experience. They want somebody to provide the programming for them rather than doing the programming themselves.
Rudy: And how important are DJs and personalities to do that sort of brand and brand loyalty to stations? You think?
Warren: It’s a pretty big part, I think of what has helped radio retain some relevancy. You know, I talked a couple of moments ago about how radio stations need to be multidimensional and can’t just be seen as the source of music and nothing else. Because again, there’s so much competition for that from digital platforms. So personality really provides a way for radio stations to really differentiate themselves from the digital platforms, whether it’s a morning show on a music radio station or a host on a talk station or a sports station. It’s those personalities that really help differentiate the radio listening experience. They’re also, you know, the thing that often engenders loyalty to a particular radio station, there are certain personalities that listeners are really passionate about and make up a big part of the brand identity of some radio stations. And as a result, they really help those stations retain relevancy in this more competitive environment.
Rudy: Yeah. I find that radio has a certain kind of loyalty that no other medium has really, there’s an intimacy I think that I don’t, I can’t really explain. When you look at the landscape and you do work with lots of stations, what are some of the differences you see between a successful station and a station that is not as successful in terms of branding itself?
Warren: Well, there’s a couple of things. I mean, one of the first things is very simply unaided awareness. We’ve talked with our clients a lot about the need for a radio station to be top of mind with listeners. It’s kind of amazing sometimes when you do research and find that relatively few radio stations or any media brands really are on the tops of minds with consumers. So that’s the first step is you just got to have awareness. You’ve got to have people know that you exist. Then more specifically, they have to know exactly what your radio station stands for. And at Coleman insights we actually talk about a concept called the image pyramid, which has a very specific hierarchy of images that radio stations should develop and I think the thing that really differentiates a strong radio station from one that doesn’t perform as well is that the strong station is going to have a very clear, what we call base position.
Warren: You know, a main reason for existing being the hip hop space in the country station, the talk station, and then also along with that, having images for other dimensions including things like personality, specialty programming, contesting and promotion, news and information, community involvement, the really strong radio stations, the ones that have brands that continue to perform well over long periods of time tend to be seen as having all of those images in the minds of listeners. The ones that don’t do well, even if they do have a reasonable level of awareness or the ones that don’t have that multidimensionality that they’re not really seen as offering listeners a lot of different reasons why they should be loyal to them. Those stations are the ones that don’t tend to perform as well. In the ratings in the short run and often don’t survive in their current format in the long run.
Rudy: Yeah. I think I heard you say in another interview where you were talking about how you know when the people meters came out, radio stations responded by just playing a lot of music and while that may hold listeners for a time, it doesn’t build your brand at all.
Warren: Yeah. A concept that we often talk about with our customers is something we call the brand content matrix and it’s this idea that sometimes there are things that radio stations do that are great for the in the moment experience for the listener, but may not be very good for their long-term brand health. Conversely, there are things that they can do that might be great for their brands but may not help them in terms of the in the moment listener experience. And there’s a tension between those two things and that’s something that we talk our clients through, which is understanding when you can deliver content that really is about building brands. When you deliver content, it’s really about the great in the moment experience and finding the ideal intersection between those two. And when PPM came out, one of the things that we all learned very quickly is that when a music station stopped playing music, you know, to go into a commercial break or if they have their personalities talk, we tended to see the in the moment performance of the radio station dip a bit.
Warren: So what was the natural response? Well, let’s play as much music as we possibly can and not interrupt it very often. But then what we learned is that those radio stations that we’re not interrupting the music with all the other things that make a radio station brand great tended not to do that well in the long run. So there was this immediate reaction to remove a lot of the, what we call stationality in the industry of our various radio stations and make these stations sound like jukeboxes. But now I think the industry has come full circle and understood that that was not a very good move for building strong brands. And we have to keep these two kind of competing demands on our radio stations in check.
Rudy: And for our listeners PPM is “personal people meters” that monitor what people are listening to.
