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Tomorrow Media – Rebranding? Go All The Way!

In a time like this the thought of rebranding a radio station strikes terror in the hearts of many market managers, sales managers, and program directors. Analyzing this, could it be that within radio companies, rebranding (changing the strategy, sound, and image of a format) is too often taken as a sign of resignation: “only failing stations rebrand; successful stations shouldn’t!”

So many times when asked to participate in cluster discussions we’ve stressed that many radio stations should periodically rebrand. The enlightened way of looking at this comes from the position that rebranding should be done when a station is on top, not when multiple books show a pattern of decline. By then, it may be too late. But “rebranding” doesn’t mean tossing a format!

Over time radio stations fall into predictable routines, develop unproductive habits, and stop innovating. Not long ago a group-owned incumbent AC lost its longtime PD and morning anchor. Instead of attacking the challenge to turn a potential negative into a positive, the company simply waited; in a contest with time. In those scenarios, time usually wins. Momentum is a fickle friend…waiting too long often means inertia has passed from your side, no matter how entrenched your position may seem. Once that occurs, it’s already too late.

We’ve seen it across formats and companies: successful stations too long ignoring warning signs. Given today’s methodology (PPM or Diary) a single trend or a book, doesn’t warrant a format shift. Yet the term “trend” is appropriately applied; most concerning when several trends also show Cume decline; a storm warning forecasting potential erosion of your station’s top-of-mind.

Programmers sometimes delude themselves into thinking that their wobbles are only temporary, patiently waiting month after month; trend after trend and sometimes over multiple books. We refer to it as “The Next Book Syndrome,” believing consistency is the true formula for success.
Occasionally when the dam bursts we get a call from a corporate officer requesting we do an analysis. Too many stations resist change until things have deteriorated so badly they have no choice but to reinvent! Once in free-fall, rebranding comes with a sense of desperation. Trying too hard can actually expedite listeners’ sense that “my station just doesn’t sound the same.”

Even if you think your brand is perfect, that nothing more can be added (or subtracted) that could improve its conversion of occasional listeners to core fans, the best programmers search for nuances that can top off the tank this month, this sweep, this year.

Making creative changes shows listeners your station is responsive and always willing to improve. It shows boldness. Listeners admire innovation; bold-but-comfortable for your brand’s P-1 listeners. Smart tactical innovation can help reverse a fading format’s top of mind awareness while creating new buzz and “trial”!