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Why “Flanking” Flunks

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip July 21, 2004

Taking a page from Ries & Trout, The Research Group used to preach that Radio is War. And one of the warfighting strategies we’re most attracted to is the “flanking maneuver.” Well, I’m here to tell you that Radio is NOT war. You can shelve that archaic metaphor once and for all. Worse, our favorite warfare maneuver, “flanking,” is likely to kill you like a sweet bullet to the brain.

What is a “Flanker”?

When we say a station is a “flanker,” we’re describing one that competes for a portion of the market its stronger opponent does not consider critical. The opponent will not be as concerned about your activities if they occur in market niches that it considers peripheral and is incapable of effectively defending.

So we say a Neo-Alternative station “flanks” a conventional Alternative or a Rhythmic CHR “flanks” a Mainstream CHR or a “Bright” AC flanks a “Soft” AC and so on.

So Why is “Flanking” Fatal?

Nowadays when we say one station “flanks” another we’re really saying it is a little different from the other, but not very different – and not necessarily different in ways that are meaningful to the listener. “Flanking” rewards the station that slides up alongside a strong competitor with a marginal difference. That is, it rewards being similar, not different. But brilliant brands don’t ever begin with “similar.” “Similar” does not fuel the inferno of passion that success requires. Vivid, remarkable, dramatic differences do. Bold, brilliant brushstrokes make winners – stencils make “flankers.”

A “flanker” is in reference to the big dog station. That reference is dead wrong. It’s selfish. It utterly ignores the audience, and you don’t “flank” an audience, you hit them in their guts and build a Radio brand heart-first. Brands bloom from the blossom out, not the flanks in.

You Don’t “Flank” JACK

Lots of Radio folks are mystified by the new JACK format. In part, that’s because JACK isn’t pretending to “flank” anything. It’s not a little this or that compared to other stations – it’s a LOT of this or that. It’s extreme. It gets noticed. It inflames buzz. It inspires passion. It’s a blow between the eyes, not a brush along the side. “Flank” if you will; you can’t fight a war against a station that refuses to play by the rules.

So be careful how you use that word, “flanker.” Because if you’re referencing some competitor instead of the hungry audience, you’re not building a brand. You’re “flanking” yourself into oblivion.

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