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In marketing, we often talk about the brand essence, the basis of a brand which defines its fundamental values, targets, and visions. Other marketing managers talk about USP, specifically the sales appeal that is offered and is used to differentiate a brand from the competition. Everything is straightforward and logical if there just wasn’t that one question. The question that gets under my skin when it comes to the topic of radio. What actually is my product? What actually is radio? Where does it start, where does it stop? And what’s in between?
It is worth briefly stating that I am not new to the segment of “audible content”. I certainly know what I’m doing, but I am increasingly baffled when expected to define the product RADIO. If I take a look at the media analysis, for example, then there is audio, radio, online audio, DAB+, simulcast, user-generated radio, web-only stations, music streaming, etc. In the study Mass Communications Trends, under audio you‘ll also find podcasts and music over YouTube, and in the online audio monitor, you’ll find discussions of online “offshoots” of classic radio stations.
As I see it, audio is a confusing mix of transmission paths, advertising offerings, platforms, and program offerings whose subset, depending on interpretation is referred to as radio. And when I then tell my trusty companion Alexa to “play hard rock” and she politely responds with “Playing Hard Rock radio from amazon music”, it is then that I am out. A radio station from amazon called Hard Rock? Really? Are you kidding me?
Let’s get back to the core issue: what is radio actually, and what is the brand essence of radio? What is the USP of radio that accounts for 53 million people listening to this medium for over four hours every day?
It's not all that easy to provide a general definition. And to avoid stirring up a shitstorm by giving a bunch of definitions, stating sources and study results, I am going to say goodbye to a generally accepted definition and simply define my “radio equation” just for me. The two major factors that make something heard to radio are the curation of content and the presentation with information and entertainment.
What this means then is:
- I choose a product which delivers corresponding auditive content according to my specifications (music preferences, region, etc.) that I don’t have to put together myself and which I am not able to change significantly in terms of time or content.
- Within this product, I am accompanied by a presentation. Regardless of whether it only informs me briefly what the title of a piece of music is, what time it is or gives me hours of editorial contributions on what’s going on in the world.
As I am writing this “radio equation”, the chatter going through my mind the entire time is whether I can do justice to all of the exceptions, eventualities and innovations. I’d much preer to work with thousands of footnotes. Does this definition, for example, do justice to the new “skipping” in radio? Or the possibility of influencing the program in such a way that I never ever, ever have to listen to Peter Maffay again? Or is the sparse presentation of my favorite web radio station really enough fo this equation? And what about artificial voices? Is something like Radio Helgoland which is entirely produced using AI with artificial voices and programmed music selections really radio?
What make radio special to me is that it accompanies me throughout my day and is authentic. That someone is selecting music and information for me who knows what they’re doing and, while listening, I can concentrate what I have to do at the moment. Someone who surprises me, entertains me, makes me laugh and warns me. And does it live. Or at least gives me the feeling that it’s live. Regardless of whether with artificial voice or an automatically generated playlist. But there is someone on the radio who’s talking to me.
And, by the way, I think it is great when I don’t have to make any decisions as I listen. What’s up is up. I don’t have to keep saying “next” until the song is finally played that I supposedly want to hear. I wait until the news comes on. And I listen to it regardless of whether it would have occurred to me to inform myself or not. I listen to the new song by a musician that I used to consider awful only to realize that I kind of like it. I simply don’t want to think, or decide, or act. Naturally, there are limits. My limit is Peter Maffay. The only thing I can do then is swear, change the channel or skip over the song.
All of this is the brand essence of radio for me, regardless of whether I’m listening to DAB+, FM, the web or Alexa. Regardless of whether the radio station is called FFH, Radio Bollerwagen or NDR 2. But “playlist radio” from amazon and similar platforms with hard rock or a web radio without any presentation whatsoever or a playlist Spotify suggests can’t do this. And in my personal “radio equation”, it’s not radio.
Am I being too simplistic? Maybe. But it is important for me to understand how radio works and what makes it different. And that the much more modern sounding online audio is a transmission path with special opportunities for advertising and additional features. But it says nothing about a product, a brand. That playlist and user-generated content are a good thing, but don’t have a lot to do with radio. That’s where I go to to hear my music, regardless of on vinyl, CD or from a playlist.
And now to conclude with brass tacks and the heart of the matter: radio has changed. It comes to us by many different paths and in many different types and accompanies us to our studies. But it will not turn into Mephisto. It remains radio in its brand essence. Regardless of whether it’s called Audio, Online Audio or Simulcast. In the end, it accompanies us, some of us on a walk, others throughout life.
Yours, Juliane Henze
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