Warren: Right. So in the largest markets around the country in the 50 or so, largest markets on Nielsen has a panel of people who are carrying around devices that look like the pagers that people used to wear back in the 90s and these devices pick up in audible tones that are embedded in radio stations signals and that tracks their exposure to different radio stations. And that’s what produces the ratings.
Rudy: I mean, do people listen to radio commercials? What’s the drop off from when there’s programming to commercials?
Warren: Well, we’ve actually done a couple of studies on this in collaboration with Nielsen and another company called Media Monitors. We’ve done two studies over the last decade. Both of them are called what happens when the spots come on? And they were actually designed to help us measure exactly what happens to radio station audiences when they go into commercial breaks. And what was really astonishing in both of these studies done a couple of years apart was that we got the same number both times. And that is during an average minute of a radio station commercial break. The audience level is at about 92 or 93% of what it was in the minute before they went into the commercial breaks. So radio’s ability to maintain high audience levels during commercial breaks is pretty astonishing and it’s dramatically higher than most people perceive. In fact, one of the two studies that we did with Nielsen and with Media Monitors, we actually did a survey of advertisers and agencies who buy advertising on radio stations to ask them to estimate what they thought that figure would be.
Warren: And the number came out at 68% so advertisers and agencies were perceiving that when they bought radio stations advertising, they were getting audience levels that were about two thirds of what the ratings actually reported for those stations. And the reality is they were getting a lot more. Again, the numbers at about 92 or 93% one of our studies, we’ve got the 90 to the other, we got to 93 and I think the reason why this happens is that everybody can kind of relate to that time when they were driving in the car and they had quick access to the radio right in front of them and a commercial break came on and they hit the button and went to another radio station and maybe hit buttons a couple of times to avoid commercial breaks and find radio stations that were offering music or talk programming that they were looking for.
Warren: And that’s totally valid. And even though listening in car is a very big part of the radio usage scenario, the vast majority of listening doesn’t happen in the car. And people are often listening in other environments where they don’t have that quick access to the radio. They’re often doing something else while they’re listening to the radio and they’re not switching out of commercial breaks every time their favorite radio station goes to a commercial break. In fact, most people have one favorite radio station that takes up the overwhelming majority of their radio listens. They don’t really switch it off when the station goes into commercials. So radio actually does an incredible job of retaining audience through commercial breaks. Dramatically better than television does and better than I think most advertising media do.
Rudy: Yeah. And that goes back again to what you were saying about you need to brand your station so people will stick around.
Warren: Yeah. Part of it is about having a strong brand that keeps people loyal and you know, sticking with your radio station. The other part of it is just the nature of the way people use radio. It tends to be part of their habit. They stick with one radio station and they don’t usually have easy access to the radio to change stations except for when they’re in the car. And of course the radio was sitting right in front of them.
Rudy: Yeah. I think that one of the things I love about audio in general, radio and podcasting is that you can listen to something while you’re doing something else. Music and talk allows someone the freedom to enjoy entertainment and do something else. In today’s society, that seems, seems like a valid form of entertainment that can, you could take wherever you go.
Warren: Yeah, I mean, the reality of people using multimedia at the same time is actually pretty common. And you know, if there’s any medium that is ideally suited for today’s multitasking world, it’s audio-based media. Most people, when they’re listening to music, listening to talk programming, whether they’re listening to radio or listening to a streaming service or even a podcast, they can do all those things while they’re doing something else. That’s an important part of their life.
Rudy: I know I do. Let’s talk about podcasting. How has podcasting changed the way we get our information? Entertainment?
Warren: Well, it’s taking off in a pretty significant way. It’s not as, I fake it as big as some of the hype around it is, but we’re still very bullish on the podcasting space. We just delivered some research at the Podcast Movement conference in Orlando where we showed that we’re finding that among 18 to 64 year olds, about 27% of them have listened to a podcast in the past month. 21% have listened to a podcast in the past week. So while it’s not nearly at the levels of other media platforms, podcasting is definitely becoming a bigger and bigger factor as far as how it’s affecting the radio space. Well, the first thing is that another form of competition for the listeners, time for the listeners ears, every minute that somebody listening a podcast is a minute, they can’t be listening to an AM or FM radio station. But on the flip side of that, I think the exciting thing is that podcasting, it presents a fabulous opportunity for the radio industry. Radio is really good at creating audio content that consumers find compelling.
