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“Increasing Awareness” is a Fool’s Game

In the zillions of research projects I’ve done for radio stations every single one has at least one thing in common: The more listeners the station has, the more unaided awareness it also has.

Usually our assumption is that listening to a station requires awareness of that station first. Makes sense, right?

But I think it’s dead wrong.

Here’s why: In all my research studies I never ever see a situation where a station has HIGH levels of awareness and LOW levels of listenership. If, in fact, awareness were a precondition for listenership rather than vice versa, then you would expect to see at least some situations where that awareness didn’t translate into listenership. But this is not what you see. In fact, low listenership always yields low awareness while high listenership always yields high awareness.

Every time.

In fact, it’s listenership that yields awareness, not vice versa. Listening to a station makes you aware of it. Not the other way around.

How can this be?


Radio, you see, is FREE. And listenership is driven largely by word-of-mouth. And why not? The cost of “making a mistake” in your listening is zero. Just switch the dial. No biggie.

That means TRIAL not AWARENESS is the primary obstacle to new listeners. Because before listeners can be aware of a station they must sample it.

This kind of thinking upends all of the Radio industry’s assumptions about how to market themselves.

GONE would be the pathetic outdoor campaigns featuring the same old name and address. It matters not at all how strong our showing is. The real issue is not whether an outdoor campaign will lead to awareness but whether it’s sufficient to stimulate TRIAL. When was the last time YOU tried something you saw advertised on a board? It’s not impossible, but it requires a very specific trial strategy. And most such strategies are anything but.

GONE would be the image campaign, unless that image campaign had a specific trial-inducing component.

GONE would be anything aimed at stimulating awareness under the mistaken assumption that this will translate to ratings.

Tactics and promotion would be vastly elevated in importance. Stuff that promotes trial, not awareness.

It’s not ALL about trial, of course, because some stations have been tried by everybody who can try them. For these stations, extending listening or increasing listening occasions is the primary goal. But that’s a story for another time.

In the meantime, remember this phrase: Listenership creates Awareness, Awareness doesn’t create Listenership.

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