Radio Marketing on a Shoestring – an interview with Pyromarketing author Greg Stielstra

If marketing always worked, every radio station could always afford it. But the sad fact is that it doesn’t, and Greg Stielstra thinks he knows why and what to do about it.

Stielstra is the author of an influential book called PyroMarketing: The Four Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life. Previously, Greg was the marketing director for numerous best-selling books including The Purpose Driven Life, the best- selling hardcover book in history.

I talked with Greg about what Pyromarketing is and how radio can use it. Check out the complete podcast here – or the highly abbreviated summary below.


Greg, you say marketing is broken. What’s broken about it?

Once upon a time we found a method that worked really well called “mass marketing” and then, when we weren’t paying attention, the circumstances that enabled it changed and nobody bothered changing their approach to marketing. We are marketing by doing what we’ve always done without paying attention to how our environment has changed and the fact that the old tactics no longer work.


I worked in the publishing industry for the last 15 years. Budgets for book marketing are very small, so we had to pay great attention to how we invested that money. And I noticed that people would come to me with things they called “marketing” and “advertising,” but if I did them often my books didn’t sell. So I began to study why certain things worked and other things didn’t, and the four steps of PyroMarketing began to emerge.

Conventional wisdom keeps telling us that “awareness” is all that counts, and that drives a lot of our marketing expenditures. But that’s wrong. In 2003 alone more than 26,000 new food and household products were introduced: 115 new deodorants, 187 new breakfast cereals and 303 women’s perfumes. It’s no longer enough to be aware of a new product – you also need to know how it compares with all of your other choices before you’re ready to make a decision. And often people decide not to decide.

How can stations move from “mass marketing” to what you call “PyroMarketing”?

I think that the best way to understand today’s marketing process, the way messages are sent, received, acted upon, and spread, is to think of it as a fire. Now you need four things to build and sustain a fire: Fuel, heat, oxygen and then the heat released by the combustion action itself.

In the PyroMarketing model I believe that consumers are like the fuel and there’s money stored in our wallets. But there is also a very strong bond between us and our money; we won’t give it up easily. Marketing provides the heat – the activation energy that can excite us about a new product or service. And if that marketing can excite us beyond our ignition point the bond with our money breaks and we’ll exchange it for the product or what I call, OH!2. The output then is the consumer’s reaction expressed as word of mouth (positive or negative) that either causes your fire to grow or die.

Now a couple of really important things. First, people have widely varying ignition points. What will excite someone enough to buy a product won’t be nearly enough to excite someone else to buy the same product. Second, it’s not enough to have a product or service – you need a remarkable product or an exceptional service and that’s what I mean by OH!2. If it deeply satisfies someone’s need then they will tell other people about it, and your popularity will spread by word of mouth.

Step 1: Gather the driest tinder

If marketing behaves like fire then you build marketing plans the way you build a campfire. You have to gather the driest tinder. And this means focusing on the people who are most likely to buy your product, enjoy the benefit, and become enthusiastic customer evangelists for it. Whenever you can you should try to identify them by behavior and define that market as narrowly as possible.

The driest tinder for your station are those fans who are so devoted to you that they’ve signed up to your fan club or your regular listener program. You have to ask where are the people most prone to gravitate to my format, where are they located, what kinds of people they are, what kinds of groups do they cluster in, and so on.

Today, it’s not enough to reach lots of people if none of them care. You have to reach just the right people and that means very carefully profiling your audience. Any radio station collects a congregation of people around some topic. Often it is a music format, and what do they have in common? Well, their love for country music. Or their need for information in the case of a news/talk station.

Step 2: Touch it with a match

By this I mean giving people an experience with your product or service. If you want folks to laugh don’t tell them you’re funny. Tell them a joke. And this could not be more important because of the increased choice that we all face. The quickest path to product understanding, the shortcut, is to experience it. So give people an experience with your product or service.

Here’s a radio example for you: I think OnStar has done wonderful job with their radio advertising. It’s a complicated service that’s hard to explain, but when you hear the tape recording of the woman who’s in the ditch with her children talking to that OnStar advisor and getting help within mere moments you immediately understand how and when you’d use it and you feel the relief that that woman feels.

Inherently, radio has a unique advantage in that it’s almost always local. You have people on the ground, you’re hosting events, you’re in contact with your audience and you can help them experience your station or your advertiser’s product in a way that many competing media can’t.

You have to stop thinking of yourself as a radio station. Think instead of yourself as the aggregator of the driest tinder. You are the leader of an affiliation network, a group of people who have voluntarily chosen to gather together around a common interest in your station’s format. So who are those people and how else can you lead them? How else can you communicate with them beyond your radio signal? How often can you gather with them, and how else can you introduce them to your advertisers?

Step 3: Fan the Flames

PyroMarketing believes in fanning the flames, and this means equipping your customer evangelists to spread your marketing message throughout their social network. It’s encouraging word of mouth. And when you equip them with tools to help them spread the word you can make them much more effective because the fire, after all, is hotter than the match. So you don’t keep growing your fire by throwing more advertising at it – you do it by first creating customer evangelists and then equipping them.

Just the other day Krispy Kreme ran a great promotion. It was called “Share the Love”. If you went into the store and bought a dozen doughnuts they would give you a dozen Valentines. Each Valentine was also a coupon for a free doughnut. And so when I did this I came home and I gave the Valentine’s Day cards to my kids who in turn gave them to their friends. And because their friends don’t drive, whole mini-vans filled with families pulled up to Krispy Kreme to get free doughnuts. Now the brilliance of this is that they weren’t doing anything they didn’t already do. If you walk into Krispy Kreme and you wait in line they’ll give you a free doughnut whether or not you have a coupon. What they had done was they had empowered me, a customer, to take an offer that was ordinarily only available in the store back home to my neighborhood and to make that offer to my friends who then went down to the store to collect. And so my one purchase leveraged many more.

In general I think big marketing budgets foster laziness. Small budgets foster helplessness. And no budget fosters creativity. I think the very first thing people should do is sit down and imagine that they have no marketing budget whatsoever – You come up with the better ideas when you imagine you have no resources.

Step 4: Save the Coals

If you save the coals of a dying fire, just fan it a little bit and – POOF – the fire comes back to life. Saving the coals in PyroMarketing means keeping a record of the people you encounter through your marketing so that you can return to them again quickly and affordably to tell them about new products or fan the flames.

Mass marketing finds buyers but lets them slip anonymously back into the crowd. Mass marketers have to use new matches to start the same fire over and over again. But if you save the coals and keep the record, a database of your buyers or listeners, you can build equity with your marketing.

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