Warren: So as a result, a lot of the major radio companies have really invested heavily in the podcasting space. And in fact in the US the two largest podcasters in terms of generating audience are radio based companies. NPR is number one, and iHeartMedia is number two. So podcasting is a pretty exciting new frontier. It’s also a way for radio stations to extend their brands. Think about, you know, a particular host on either a music station or a talk station that the audience finds compelling. Well in addition to listening to that host when they’re on the air doing an AM or FM broadcast, that host can create additional content and make it available to people via podcasting. And there are a lot of examples of that. So there are ways that radio can really extend well beyond what it offers via an AM or FM signal through something like podcasts,
Rudy: The opportunity online and streaming apps. It gives you a chance to extend your radio reach, I guess in some ways. And podcasting is a way to do that because you don’t have to be listening to This American Life on Sundays. You could hear it whenever you want or Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, or whatever else they put out.
Warren: Yeah. In fact, if you look at the PODTRAC rankings of the most listened to podcasts, there are a number of shows that are simply rebroadcast, if you will, of shows that appear on broadcast radio and you mentioned This American Life. This American Life was one of the top 10 most listened to podcasts according to Podtrac.
Rudy: I think this one did come from one of your recent surveys. That I guess the highest unaided awareness was a Joe Rogan’s podcast, but even that the number was still at 14% so it seems like there’s a lot of room to grow in terms of branding podcasts as well.
Warren: Yeah, we believe that there’s a lot of fabulous content that’s being created in the podcasting space, but at this point there are very few strong brands that have been developed in that space. And if we go back to what we talked about earlier with the brand content matrix for radio stations, it applies for podcasts as well. In fact, that applies for almost any product or service you can think of. And that is that for a podcast to be successful. Sure. It has to offer really great content that people enjoy in the moment and really enjoy the listening experience, but a podcast if it wants to reach a large audience also needs to build a big brand. It needs to be well known and it needs to be perceived as offering something that a lot of people are interested in. And so far the research that we’ve done on podcasting brands is, I don’t want to say discouraging, it’s really not surprising given the nascent and highly fragmented world of podcasting that we’re looking at 2019 but it does say that podcasting has a long way to go before big brands are built.
Warren: As you referenced, Joe Rogan has the biggest brand in podcasting, but according to the research that we recently conducted in May, only 14% of monthly podcasts users have him on the tops of their minds that they’re aware of him on an unaided basis. And then to kind of elaborate on that, we’ve also tested the, what we call aided awareness of the 20 most listened to podcasts and not a single one of them is familiar to at least half of all monthly podcast users. So you know, the industry is still in its infancy, it’s highly fragmented. And so as a result today we can’t really point to any major brands that have been produced in the podcasting space. And that’s ultimately going to need to change if there are ever going to be some big hit podcasts that are, you know, mass successes across the US.
Rudy: Well not to garner any free advice, but do you have any advice or are there some things that podcasters can do to better brand themselves?
Warren: Absolutely, and in fact, it’s funny that you’re interviewing me today because we just released on our website today a bunch of recommendations about how podcasts can build brands. And not only did we release this on our website, we presented this get the podcast movement conference in a session called outside thinking for podcasts. And there are a number of specific steps that we’ve suggested that podcasts can follow in order to build strong brands. And the, you know, a couple of things that we talk about in that blog on our website and in the presentation we delivered at podcast movement include things like podcasters need to think like marketers. They can’t only think like content creators. And if you think like a marketer, you really are cognizant of the need to build a strong brand. So you know, among the things that you should be able to do is for example, have an elevator pitch about your podcast. Know exactly what your podcast stands for so that you can describe it to other people.
