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Nike and Starbucks Marketing Guru Scott Bedbury Speaks Out about Radio

Boy, does he ever!

Besides being the author of what I consider to be one of the best books on marketing and branding ever written (New Brand World), Scott Bedbury is the former head of marketing for Nike and Starbucks. You can dismiss him as a crank, but he’s a very successful crank with a very relevant and impressive pedigree!

I asked Scott several questions about branding as it applies to Radio. He had a bunch of provocative points of view I’m going to cover in brief in my weekly emails. But here are his comments in their entirety, beginning with a well put rant on the quality of radio spots on our air and the deleterious impact many of these spots have on the value of our station brands.

Question: How would you characterize the quality of branding efforts by radio stations? Where are they going right? Where are they going wrong?

I applaud the efforts of any station that commits to branding itself in a consistent and thoughtful way. These days it’s pretty dangerous not to try and set yourself apart from the fray. But there are some unique challenges for the radio industry that I find puzzling, and not because they’re impossible but because no one seems to be addressing the core of the problem — the content of most radio advertising.

If the ads are obnoxious and inconsistent in terms of integrity, it’s going to be pretty difficult to ask consumer to accept your station for anything other than a purveyor of unpredictable material.

The television networks aren’t immune to this, but sometimes the biggest problem is the network itself. NBC tries to create “Family” viewers in its prime time, for example, but it uses that same period to advertise its own more adult rated programming that appears later, after the kids are in bed. It’s not surprising that the first place the networks were able to brand was Saturday morning when the advertising had to follow certain rules. Nickelodeon took this to the bank. I trust Nick to respect my kids when they’re watching. I can’t say that for too many other networks or stations.

The radio industry suffers more in this regard because it’s cheaper to produce radio advertising. Anyone with a couple thousand bucks can get on the air and in person if they desire. Problem is, there don’t appear to be many guidelines or thresholds as to the quality of the advertising that stations allow.

Now most stations, at this point, are probably wanting to shoot me for saying this, thinking that I just don’t understand their business and the difficulty, especially in these times, of turning anyone away. I get that. I just can’t accept that someone wants to build listeners and brand their station without looking at their entire package. Until recently, it was quite OK for most them to ignore this problem. But technology will create greater problems for stations that continue to spray bad messages like bullets from an uzzi.

If traditional radio doesn’t address this, it will simply accelerate the consumer movement toward other options that technology will deliver, either through your own personal music player (think next generation iPod) or satellite radio. Honestly, who wants to listen to the latest screamer from a car dealer or a discount electronics outlet? Again, in the past there really wasn’t much choice. You’d just hit the button to the next channel and probably find the same ad there a few minutes later. We’ll soon have other choices.

But here’s the thing that really bugs me: Clients should be accountable for the quality of their advertising. At some point they are accountable – it should have some effect on their sales – but most of them don’t seem to care what it takes to get the sale. And I think a lot of radio “brands” are getting hurt by their bad advertisers.

But I think I have a solution. Hair-brained, maybe, but it’s worth a try.

Imagine if a station allowed listeners to vote off a bad advertisement each week. They’d probably attack a slew of them, but the idea is that one ad each week would be singled out by the station as the one listeners really wanted yanked. They could vote on the station website (get ready for the traffic) where they could also vote on all the other ads, including the ones they liked. This would be valuable information for clients. They’d probably even pay for it.

If I were a radio advertiser I would like to know how I rate among all the other companies vying for the attention of listeners. If my ads really sucked I would want to know it.

But for this to work, the station would need to have the hair to boot the offensive ad off the air and force the client to produce something else. It would also require a dialogue between station sales and the advertiser if it looked like a client’s ad was headed for the graveyard of bad ads.

“Yeah, Bill? This is Jeff at the KUBE. Your ad is really taking it in the shorts this week. You’re 35% below the next lowest scoring ad. From the looks of it, you’re probably damaging your brand. I realize it’s only Thursday but it looks like we’re going to have to hook it. As you know, every Monday morning we’ll tell our listeners which ad we booted, so I thought you’d like to know ahead of time. Maybe you’d like to make a response. But I’ve got an idea: Why don’t we do a promotion where we ask them to send you advertising ideas via email? It would be free. You know everyone thinks they’re an advertising expert. Let’s put ‘em to work for you.”

It could be the greatest radio promotion of all time. All the pent up frustration toward bad advertising unleashed. It would make national news. But it would require a station with a real backbone. A station that truly cared about its brand.

Here’s the other reason for doing something like this. If the ad is bad it is probably forcing listeners away from the station every time it airs. I seldom tolerate more than a few seconds of stupid advertising before switching stations. Maybe it’s just me, but I think there are a lot others out there like me that want to spend their time in better ways.

Question: What is the difference between crafting a “positioning line” and developing a “brand”? Are the lines radio stations use even “positioning lines” or are they simply “slogans”?

You can create a positioning line in an hour. A brand takes years to develop. Brand development is a process in which everyone in the organization contributes in some way. Everyone supports the brand or they don’t. Smart companies are taking brand development much more seriously these days. It informs how they develop products, how they advertise, what kind of people they hire. As a process it goes far beyond marketing. Some of the most important brand development decisions at Starbucks, while I was there, had to do with Human Resources.

Question: What is the most important thing a radio station needs to do in order to develop a powerful, compelling brand?

Respect the intelligence and time of listeners.

Question: Can you build a brand without spending a lot of money in marketing dollars?

Sure. If your message is impactful you can spend much, much less. At Nike we outperformed brands that spent 5-10 times what we did in media, in terms of advertising recall and favorability. Our ROI was incredible. Some spots ran only a few times. We also did a lot of grass roots marketing, something we did at Starbucks when I was there.

If your product or service is not good you will need to spend a great deal of money to “churn” consumers in and out of your brand. Telephone companies like AT&T do this. They spend billions trying to get back customer they lose every year because their service is no different than anyone else, or they just have poor service.

When I arrived at Starbucks in 1995 the entire marketing budget was $3 million. And half of that was department overhead. In the years that followed, arguably the most intense growth period in the history of the company, we never spent much on advertising because we knew that our first priority was to respect our customers and create a great experience for them in the stores. There would be no point in spending lots of money driving customers into a coffee house that was disrespectful, uncomfortable or inconsistent. The coffee experience was our “content.” We took it very seriously. It was the core of our marketing program.

There is a great analogy in here for any radio station. What kind of experience are you providing? Not just the content you control but everything the consumer hears. If the experience is great, you won’t have to spend much in terms of marketing.

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