Rethinking Public Radio Station Brands
Public Radio branding is one of the big topics as NPR News stations try to figure out how to remain relevant as listeners gain more direct access to their favorite NPR content.
A few years ago, the mantra was that Local is the Future for stations. That hasn't worked out so far and probably won't since NPR News listeners consider themselves citizens of the world. They are the epitome of "think globally, act locally." The range of potential content available in a station's market is simply too narrow to win enough listening to remain sustainable.
Thanks to a resurgence of podcasting, many stations are asking if their future is in podcasts. Perhaps, but not solely. Stations will need NPR as part of their broadcast and digital brand in order to remain viable, let alone grow, in the future.
They can do that as public media brand aggregators.
Think of it this way. NPR is Apple. Stations are Target, offering the leading brand (Apple) but also other top digital and electronics brands. Consumers can get most of Apple's products from either brand. They can shop online. They can go into an old-fashioned brick-and-mortar.
Some consumers shop for Apple only through Apple. Some shop only through brand aggregators such as Target. Some do both. The same behaviors will unfold in public radio. The good news is that there's plenty of room in listeners' minds and hearts to embrace both.
Stations have always been brand aggregators by carrying programs such as Marketplace from APM, This American Life, and the Moth. In the past, it almost worked against station interests to highlight those brands.
Maybe that's changing. Consumers in the digital space are now learning that not everything good in public radio is from NPR. They're learning there is more than one quality brand.
Being a quality brand aggregator can be a brand too! Stations have an opportunity to become a primary source of the best brands in public radio -- over the radio and in the digital space. Stations have the opportunity to be the place to find listeners their favorite brands and discover new ones.
One of those new brands should be the station's original programming, which does not necessarily have to be local and it doesn't have to be just news. It has to be enriching and engaging. It has to be comparable in quality to the best existing brands in public radio. It can be on the radio, digital, or both. Sense of Place is important but it is not necessary 100% of the time.
Great original content, easily found and consumed along side the best national content in public radio, will create a station brand that still highlights NPR but is much more than NPR.
I think this is a highly viable approach for stations. It works for Apple, perhaps the strongest consumer brand out there. It works for Target. It could work for NPR, stations, and other producers and distributors in public radio.