Warren: It’s Kinda like, you know, the elevator pitch idea of course is always thought of with movie ideas that are pitched to movie executives in an elevator in 15 seconds. Well the same thing kind of applies with podcasts. You know, if you can succinctly articulate what your podcast is about and why people should listen to it and what differentiates it from other podcasts, it’s going to be really hard for you to build a brand. So that’s one recommendation that we made a couple of others we make is give your podcast a memorable name. You know, your brand name for your podcast has to be searchable and it has to be memorable. We often talk about things like using jingles and mnemonic devices. Those are things that really help audio brands stand out with consumers. We talk about utilizing a consistent structure with your podcast and that covers everything from you know, making sure it follows a consistent release schedule to actually executing your content in a very consistent flow.
Warren: A couple of other things we talk about are things like benchmarks, which are recurring features that are always appearing in your podcast. Making sure that the content is on target, not only with what interests your audience, but as in line with what they expect when they come to your podcast. And then we also talk about the need for advertising your podcasts. And you know, even if you don’t have a big budget to do, you know, ads in the Superbowl, there are some other creative ways that you can advertise a podcast that won’t break the bank and could allow you to really start developing the brand. So these are all things we talk about in the blog that appears on our website and we’re actually going to be re-presenting this outside thinking for podcasts presentation in a free Webinar that people can also register for on our website.
Rudy: I’m definitely gonna check that out. I was happy as you were going through that list. It’s like, okay, we do that, we do that, we do that. There’s a lot we could still learn about how to brand the, the podcast. I wanted to ask you about music testing because it’s a concept I’m not very familiar with. I don’t know if a lot of people are familiar with any one oh one what is music testing and why is it done?
Warren: So, yeah, music testing is actually a very big part of our business. We do hundreds of music tests every year for radio stations all around the world and if I’m going to give a quick music testing 101 lesson. First of all, I’m going to split the world into two different types of music tests. One is the kind that my company does, which is called library testing, which is where radio stations test their entire music library, including some music that they don’t play but are considering playing. That’s how they build out their whole library and that’s something that’s done by most larger market radio stations at least once if not twice a year. And I’ll go into the specifics of that in a moment, but library testing is one big area. Then another area is called new music research. This is something that’s done on an ongoing basis by radio stations that air contemporary music format where almost every week they are testing new music releases with their audience to get some feedback about what songs they should be adding to their playlist and what songs they should be increasing the exposure of or decreasing the exposure of or eliminating entirely.
Warren: My company does the former – library testing – and we have a separate subsidiary company that specializes just in that new music research. And basically the idea behind it is that you pick a very targeted sample of people that meet specific demographic listenership, music tastes, profiles for your radio stations audience and you play them all these different songs and get their feedback on them. Now we don’t play them the entire songs. We play what called music hooks. These are soundbites that in most cases are between about six and 10 seconds long and they’re just long enough so that they are enough to remind the listener of the song. So we’re not asking them to, you know, respond to music that they’ve never heard before. We’re asking them to hear the hook, recognize what song we’re talking to them about and then get their feedback. And this data is used very extensively by radio stations to help determine what songs to play, what songs not to play, and if they do play them, how often do they play?
Rudy: Recently a song broke the record for weeks that at number one on the billboard charts. I don’t know if it was ever tested, but, uh, it’s Lil Nas X song, which is Old Town Road.
Warren: Yep. Very familiar with it.
Rudy: How do you think that song might have tested?
Warren: Well, I know it does very well now and just, just to be clear, this type of research is not done to get people’s reaction to a new song that they haven’t heard before. So, you know, what typically happens today is that a new song will get released. Certainly the record label who’s behind it is promoting it to radio and other digital platforms. It might start getting, listening via digital platforms. There’s a lot of different tools that are out there that are available to radio stations to start to see when there’s an activity around a certain song or new release, things will start to bubble up. They’ll start to see that this artist has released this song and you know, let’s take a listen to it. There’s still a very subjective part that happens in a lot of radio stations where the people involved in music programming will listen to the song and use their gut instincts about whether or not it is right for their music strategy and whether their audience would respond to it.
