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Turning Programmers into Radio Baristas
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Turning Programmers into Radio Baristas

When it comes to radio ratings, programmers are consistently focused on determining which listener group is the most influential. After all, appealing to the audience with the biggest influence is the best way to ensure a high-performing station. The trick, however, is delving beneath the surface to identify exactly which groups to focus on.

Last year we explored the idea that the group in the middle of the audience curve holds the most potential to increase their consumption. That’s because this group is large and wants to be engaged more than it already is. Said another way, heavy listeners are always going to be important to the ratings, but they’re in the minority and already fully engaged with your programming. So with that perspective, it’s more worthwhile to work on cultivating the listener that is engaged, but wants more.

Programmers can also look at listeners the way one of the world’s largest coffee retailers views its coffee customers. Not all coffee drinkers have the same appetites, and the same thing applies to radio listeners. This retailer recognizes the differences and focuses on three consumer segments as a result: super regulars, coffee house enthusiasts and basic occasionals. But the coffee giant doesn’t stop there. It goes beyond classifying the groups by assigning a different value to each one. From there, it can customize the way it engages each one based on how much interaction each group wants.

Heavy-Deeps are the Super Regulars of Radio

Radio programmers can think of their super regulars as the “heavy-deep” audience. These listeners spend a lot of time with radio in general (heavy users) and spend most of their listening time tuned to your station (deeply important to your ratings). Coffee retailers take these people very seriously because they’re great customers and drink a lot of coffee. The downside, however, is that they’re already highly committed and offer limited upside purchase potential. The same thing goes for radio. The heaviest listeners are your biggest fans. So you want to take care of them and take them very seriously. But at the same time, they only have a small amount of incremental time left to give us. They’re also fewer in terms of sheer numbers, which means the overall ratings impact of any incremental gains in listening will likely be modest.

Engaging with the Almost Heavies of Radio

In the coffee retail world, coffee house enthusiasts are consumers who stop in often for their caffeine fixes, but they don’t necessarily live at the coffee outlets like the super regulars do. The major coffee retailer spends a lot of time courting this group because these customers represent growth opportunities. They’re big coffee drinkers and they have more wallet to give. This is the group coffee retailers want to return later in the day, so they offer them coupons and promotions to entice repeat same-day visits. In radio, we can call the listeners in this group the “almost heavies.” They may be heavy radio users, but they may not be deep users of your station. Historically, programmers have focused almost exclusively on the heavy-deeps—a key listener demographic, indeed. If the goal is to generate growth, however, the almost heavies may represent a richer opportunity. They’re still big radio users, but they haven’t maxed out their time spent on one station, and they may be swayable. Most importantly, there are simply more of them out there.

Basic Occasionals/Lights

The basic occasionals are the consumers who visit only on occasion and spend less than others when they visit. In radio terms, we can call these listeners the light users. Programmers certainly appreciate this group, but in many ways, these listeners’ usage of a station tends to be incidental and not a regular habit. Since they tend to listen to less radio overall and have little contribution to the station, they represent little growth opportunity.

To get an idea of the ratings impact of the heavy-deeps and almost heavies to an individual station’s ratings, we looked at the top five stations in the top five portable people meter (PPM) radio markets in the 25-54 demographic over the course of 2013 and then calculated what percentage of the stations’ total panelists and total ratings came from each.

Persons 25-54 Almost Heavies (25-50 hrs/month) Heavy-Deeps (50+ hrs/month)
% of Total Panelists 12% 7%
% of Total Ratings 19% 22%
Source: Nielsen Audio PPM Metro Ratings. January-October 2013. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas. Adults 25-54 Top 5 Stations, Full Week Daypart. PD Advantage Web Vital Signs.

According to this brief dive into the data, a typical station may get around 20 percent of its ratings from each group, but it’s likely to have almost twice as many almost heavies tuning in. So even though the heavy-deeps listen more, they’re governed by the law of diminishing returns. Programmers absolutely want to keep them at their current levels of consumption, but the real opportunities for growth lie with the almost heavies.