Archive for April 2009
It’s hard to wrap our minds around new ways of doing things—especially when the new ways require clear thinking along unexplored routes. Yesterday in conversation with a marketer we discussed the difficulty in getting his niche business known. There is no “road map,” he said, no established market for the custom work his firm does. Clients eventually come to them from all over the world. And for these clients, my friend’s firm is a group of miracle-working artisans who combine art and science to solve manufacturing problems.
The problem is getting word of the miracle-working artisans to just the right people. At just the right time. Exactly when they are having the manufacturing problem that requires a miracle.
Which reminds me of an experiment going on over at Minnesota Public Radio. It’s called Radio Heartland and host Dale Connelly uses his Trial Balloon blog to hear and respond to exactly what his audience is looking for—which happens to be something more than the eclectic range of music that plays 24 hours a day through the new station.
Dale Connelly’s show, and the continuous-running station that derives from it, are actually a remix of The Morning Show that Connelly and “Jim Ed Poole” ran for 25 years. A show that built a wide following despite being on the verge of removal from the radio dial a number of times—at least that’s how the lore goes. The remix includes a highly interactive element.
First, the Music
The genius of Radio Heartland is two-fold. First, there’s the music, which Connelly alternately describes as “Americana” or “roots,” but neither of which title allows for a playlist that runs from Tom Waits to Sammy Davis Jr. to the Drive-By Truckers to the Kinks to the Café Accordion Orchestra. Any summary of the music is woefully incomplete. Like the previous Morning Show, Radio Heartland also gives play time and promotes local music. Connelly changes up the music as he hears from his audience.
Second, the Conversation
I asked about the role of the conversation in running Radio Heartland. “I think of the blog contributors as my co-hosts,” said Connelly. “And I try to work their ideas and music suggestions into the fabric of the show every day.” Reading through the blog it quickly becomes clear that much more than music is on topic. Goats, goat cheese, a virtual Radio Heartland Community band (“The Goatles”?) and lots of conversation that is only tangentially related to goats.
But music is really the focus. In particular, how the music works through the ups and downs of a day. What the music reminds of and how it works in the lives of listeners. Listeners freely respond with comments, praise, poems and prose. Much of the comments are in direct response to Connelly’s lively and funny writing and regular blog updates. It is clear the listeners feel heard.
Then the Loyalty
“Word of mouth is our major promotional tool for new listeners right now,” says Connelly. But the blog helps, especially when people “tune in” to hear/see how their comments and suggestions work out. One of the hallmarks of the Morning Show was great listener loyalty—which Connelly felt would be threatened—which ultimately led him and produce Mike Pengra to set up the HD and Web-Only station.
What can Marketers learn from Radio Heartland?
- That engaging in dialogue as a precursor to conversation can actually help potential customers find you. Is this just another version of “If you build it, they will come?” Possibly. But given the low cost of entry into dialogue and the potential for building word-of-mouth interest, when is the time to launch? Putting specifics out for discussion invites response. And when those interested see their suggestions incorporated—all the better. Sporadic readers move to loyal readers.
- Loyalty builds one conversation at a time. So does community, for that matter.
- Loyalty may start with “Search.” We’ll always ask our questions to people in the know. We’ll rarely turn to a drawer full of brochures for answers. Just make sure your interest pops up in the search.
- There may be a conversational space your firm can own. It may have nothing to do with goats (one can hope). But it will take the shape that flows from a dialogue that seeks and responds to dialogue partners. But dialogue possibilities will not always be as wide-open as they are now.
Lars Bastholm, recently co-chief creative officer at ad agency AKQA moved to oversee digital creative for Ogilvy North America. In a Q&A posted on AdAge, he talked about wanting a larger platform for messaging:
“You’ve heard me pontificate about what I call social storytelling, where you have a much more open-ended dialogue with consumers. It’s not about pushing a message but inviting people in and it requires you monitor the conversation more thoroughly and to be more responsive.”
There will always be one-way message development. Assembling these messages remains valuable to an organization and serves to hone communication. The mistake is to think tomorrow’s audiences will simply absorb those one-way messages. Tomorrow’s effective message-makers will include points of contact that invite the target audience into conversation.
After sending out messages through a growing number of channels, “monitoring the conversation more thoroughly and being more responsive” is the next movement of corporate conversations. But monitoring and responding are movements many of us are not prepared for, or at least inadequately prepared for. Those activities require a kind of deep listening followed by creative synthesis to piece together anecdotes into a sensible patchwork that accurately portrays our brand’s successes and flaws. It’s a whole-brain activity.
It’s much easier to deliver a monologue than it is to remain engaged in conversation—it’s also far less satisfying for all participants. Maybe we hang back from dialogue because we fear what we might hear.