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Radio’s Missing Marketing Funnel

One of the great things about non-commercial radio is that it’s supported largely by fans – the very “public” embodied in the term “public service.” And this is as true of NPR-type stations as it is for non-commercial Christian stations.

And these stations have something else in common besides their business model: They both tend to lack a marketing funnel.

What is a marketing funnel? It’s the process whereby consumers move from awareness and sampling of your station at the wide top to fan-ship and, in the case of public and non-commercial stations, financial support at the narrow bottom.

There are a zillion representations of what the “funnel” looks like. Here’s one:


Public and Christian stations do a great job at the top and bottom of the funnel, but they generally do a poor job in the middle, especially in giving fans more ways to deepen their relationship with the brand, thus justifying their financial support.

In fact, these stations often tend to function as if there is no “middle.”

Think about it: The top of the funnel is directly related to what happens on the air – it’s what we see as “Cume” in the ratings. It is influenced by manipulating what we think of as “the product.” And it goes to all for free with no strings attached.

The bottom of the funnel is where the pledge drives and sharathons happen. We break format to remind listeners at the top of the funnel about all the value we provide them every day.

So what is the “middle” of the funnel?

The middle is where the relationships are nurtured. It’s where we activate the technology and content and strategies that carry a consumer from “listener” to “donor” through a series of steps, each advancing from the one before it. And with each step, the relationships are deepened, ultimately leading to a greater chance of financial support and more happiness and joy all around.

The not-so-dirty-little-secret of non-commercial radio is that a comparatively tiny fraction of listeners actually pay the bills. In many cases less than 5% – often much less. What about the other 95%? How much “relationship” are you leaving on the table? And how much corresponding financial support for your brand?

How do you tap into the “middle” of the funnel and provide that extra value? It begins with knowing who these folks are. Not surprisingly, while public and non-commercial stations know the name, phone number, and email address of (many of) their donors, they often know much less about listeners who are not donors.

The non-donor databases of these brands are often somewhere between small and non-existent. Why? Because these stations have historically seen no difference between engaged listeners and casual ones, and they have no strategy to nurture that engagement. They literally have nothing for these listeners to do other than what all the listeners at the top of the funnel do: Listen.

What about listener registration? If it happens at all, it’s almost accidental. And if these mid-funnel folks are on a station email list, what they receive are often little more than pitches for financial support. Hey, if you want me to sign up to your list so you can panhandle me, that’s not what I call a strong value proposition.

where the “jabs” are about providing value without strings and the “right hook” is about getting payback for your brand, the non-com radio strategy might be described as “Ignore Ignore Ignore Right Hook Left Hook Knockout.”

Why do public and non-com Christian stations tend to ignore the “middle” of the funnel? Why isn’t there a strategic effort to opt-in fans, grow relationships, identify unmet consumer needs, and provide unique value to these fans who are more important than “average” listeners and much closer to donors? Wouldn’t this create a more powerful pitch for financial support when these folks reach the bottom of the funnel because they have received more value from your brand and you know exactly what that value is and who these fans are?

Digital tools make this process approachable for every brand. I would argue that every non-commercial radio brand with a donor manager should also have a relationship manager – someone who fills the marketing funnel between what happens on the air and what happens during pledge drives: Someone whose job is to create and nurture relationships with listeners who are on the path towards financial support.

To me, this is one of the greatest opportunities in all of public and non-com Christian radio:

Too often, there is no marketing funnel.

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