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Radio’s REAL Problem on the New Auto Dashboard


Yesterday I wrote that some auto industry analysts believe radio needs to be easy to find and use on the new auto dashboard because ease of discovery and use will trump any discussion of how good or bad the actual content is. In other words, consumers are not likely to seek out great content they care about unless it’s first easy to find and use.

While it’s certainly true that making anything easier to find and use promotes both discovery and use, is that even within radio’s power in the new dash (unless we pay for that prime access)?

In the auto context, radio is only a distribution channel for branded content. And that content is what folks want to consume, not the channel itself.

Public Broadcasters realize this all too well, which is why they have doubled down on transmedia distribution of their content in multiple forms and channels. “It’s the content, stupid,” not the path that content travels to get to you, the consumer.

So what if your radio content is harder to find? What does that mean, exactly?

Let’s look at some analogies.

AMC is hard to find on my cable. I couldn’t even tell you what channel it is. But AMC is not really what I want – The Walking Dead is. AMC is simply the channel featuring The Walking Dead on this particular device. My DVR handily stacks up episodes so I never have to ask where the channel is and never have to care what the channel is. In fact, a whole generation of TV viewers are growing up with no relationship to “channels” at all – their loyalties are to the content which sparks their passions, not to the vectors by which that content travels. Some networks may be associated with greater taste or certain target groups, but it’s still about the content.

Starbucks is a distribution channel for content. My drinks are only at Starbucks so I go to Starbucks to get them. Along the way the distribution channel called “Starbucks” wraps up my experience in elements that create a brand called “Starbucks” which I seek out again and again. And that experience influences me when I’m shopping for coffee at the supermarket where some of the “content” I want from Starbucks is on the shelf there, too.

Nordstrom is a distribution channel for content. If I’m looking for a Salvatore Ferragamo handbag for my wife, the handbag is the content – the brand. And Nordstrom wraps that and all other brands in an experience filled with extra value and trust contributing to the larger Nordstrom brand that I seek out again and again.

Cable TV is a platform, Starbucks is both platform and brand – and so is Nordstrom. But if your product – your brand – is to thrive on any of these platforms you don’t bemoan the fact that other brands compete with yours for attention and shelf space. Of course they do! That’s what shelves and shelf space are made for!

You recognize that your job is to create the most appealing brand possible so it flies off the shelf faster than anybody else’s brand.

Yes it’s hard to find The Walking Dead on a cable box. Yes, it’s hard to get in your car and drive to Starbucks for a Vanilla Macchiato. Yes, it’s hard to drive to Nordstrom and ask someone to direct you to the handbags and then search for the right brand.

Satisfying your wants and needs is often hard.

But we do it anyway. All of us. And we do it all the time.

And may the best brand win.

Sometimes brands pay a premium for shelf space or for promotion or advertising – this makes the brand easier or more desirable to find on a crowded shelf that the brand doesn’t own.

But it’s still a brand on somebody else’s shelf.

So it shall be on the new dashboard.

Radio will never again be as “easy” to find or as “easy” to use as it was in 1983, the year that Nicolas Cage, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks in the movie Valley Girl, cautioned one of his passengers that “if they try to take the car, save the radio.”

No radio station – no broadcast company – owns the platform on the new dashboard. Not anymore. Your brand is now part of the great equalizing force of technology. Get used to it.

But here’s the good news: No matter how hard to find a brand is, listeners will always seek out the content they desire, regardless of the platforms that host that content.

Be the content your fans desire. Be unique and compelling and worth finding. Be wherever your fans want you to be.

That’s your best insurance policy against technological change.

You’re the handbag maker at Nordstrom. You’re the Vanilla Machiato at Starbucks. You’re The Walking Dead.

Aren’t you?

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