Warren: But then after the radio station has started to expose the song a little bit, they then put it in their new music research and the new music research helps them determine, okay, do we start playing this more? Did we start playing this a real lot? Did we get it off the radio station because the audience hates it. That’s where the research comes in. And you know, part of the reason why Old Town Road is the number one song, um, you know, the calculation of billboard number one includes radio airplay. Well, it’s getting a lot of radio airplay and part of the reason why it’s getting a lot of radio airplay is that when that song was put in new music research by a lot of radio stations across the country, it tested extremely well. Very few songs are ever going to make it to number one on the billboard chart and certainly stay on top of the billboard chart for 19 weeks like that song did without testing well for radio stations in their new music research.
Rudy: Yeah, that makes sense. What are some trends you see happening in the audio space that you think are noteworthy?
Warren: I would say a couple of things that immediately come to mind in response to that question. You know, first is the plethora of choice and the rise of on demand offerings, which we’ve touched on a little bit over the course of this interview. You know, it used to be that when you wanted to hear something, you either went to a record store and bought the vinyl or you listen to a radio station and waited for that song. Today there are so many choices that are available to you that will allow you to listen to exactly what you want to at the moment that you want to. And that doesn’t discover music and includes spoken word content, news, sports, talk shows, true crime dramas, everything that’s available on the podcasting space. So that’s, you know, just a huge change. And of course that leads to more fragmentation of the audience.
Warren: So for marketers trying to reach audiences via audio, things have gotten a lot more complicated just like it’s happened in the video world and the online world and even the print world. So those are all things that are going on and that I think is really substantial. Another thing that I think is really significant when we talk about traditional radio is that because of this changing environment where there is all this choice and there is all this on demand content, it’s really created the need for radio stations to be more than just music jukeboxes. As we also talked about earlier, radio stations are putting a lot more energy and time and hopefully resources into developing non-musical content that’s compelling to audiences. So building morning shows, building talk shows, you know, finding other sources of content that the audience really can respond to. Those are probably the two biggest things that I can think of that are going on in the audio space. There’s more, but I think those two are probably paramount.
Rudy: So let’s say if you owned radio station, what would excite you about the changes going on and what might scare you about all the changes going on?
Warren: Well, what excites me is that audio consumption is just huge and the fact that streaming and podcasting and all of that has arisen over the last decade or so makes me feel good that if I’m in the audio space, I’m in a space that’s hot and that’s really encouraging. What scares me is that there’s vastly more competition for my listeners time then had I owned that radio station 30 years ago, but if I get out of the mindset that I’m in the radio business, yeah. And I get into the mindset that I’m in the business of delivering compelling audio content to listeners and delivering solutions for advertisers to reach those listeners, then I’ll be just fine. And that’s generally why the radio industry continues to be healthy. You know, it’s a very mature medium, but you know, revenues are still climbing, they’re in the single digit range and the audience for radio itself is probably not gonna grow anymore. When you’re at 92 or 93% of the population listening to you, it’s not going to grow anymore. But as long as the industry continues to provide, you know, innovative solutions to marketers to reach all the people who are listening to these radio stations, whether it’s on an AM or FM signal, whether it’s via streaming, whether it’s via other digital offerings that come from these radio stations, I think the industry is going to be just fine. As a result, I would not be terribly concerned if I’m a good radio operator.
Rudy: Well, Warren, thanks for your time. Side note, we had all these technical difficulties, but I really do appreciate your patience.
Warren No worries.
Rudy: I have enjoyed the conversation very much.
Warren: Me Too.
Rudy: Thanks again, Warren. Hey, thanks for listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse. If you want to learn more about Coleman insights in the work they’re doing, vist Coleman insights.com for show notes, previous episodes and previous to upcoming episodes, visit us at CreativeOuthouse.com/podcast and if you liked this podcast, please give it five stars, subscribe and share it with your friends. This show is produced by Susan Cooper. Special thanks to Gopal Swami at Acoustech Music for creating our wonderful earcon and special thanks to Jason Shablik for his ongoing audio support. Well that’s it for this episode of Marketing Upheaval. Remember if the current state of marketing has got you confused. Don’t worry. It’ll all change. See Ya.
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