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What’s Wrong With Radio Contests…


Are you doing contests all wrong?

Why yes, I think so.

Seth Godin makes a point about the wrong questions to ask before crowdfunding, but they also turn out to be the wrong questions to ask before we expect anything from an audience.

He writes:

A friend explained to me all the reasons for her upcoming Kickstarter campaign. The machine she wanted to buy was sorely needed, it would increase her productivity and also make her day significantly easier–it made perfect business sense. These are all great reasons to borrow money from a bank or a professional investor. They aren’t good reasons to crowdfund. No, the right question is, “how will the new financial relationship I offer to my biggest supporters enhance their lives?” There’s a huge amount of emotion and story we tell ourselves before we send in money to crowdfund something. Almost none of it involves how it will help the organizer’s business goals.

Seth continues:

For many hammer-wielding entrepreneurs in search of money, crowdfunding looks like a nail. But we’re seeing again and again that engaging directly with fans and friends in this way is more about connection and the audience’s role in making a difference than it is about cash.

Too often we expect audiences to do things for our reasons, not theirs. We promote a contest that a tiny fraction of the audience will play and only one person can possibly win. There are usually no tangential consumer benefits to the contest – entering it doesn’t help a charity, it isn’t necessarily fun, it’s not worth sharing with others, it doesn’t make us look good, etc.

We dangle a prize in exchange for listening, thus suggesting that the prize is the reward rather than the content (and perhaps, too often, it is).

Who really wins the contest?

The broadcaster, not the listener.

Assuming we trick enough people into losing, that is.

If we’re a non-commercial station we plead for financial support for our brands primarily to “keep your favorite shows on the air.” But is threatening me with sacrifice as effective as enlisting me in your efforts to make a difference? When I see crowdfunding campaigns for public radio shows, they are often about paying to make something new, not to simply “keep us on the air.”

At $600,000, Radiotopia will create a pilot development fund to find new, talented producers and hosts. We will specifically seek out new voices to pilot programs that tackle subjects not well covered in traditional public media. Bringing in new voices and broadening the audience are critical steps in remaking public radio. Our collective of shows is already proving that incredible talent exists in unexpected places, and that we have a knack for finding it.

And the kicker:

If you believe in this mission, kick in another buck or two, or just spread the word.

Radiotopia flew past their goal.

Compare that to this pitch from the woman who wants to pay for Bikram Yoga training “but it costs mucho money,” and oh, by the way, “my birthday is coming up.” As of this writing she has raised exactly $25 of her $10,000 goal – and she has exactly one funder.

In the contesting world, a smattering of folks will jump through your hoops for a remote chance to “pay my bills” while the rest of the audience turns a deaf ear. But in the crowdfunding world, everyone who funds a project is a winner. In fact, the decision to participate is a decision to win.

Fans fund in exchange for a symbol of their affinity – a tshirt, a poster, the thing they’re funding or more content like it.

In other cases – like this one from the makers of the upcoming sequel to Star Wars – fans fund for an experience of a lifetime knowing that even if they lose, their dollars will create some good in the world.

In other words, even if you lose you win (watch the video).

In general radio thinks too much about games that guarantee losers, not winners.

Radio tends to think too much of listening forced rather than attracted.

Radio tends to think too much of listeners as automatons – machines instructed to do our will – rather than fans who must be seduced – fans who want to bask in the glow of the brands they love and carve off a tiny piece to take home and show their friends.

Maybe it’s time to graduate from shallow appeals to “prize pigs.”

What if, instead, we enhanced the lives of our biggest supporters, the folks who vibe with our mission?

…the folks who would gladly pay for a little piece of us…

…which is really a little piece of themselves.

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