Friday, May 12, 2006

Share Of Mind

We like to speak in lofty terms here in public radio about how we make America a better place to live. We do that by creating a space for civil, intelligent, and thoughtful news reporting and dialogue. We do that by making radio minus the shock value. We do that by treating listeners as citizens, not consumers.

At the heart of these statements is the idea that we love our listeners for their minds, not their age or sex or other demographic characteristic. (Though, like the stereotypical sufferer of mid-life crisis, there has been a lot of talk about trading in our listeners for a younger model.)

We believe our brand of news, public affairs, talk, music, and entertainment programming is not only worthy of our listeners attention, we also believe they should be paying attention to us the most.

We believe public radio should be their primary source of news, not CNN, not Fox, not ABC, and not even the New York Times. We believe we should be their primary choice for information, entertainment, and music programs when they are listening to the radio.

We believe that when they hear what we have to contribute to their lives, they will be better off in some way.

To use the marketing term, we want high “share of mind” from our listeners. Their attention, a most valuable commodity, is what we seek.

One of the essential findings of the most recent Audience 2010 report, Losing Our Grip, is that we are losing share of mind with our audience. Our own listeners are spending less time with public radio and more time with commercial radio. (This is measured by Loyalty in Audience 2010.)

Increasingly, listeners are ignoring the line that supposedly distinguishes public radio from commercial radio. Has commercial radio become more worthy of their attention? Does public radio have fewer meaningful things to say?

Having no commercials is one of our traditional strengths. Is that becoming less important to listeners or have we crossed some perceptual line with the audience that makes us seem more like commercial stations?

It would be easy to point at corporate underwriting as the culprit in this story. After all, the loss of national audience started at the same time public radio was debating underwriting credits about little purple pills. But Audience 2010 is showing us that the loss of listener attention runs deeper. Underwriting might be a factor, but there is no way it could explain everything.

Resolving this share of mind question is essential to public radio’s future. It should be the number one question on the audience growth agenda. How do we strengthen our distinctiveness and rebuild share of mind in our primary medium?

Share of mind should also be the number one question on the new delivery platform agenda. The infrastructure and business models of the Internet make it possible for others to emulate our content and style. The commercial/non-commercial lines that served us so well in radio are not as much in our favor in the new media environment.

We need to figure out how to be distinctive no matter where audiences find us.

How can we capture a higher share of mind on the radio and on new media platforms?

If we answer that question right, we will further our lofty mission of making America a better place to live.

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