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Your PPM Strategy is Wrong: Word-of-Mouth Still Matters

It is almost impossible to count the ways in which playing to Arbitron’s PPM measurement methodology may provide short term gains for radio ratings, but very much at the expense of the health of radio brands long-term.

And here’s yet another one.

It is accepted wisdom that, since PPM supposedly measures behaviors rather than recall of behaviors, then so-called top-of-mind recall is irrelevant.

After all, why remind folks that you’re there when they no longer need to remember what they listened to?

Here’s one reason why.

Because top-of-mind leads directly to word-of-mouth, and word-of-mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions, according to the terrific new Jonah Berger book Contagious: Why Things Catch On


Berger outlines several principles of contagiousness based on extensive research. And one of those principles is called Triggers: How do we remind people to talk about our products and ideas?

People often talk about whatever comes to mind, so the more often people think about a product or idea, the more it will be talked about. We need to design products and ideas that are frequently triggered by the environment and create new triggers by linking our products and ideas to prevalent cues in that environment. Top of mind leads to tip of tongue.

This is related to a second principle: Public: Can people see when others are using our product or engaging in our desired behavior?

Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular. We need to design products and initiatives that advertise themselves and create behavioral residue that sticks around even after people have bought the product or espoused the idea.

Skewed PPM thinking and the convenient need to shred expense like every investment is a hunk of parmesan cheese has led to a situation where reminding consumers about our brands and making them more public is, more than ever, viewed as a Gift from the Marketing Gods rather than a means of connecting brands with the folks who might desire them on an ongoing basis.

As ever, ironic for a business in the business of marketing.

So PPM-inspired thinking leads us to diminish the importance of top-of-mind and any strategies and tactics designed to encourage it. Meanwhile, by its nature, radio must work extra-hard to be public.

I recall vividly my first visits to San Diego in the 80’s and early 90’s when virtually every car was plastered with bumper stickers for the town’s hottest stations. Fans did this to brand themselves in the images of their favorite stations and to publicly display that branding to the world. They weren’t advertising those stations, they were advertising themselves.

Today, good luck finding cars with radio bumper stickers in San Diego.

I recall vividly some of the early efforts of stations like 91X to activate the marketplace in attention-getting promotions like “Show us your X.” These and many other audience-engaging promotions served to make radio brands public and promote top-of-mind and the tip-of-the-tongue it leads to.

I’m not being wistfully nostalgic here. I’m making a point about strategy and intention:

Unless your brand specifically seeks out top-of-mind opportunities, unless you specifically design ways to make an invisible experience into a public one (as Apple did with those white earbuds), then you may win the PPM battle, but you’ll lose the consumer attention war.

And that will be the only war that matters.

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