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Stop the Positioning – a Q&A with Author and Marketing Guru Tom Asacker

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip July 6, 2005

Tom Asacker is a top-notch marketing consultant and author of many popular branding books like Sandbox Wisdom: Revolutionize Your Brand with the Genius of Childhood and his latest, A Clear Eye for Branding.

Below is the full ten-minute podcast of my Q&A with Tom. You can easily download the file or play it right on the web. Trust me, it’s an inspiring interview that will leave you questioning many of your assumptions about the way you brand your station. Only a few highlights are printed here.

What’s the difference between a Radio Station telling the audience what we do and "Branding" ourselves?

Imagine your station is an iPod. I don’t think I ever once heard Steve Jobs describe the iPod as an "mp3 player." He never said "we’re the best mp3 player out there."

No one cares about your station or what you do. What they care about is how you make them feel about themselves and their decisions while in your presence. Do you make them feel special, in the know, smart, etc? Whatever it is, ask how you are making people feel while tuning you in or wearing your logo.

How do I translate that to what I do on the air every day on the air?

Understand what people are internalizing about themselves while they’re listening to your station. By associating with your station I’m telling me something about me. On top of entertainment, people want to feel a certain way about themselves. How can we help them do that?

When we walk down the street with a coffee cup with a green logo on it that says "Starbucks" we’re giving out a message about who we are. When I listen to your station or wear your logo I’m doing the same.

You say consumers, listeners, gravitate towards things that boost their self-esteem, their sense of self. How do Radio Stations tie into that?

First, gain an understanding of what that sense of self is and appeal to it with content. Or have an attitude, an opinion, a worldview, and express it creatively so people are drawn to you because they share the same sense of the world, that same sense of self.

You say we should forget about selling our unique position and instead uniquely express that position. But what about the logical appeals that we tend to rely on, the ‘Lite Rock, Less Talk’ or ‘Best Mix’ appeals?

People don’t make decisions logically. People are not rational creatures. The iPod didn’t sell a unique position. BUT it uniquely expressed its identity in the design of the unit and the ease of use of iTunes. You don’t focus on the "it." Instead, discover the attitude and the point of view, and draw the audience in, engage them. With Carl’s Jr. it wasn’t the hamburger, it was Paris Hilton.

Companies like Apple and Starbucks don’t have positioning lines because they’re not interested in comparing themselves to their competition, they don’t choose to run in the same race that competitors do. They decided to break out of the pack. Starbucks is NOT a kind of coffee shop – it stands apart from the rest. Companies like this don’t think positioning, they think attitude, they think creativity.

Your book talks about the importance of developing a strong story. Can you think of a radio station that has a great "story"?

I can talk about my own tastes. NPR, for example, has a story that it tells me about me (which is what all good stories do). They’re telling me that I’m well informed, in the know, smart, in tune to what’s happening. That station helps me fulfill that particular way of being while I listen to it.

Of course, that’s not how I am all the time. I’ll listen to WEEI in Boston for a different story, one about being sports-savvy and a Boston native and a die-hard sports fan.

A station has to be true to its particular worldview. Whatever that attitude is. Because we want to know what attitude to expect when we turn on the radio.

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