Radio is the ideal medium to talk to consumers on a personal level

Radio is seeking to position itself as a ‘brand conversation medium’. This smart move has everything going for it in an age of apathy, says Sean Healy

The notion of brands building a dialogue with consumers has been with us for some time. This approach challenges many long-held presuppositions about the way communication planners should seek to reach their target market. It is rooted in some basic human truths and breaks with the traditional model of periodically bombarding large amorphous audiences in a number of interesting ways.

In this context I see the Radio Advertising Bureau’s (RAB) launch of radio as the “brand conversation medium”, on July 24, as an incredibly apposite move. RAB’s case is simple but compelling. From a macro perspective it argues that society trusts less, seeks more information on the choices that it makes and values positive endorsement from others above all else. It therefore requires a conversational approach from anyone who is “selling” to it.

From a “technical” perspective radio clearly stacks up well when it comes to establishing a dialogue with consumers. At the most fundamental level, radio is conversation. And today’s programmers have an increasing array of tools at their disposal from the phone-in, to the rant line, to SMS text to establish a two-way relationship between presenter and audience.

Anyone with the most basic level of social skills recognises that you need to engage different types of people in an appropriate manner to gain a positive response. Second, if you repeatedly bellow an identical statement in someone’s face the chances are they will turn their back on you and avoid your company in the future. To maintain a two-way conversation you need to conduct it over time and vary what you say.

Consumers have reacted to persistent megaphone marketing, barrages of ill targeted and uninteresting messages, with increasing apathy towards the information we put to them. A chance to establish a conversation with a community of interest is worth its weight in gold.

Data included in the RAB’s forthcoming paper on radio as being the brand conversation medium highlights a number of areas of opportunity. The medium is shown to perform strongly in comparison to others against the key criteria of habitual consumption, intimacy and ability to generate audience participation. Furthermore the opportunity to easily tailor tone of voice by time of day and station allows the advertiser to expand the conversation into a modal dialogue with consumers.

In the light of the executional flexibility that is now available in terms of spots, sponsorship, competitions, bespoke programming and so on, all of the ingredients are available for communication planners to engage listeners in a constantly evolving dialogue.

The work from the RAB is a smart, user-friendly exploration of the opportunities that their medium affords. It not only sets out a case for the use of radio, but also offers interesting thoughts on ways that radio can be used to maximum effect.

Sean Healy is strategic solutions director at MediaCom

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