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How the industry should be promoting digital radio

Another year, another digital radio promotion on the TV, on radio, online. But how could we promote digital radio even better?

By James Cridland - posted 12 November, 2012

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Promoting any new digital radio platform (whether it's DAB, DAB+, Sirius XM, HD Radio, or internet radio) is not a simple matter. Because, by and large, most people don't think they want it.

We don't think we want more choice
A typical listener to AM/FM listens to an average of 2.9 stations every week. Unlike the television world, radio listeners don't crave the concept of "more choice". 86% of radios in the kitchen, and 79% of those in the bedroom, never get retuned. A listener finds a station she's happy with, and sticks with it. And, by definition, a radio listener is not unhappy with the station choice that she makes - because, if she were, she'd no longer be a radio listener.

We don't want better sound quality
Unlike the difference between a widescreen digital TV and a hissy analogue picture, the difference in sound quality between a decent FM signal and a decent DAB one is negligible (and divisive). Most listeners enjoy radio on a small portable unit: mostly either in mono or with stereo speakers positioned so close together it makes no difference. For the vast majority of people, sound quality on their radio is 'good enough'. If it weren't, once more, they'd no longer be listening.

We're happy with our set's looks
Our radio set is not, unlike a television, pride of place in our living room. It's a more personal device - hidden next to the taps in the kitchen, or in our private cocoon of the bedroom. There's no social reason to upgrade it: no fashionable new flat-screen set; indeed, most radio designs haven't changed in fifty years. A wooden box with a speaker looks very much like another wooden box with a speaker.

FM/AM isn't flawed
Crucially, for most radio listeners, there is no 'problem with FM' that can be fixed by upgrading to DAB. If a listener already enjoys BBC Radio 2, Capital FM or KISS, then upgrading to DAB will give her no real additional benefit. She'll get less pirate interference, now-playing information on the screen, and a way of tuning in without needing to remember frequencies: but these are not fixing a massive problem that she has with FM - just a nice incremental improvement. There is no reason for a committed listener to an existing radio station to upgrade to digital.

So.

This is the reason why digital radio is difficult to promote - and, by extension, why the take-up is slow. Because, by and large, there isn't a clear problem that needs fixing.

Digital radio promotion doesn't always get this. From an artful and clever 2011 campaign focusing on a nebulous idea of choice, to this week's new D-Love campaign promising sound quality, portability and the same un-demonstrated 'choice', it's clear to me that we're not, yet, on the right track with digital radio's promotion. Which is a shame: because digital radio is, once people get it, really valued.

And digital (whatever platform) is vital for the future of radio - because once someone gets digital radio, they listen to more radio. Digital Radio now accounts for 31.5% of all radio listening. 45% of people listen to digital radio (on whatever platform) every week. That's nearly half. Digital radio isn't failing - but I think we're not very good at promoting it.

So, how should we promote digital radio?

One of the simplest techniques in advertising a product is to identify a problem that a consumer has, and then help her solve it. These are "problem/solution" framed commercials, and research shows that they work.

There's no doubt that, on purchasing a digital radio, people report that they enjoy the 'improved' sound quality, the choice of stations and the additional information on the screen - as well as the ease of tuning. But this is not a "problem" that they have with their current FM radio, which is leading them to be dissatisfied. These are improvements that they've noticed once purchasing a new device. This post-purchase research is oft used by the digital radio industry to promote digital radio with; yet this research is not helpful as a driver for purchase. Indeed - I'd go further. It doesn't work.

With that in mind: here are a few problems with FM/AM that digital radio can help with:

I love 80s music. How can I hear more?

I'd really like to listen to the BBC World Service in the car.

Chcę posłuchać czegoś w języku polskim, a nie angielskim.

There's never any comedy on the radio late at night.

Je veux écouter les chansons françaises classiques.

I want stuff my kids can listen to.

I want to hear the Arsenal commentary, not the Spurs game.

I wish there was a radio station that played classic rock.

Let's not promote a nebulous concept of choice, or confuse post-purchase research with reasons to buy. Let's promote positive reasons why the additional choice you get with digital radio is important. The question is whether the industry is brave enough to spend money promoting new entrants (like Fun Kids and PRL 24) rather than their own mainstream stations.

The content on digital radio is great. So, let's promote the content, not the platform.

James CridlandJames Cridland is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.

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