How Radio Can Create Evangelists – a Q&A with Ben McConnell, co-author of “Creating

Creating Customer Evangelists is a new book aimed at helping you build buzz for your company, or in our case, your radio station. Buzz is, as I keep saying, the world’s most effective form of advertising. And at the heart of buzz-making are your big fans, your “evangelists.”

You can check out the book at the lower left of this page and buy a copy for yourself and your team. You can also visit the Creating Customer Evangelists website. Here, I asked co-author Ben McConnell a few key questions to help broadcasters create evangelists.

1. You guys [McConnell and his co-author] are in Chicago. In your estimation, what are some of the right things Chicago area stations are doing to create and sustain customer evangelism? What are they doing wrong?

Several Chicago stations understand the value of building loyalty strategies, specifically via listener clubs. These self-selected groups are the most strategic opportunity for knowing who listeners are and understanding their motivations.

I’ve subscribed to a number of radio station loyalty clubs, and the writers of notes, emails and newsletters from many of the stations are invisible. They’re nameless and faceless. They’ve been body-snatched by corporate aliens. Rule number one of customer evangelism for services: People are loyal to people, not necessarily brands.

The public radio station here, WBEZ, is becoming more sophisticated in its use of email marketing. Its newsletter is personal and relevant, written by Wendy Turner. She’s fun and sprightly. She asks readers for their opinions. Wendy understands that personality-driven communications helps WBEZ cross the emotional chasm required to create listener evangelists. When WBEZ sends pledge pleas directly from on-air talent like “This American Life” host Ira Glass, the response rate is amazing.

WLUP-FM (the Loop) is very smart about marketing its “Loyal Looper” program. It promotes the heck out of it, and it appeals to the WLUP listener who literally has been listening to classic rock and the station for years, maybe a decade or more.

WKSU, a public radio station in Akron, Ohio, (and a client of ours) has created an online content product that focuses exclusively on folk music. Its popularity is growing rapidly; it has already exceeded year-end listener and registration goals and has a time-spent-listening average of 60+ minutes. Among the many reasons why it’s growing quickly: It’s innovative and unlike just about anything out there and it taps into the passion of a well-defined segment: folk music lovers.

2. What are two or three fairly specific things radio stations can do to create evangelists?

How about five?

– If you don’t have a loyal listener database, create one or sign up with a service. It’s not an expense, it’s an investment in your future success.

– Know who your top 100 most loyal listeners are and treat them like the royalty they are. Royalty doesn’t want discounts to local restaurants. Royalty wants access, which can mean many things – to on-air staff, station management, private audiences with advertisers and, of course, celebrities.

– Focus on a customer-service culture. Create reward systems for employees based on attaining not just Arbitron results, but improved loyalty figures among listeners and advertisers. Extinguish any too-cool-for-school attitudes.

– Focus on a single cause year-round, not just during the holidays. Put a stake in the ground and fight for it every week. The root of evangelism is creating emotional connections with your most affiliated customers; it doesn’t have to appeal to everyone.

– Create quarterly opportunities for advertisers to meet one another, and invite prospective advertisers to the parties. Watch how some existing, satisfied advertisers sell your station’s services on your behalf.

3. What do you think is the biggest obstacle to evangelism for radio stations?

If you had asked this question before 1994, I would have said, “The inability to interact with listeners on a large scale.”

With the Internet, radio stations can more effectively manage large-scale interaction. That said, the biggest obstacle today: To think less like a broadcaster and more like a relationship marketer.

4. Does it cost a lot of money to create evangelists?

Not at all. The strategies and tactics are what you make them. It does require:

– A belief in a theology, if you will. It’s a leap of faith for many companies to think that customer evangelism can happen for them, but it won’t happen unless you believe it can.

– A plan. Every radio station in the world should have this strategic objective: “To create more meaningful relationships with our customers (listeners and advertisers).” The strategies and tactics for that can be diverse, many of them free or very low-cost.

– Commitment and patience. It took Krispy Kreme decades to create the widespread customer evangelism it enjoys today.

5. What is the single most important reason Radio stations should bother with evangelism tactics?

Two words: Satellite radio.

Would your listeners care if you went off the air tomorrow? A band of passionate believers can help prevent that scenario posed by satellite radio – wholesale usurpment of local content providers. What are you doing to become emotionally indispensable to your customers?

Look what’s happening to network television, too: Viewership is eroding, especially this fall. The big question has been: Where did all the 18-34 year-old-men go? The networks blame Nielsen, but Nielsen says they’re off surfing the Net, playing video games and being distracted by a confluence of new influences. If radio doesn’t prepare now, it will find itself more marginalized since the dawn of television.

Join the discussion. Add your comments about this interview and Ben’s comments below.

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