Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 2
Audience concepts: section 3

2.3 Target audiences

A common concept in radio marketing is the target audience. This means the types of listeners that you are trying to reach: not just the listeners you already have, but also the listeners you should have, if only they can discover your station and realize what great programming it has.

Target audiences are usually described in demographic terms - the type of information collected by a Census: age group, sex, education, occupation, and so on.

As most variation in radio listening is related to the age of the audience, target audiences are most often expressed in terms of age groups.

Sometimes education level is a secondary target. If several stations in a market are already aiming at the same age group as yours, you could consider targeting, say, people with above-average education in that age group. For this to work, of course, your programs have to be designed for that group.

Of course, some specialized stations have built-in targets. If your programming is in a minority language, your target must be people who can understand the language. Similar rules apply for classical music stations, jazz stations, sports stations, all-news stations, and so on. These types of station usually find that their target audience is not evenly spread across all demographic groups, but is concentrated in particular age and socio-economic groups. Differences between the sexes, however, are usually small.

Choosing your target audience

The more competitors your station has, the more specialized your programming should be. For example, Jakarta, with more than 50 stations on the FM band, has some very specialized stations. One of them specializes in Padang music. Its target audience is people who come from Padang, in Sumatra. As there are plenty of Padang restaurants in Jakarta, and people from Padang are reputed to be very successful in business, the station can also attract a lot of Padang advertisers. But in a few decades, as the Padang immigrants and their children become absorbed in the culture of Jakarta, that station is likely to have an aging and diminishing audience.

An internet-only radio station should be more specialized still. There are thousands of these, and as they can cover everybody in the (rich) world, an internet-only station can best succeed by being very specialized. For example, there's one station that plays nothing but songs by Elvis Presley, and another is an all-Beethoven station. Listeners to these stations who tire of the monotony will need to find other stations for their other listening needs.

If digital shortwave (in a few years' time, when it arrives) works well and isn't too expensive, the average listener may be able to tune into thousands of radio stations - without using the internet. This will probably cause a large reduction in audiences to national network radio - but community radio, as long as it serves its community well, should not be affected much.

At the other extreme, if yours is the only radio station covering your area, and almost nobody has TV (as in northern Ethiopia, for example) it will make no sense to choose a small target audience. A station with no competition is morally obliged to appeal to everybody. However, different programs, at specific times, could be targeted to specific groups. Such a station could have a women's program (broadcast at a time when few men listen), children's educational programs (for those who can't attend a school), and so on.

If you don't already have a defined target audience, you should start by defining the audience you already have. That's because one of the best ways to enlarge your audience is to serve your existing audience better. Thus your target audience should never be very different from your present audience. If you abandon your current audience to chase a different one, you're in serious danger of losing both. (See example 22 in the next chapter.)

Having different target audiences for different programs seldom works. For example, if you broadcast a children's program  for an hour each day, I can almost guarantee that most of the listeners will be adults. The only exception would be if no other radio station culled be heard in your area, and the program's timeslot had not been changed for many years.

How large is your target audience?

As well as defining its target audience in terms of type of people who listen, a station should also specify the size of its target audience. Many stations express this in terms of audience share. (This is the station's percentage of all hours spent listening to radio - explained above.)

The simplest way to set a target audience size is an equal share. If three radio stations can be received in your coverage area, each station might expect to get a one-third share of the total audience.

If your audience share is less than the average of other stations in your market, and there is no clear reason for this to be so (e.g. a narrow target audience) you could try to enlarge your audience.

If your target audience is only people aged 25 to 39 and two other stations are competing for the same audience, you should begin by expecting a one-third share of the 25-39 year old audience.

It's nice to have an equal share, but many non-commercial stations fall far short of that, for two main reasons:

1. A lot of community stations are fairly new, and long-established stations usually have an advantage, because listeners are slow to change their habits.

2. Commercial stations can often afford a lot of off-air advertising, and offer financial incentives to listeners, such as competitions with valuable prizes.

On the other hand, the greed of commercial networks encourages them to try to increase profits by reducing their staff, and therefore having less local content. Because many listeners highly value local content, if commercial stations reduce it, audiences for community stations are likely to increase.

The more stations in your market, the more tightly your target audience needs to be defined. You might think the opposite: that the larger your target audience, the larger the audience you will get. But it doesn't work like that. In a market with many radio stations available, stations that set too broad a target usually end up with very small audiences - they try to offer something for everybody, but for every need they fill, another station fills it more comprehensively.

The art of defining a target audience is to have one that's as large as it can be, but also defined clearly enough to allow the programming to be distinctively different from other stations that serve the same area.

Audience goals

A common question for any radio station that is trying to increase its audience (as most are) is "Which measure should we try to maximize?"

In my opinion, community stations are better served by expressing their target audience size in terms of reach, rather than share. There are several reasons for this:

For a station whose funding does not come mostly from advertising, the best goal is to maximize neither reach nor share, but the number of passionately devoted listeners. If the government cuts your finding, those devoted listeners will rise up in anger. If you ask the devoted listeners for money, they'll give donations, or become subscribers.

Interestingly, stations that make a determined effort to increase their numbers of devoted listeners usually end up increasing their reach and share as well - but stations that only try to increase their share often fail.

It's a slow business, cultivating devoted listeners, and a little like growing vegetables: you must never forget to water them. They should feel they are being given programs better than they have any right to expect, and any contact they have with people at the station should be pleasant and successful. This approach seems to work best when a station has a smallish target audience, and broadcasts a type of program with no local competitors.

What exactly is a listener?

The concept of a listener is misleading one. Listening to a radio station is not an on/off concept, like flicking a light switch. In reality, people have varying habits and propensities to listen. Try asking a few people if they listen to a particular radio station. Some will immediately say Yes, but may not have listened for months. Very few people who have heard of the station will say No. Instead, they might say, "I haven't listened to it much in the last few years."

A station can have a 5% weekly reach, but 50% of the population might consider themselves occasional listeners.

For a publicity campaign that tries to make more people aware of your station, the ones you need to reach are the 45% who are occasional listeners. Aiming at them will be much more productive than trying to persuade the avowed non-listeners to tune in. But such a campaign is likely to reach your current listeners as well.

Multiple target audiences: avoid them!

Some stations, particularly in North America, use a form of programming that they call dayparting: having quite different programming styles at different times. For example, the programming at night might be targeted at a totally different audience from the daytime programming - perhaps because the station must transmit at lower power at night, avoiding interference with other stations, but also restricting the audience to a smaller area.

By having multiple target audiences - such as younger people at night and older people in daylight hours - the reach of the station will be increased, making it more attractive to advertisers.

Though this may seem a good idea, it often doesn't succeed. For multiple targeting to work, it must be absolutely consistent. If listeners have to look up a program guide to find out what type of program is on when, this is a sure formula for a small audience. But after a few years of programming (say) music for young people at night and talk for older people in the daytime, the audience will come to know your programming.

A style of programming that was once favoured by public broadcasters was to program a radio station like a TV station: having scores of different programs, lasting about half an hour to an hour. There was usually no connection between the target audiences of adjoining programs. Half an hour of classical music might be followed by an hour of sport, then current affairs, then a film review, then a short story for children - and so on.

This style of programming, on radio, is a recipe for tiny audiences. It can work on TV (as long as there are only a few channels), but people use radio differently from TV. They don't want to look up program guides. Instead, they try to remember the general programming style. Therefore it should be possible to summarize your program guide in very broad terms, in one sentence. For example "this station plays jazz in the daytime, and rap at night" or "current affairs on weekdays, and sport at weekends."


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