By Dave Foxx
Three months ago, I spoke at a regional broadcasters convention in West Virginia and have since been reviewing that material on these pages. This month, I conclude with brand versus image. This was really the meat of my presentation, and one I hope I can speak to it clearly, because there are a lot of misconceptions about both. I know a lot of people think branding and imaging are the same thing, but those people are wrong, and while the difference might seem slight to some, it’s important to approach each of them with a special mindset to make sure you’re going to get the results you intend.
The night before I spoke in Morgantown, I cruised the Internet to satisfy my curiosity about how the “experts” define brand. Do you know that of 25 or so articles I looked up, every one had a different definition? They all were in the same general ballpark but some of them were so vague, I wasn’t even sure I could say they defined it at all. So let’s be crystal clear. Brand means the same thing today as it did 150 years ago when cattlemen branded their livestock. If you spotted a steer with a big double X scar on its butt, you knew it belonged to my great-great grandfather Cyrus Josephus Foxx. Branding is a mark of ownership. It is nothing more than your name scribbled on the inner band of your jockey shorts.
Of course, being in radio, we’re not branding our jockey shorts, well… most of us aren’t. We’re branding our product. If you’re a News/Talk station, you’re claiming stories as being your stories. “In an exclusive interview with KTLK news, the Mayor told….” If you’re a Music station, you’re claiming songs and artists as being your songs and artists. “This is Jennifer Lopez on Z100.” “Here’s a Z100 world premier of Eminem’s new release….”
Coca-Cola spends millions of dollars every year trying to get us to think that any super-sweet, caramel-flavored soda is Coca-Cola and not their main competitor. If you think that Domino’s Pizza is selling pizza, think again. For years, their entire advertising budget was wrapped around the idea of getting your pizza within 30 minutes. They’re selling service, and even though most municipalities have stopped them from advertising their famous guarantee, speedy service is the brand they still push all the time, not pizza.
So a brand is a mark of product ownership, pure and simple. As long as you are clear about what you are “owning” in your branding efforts, your message should always ring clear and loud. Image, on the other hand, is more about your station. Ever hear of a cattleman branding himself? (Well, there is that one ranch outside of Dallas, Texas… but that’s another topic.) Image, or as a marketing expert would put it, position is all about what your business stands for. For Z100, it’s “New York’s number one hit music station,” or “one station… all the hits,” or “where hit music lives.” These are all “positioning statements.” Hopefully, the “positioning statement” is succinct. It has to be truthful too, at least in the mind of the listener, or it becomes an albatross around your neck.
Ever try to wash one hand at a time? You can’t do it, at least not very effectively. One hand helps wash the other and vice versa. Likewise, your brand helps you support your image and your image helps reinforce the brand, but they’re not the same thing any more than your left hand is the same thing as your right hand. They have opposite perspectives.
Knowing the difference allows you to evaluate the balance between the two. If your position is not supported by the brand, as perceived in the listener’s mind, your station begins to sound arrogant and boastful. It’s great to say that you’re the number one hit music station, but if you don’t have the branded product to back that claim, you’re spouting hot air and the audience knows it immediately. On the other hand, I would venture to say that it’s not possible to have too strong a brand, but having a lot of branded product lying around without any effective imaging doesn’t really help your station either.
So let’s talk about how we brand our product. What is your product? If you’re a News/Talk station, it’s “the news.” Without any doubt, the most effective branding you can do is to get listeners to talk about different stories you’ve covered as being something they “followed closely on (insert call letters here).” This is your audience, talking to your audience and giving a big – thumbs up. The ultimate would be to get someone who is in the news do the same thing.
If you’re a Music intensive station, it’s the music — and on a somewhat deeper level, the artists who make that music. Having the artists plug your station, over their songs, is a HUGE branding tool. On this month’s CD, look for the Production 212 track. The first piece is a Power Intro in which we combine the power of jingles, voiceovers (including Gwen Stefani) and the popularity of her song Hollaback Girl, to make something that’s fun to listen to and hopefully memorable. After hearing it enough times, the listener will begin to hear those elements, even when they’re hearing the same song on another radio station. This is SO powerful!
The second piece of audio on the track is a promo for Z100’s Zootopia 2005, which will be a fond memory by the time you read this. Obviously, having artists plug our concert is something we ask for all the time, but notice that only one talks about the actual show. In this example, all the other artists just say their name, but the LAST group, The Black Eyed Peas actually is the only one that says anything about the concert. (Hint: If you have ONE major artist saying your call letters, you can stack ‘em up deep and wide and seem to have every big name artist plugging your station.) The third piece is similar. It’s a Christmas greeting from this last year in which Ryan Cabrera, Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson are giving the seasonal salute, but only Kelly does the actual ID.
Now, having claimed all of these artists as belonging to Z100 (even though many of them play on other stations in the market), we can start adding a lot more weight to our claims as being “home of the hits,” or “where hit music lives.” We’ve got the credentials in our branded product to stake out that position or image.
I’d like to end this month’s column with a brief word of advice. What I write in this column is not THE method for achieving success in the broadcast business. It is A method that I have developed over time. I offer my opinions on a variety of subjects, and you can certainly take them for what they are — my opinions. Please take from them what you will. This is not the gospel according to St. Dave. Have fun with this stuff. Try some new ideas. Expand your understanding of production, and then share. Please, email me with ideas, suggestions or questions. I’m still trying to figure out how this whole thing works and would really love your help.