Madness Roasting on an Open Fire

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip December 3, 2003 ——————————————————————————–

Oh the weather outside is frightful and our zeal to break format for a month or more every year is so delightful. And since our audience has no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. All well and good – right up until your audience has one or two other Christmas stations to choose from. What is this illogical enthusiasm that drives a second and third station to “follow the leader” in Christmas music?

All I Want for Christmas is My Two or Three Christmas Stations

When everybody zigs, the saying goes, you should zag. “Zigging” means everybody sticks with their format every month of the year. “Zagging” means you go “All Holiday” because everybody else doesn’t.

But – and this is a big but – when you are not first in your holiday format – when you’re second or even third in – that’s like being the second or third of three identical AC’s or three identical Country stations. In other words, it’s a very bad strategic move that is unlikely to pay off at ratings time and very likely to aggravate and alienate your audience. Being first to move makes all the sense in the world. But second or third? Let’s just say the early bird gets the worm.

Does anybody remember…the Listeners?

Anybody who has switched a second or third station in a market to Christmas music has never discussed it with their listeners first. If we did, we would discover that it will piss them off. They will tell us they don’t need two or more Christmas stations this season. They will tell us they don’t want more than one. The appetite for Christmas music at holiday time is exactly one station deep. Too much food at the holiday table and our audience will not just be full, they’ll throw up.

For whatever reason, we spend 11 months a year building a brand and sometimes even marketing one. But come Christmas, it’s more important to “follow the leader” because we’re afraid we’ll lose something. Well we’ll lose something all right: The good faith of our fans. One station switching is a smart competitive gamble. More than one is follow-the-leader at its most ill-conceived. Christmas music is not a panacea – the fact that it works for one station does not imply it will work for two or more.

Think Before You Switch

It should occur to you that the minute one format competitor switches to Christmas music it very much benefits the other stations in the format to stay the course! Format switches are not independent events like a series of coin-tosses. Every switch has consequences for every station which hasn’t yet switched. If you’re first, great. If not, don’t – I repeat – don’t be second. And God help you if you’re third. As a rule, we should focus on our audience, not on the strategic whims of our competitors. We should promote the fact that we’re NOT changing our entire formula and disappointing our fans in the process. We should turn our “missed opportunity” into an opportunity to remain a consistent, reliable, dependable brand worthy of loyalty, quarter-hours, and Arbitron diary mentions, come what may.

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