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The Question Consumers Are Asking About Radio: Can I Trust You?

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(Hypebot) — Here Fred Jacobs looks at the disruptive effects the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the radio and podcast industry, and the incredibly high value listeners place on trust when it comes to the media they consume, particularly in uncertain times such as these.

Guest post by Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media Strategies

There are a lot of things we don’t know about the COVID-19 pandemic.  And in fact, it’s the mysteries surrounding the virus that make this event so profoundly unsettling.

But there is one thing we do know:

Just a few weeks in, it is the most disruptive event of our lifetimes.  Now, personally and professionally, everyone suffers losses and disappointments along the way.  The older you are, the truer it is.

But as an across-the-board event affecting everyone – the rich, the middle class, the homeless, doctors, grocery store clerks, fast food workers, seniors, children, middle-agers – the coronavirus leaves no exceptions.  We’re all impacted by this in myriad, but serious ways.

For brands, this is shaping up to be an existential moment in time.  In the world of radio, we can feel it – it’s palpable.  Every broadcaster I’ve spoken to – executives, programmers, talent – tells me the same things:  they’ve never been through anything like this before.  And there’s a strong sense people are listening differently now.

Part of the latter conclusion, of course, is due to the disruption of our day to day lives.  We are creatures of habit.  That’s the secret behind why Artificial Intelligence is so powerful.  We are predictive beings, waking up, heading to work, going out to lunch, and enjoying a nice meal out on a Saturday night.

Until now, that is.

And this disruption is impacting virtually every aspect of our lives – whether it’s our professional or personal selves.  In a recent feature in Nieman Lab, the wise media analyst Nicholas Quah leads with perhaps the biggest “duh” headline of the year…so far:

“It’s the disappearance of the morning commute that seems to be hurting podcast listening the most.”

It almost sounds like the name of one of our “Broadcasters Meet Podcasters” sessions this coming summer at Podcast Movement – if, in fact, that conference is to happen in 2020.  In his “Hot Pod” newsletter, Quah notes: “Stitcher sees the absence of the morning commute as the primary cause of decrease in overall listening: Average listening between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. dropped about 20 percent, while average listening in other hours was down just 4 percent.”

If there’s any good news in Quah’s report about podcasting’s trajectory during COVID-19, it’s that April saw a gentle rise in podcast consumption outside of the traditional commuting hours – not exactly encouraging.

Radio people reading this are likely smirking and grimacing at the same time.  Podcasters are about to find out what broadcasters learned on Day One:  habitual consumption is dependent on one’s routine.  When it’s disrupted – by a move, a job change, summertime, or a global pandemic – listening patterns are going to be seriously altered.

Next week, we’ll be treated to PPM numbers for March Week 4 covering 3/19-25.  It promises to be a gut-wrenching set of weeklies, perhaps as unsettling as what Wall Street experienced on these same days.


Interestingly, our CoronaviruSurvey was conducted days later (3/31-4/2), interviewing more than 44,000+ radio listeners across commercial, public, and Christian stations during this three day span.  (Note that in more than one month of fielding over January/February, Techsurvey 2020 yielded 46,000 respondents.)

As such, it’s the biggest survey yet among radio audiences during the outbreak, revealing important insights not just about what the radio audience is consuming during the heart of “stay at home,” but also how they’re feeling personally.  It is also a report card about the institutions and brands in their lives.

Interestingly, one of our key measures was asking about who people are placing trust in, as this event continues to sprawl in unpredictable directions.  A look at the commercial radio survey is highly revealing:

On the surface, it’s impressive that a respondent’s favorite station falls in a strong second place position, pretty close behind the CDC and NIH when it comes to trust.  Note that politicians, from the President to the two major parties, are well down the pecking order.

But for commercial radio, this is a bittersweet victory, because our public radio participants gave their home stations a much more impressive 77% level of complete trust, while Christian music radio was just as rock-solid at 76%.

So, why the gap, and what does it suggest about the ways in which consumers are interfacing with their go-to radio stations during this crisis?

For a richer understanding, I turned to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, an online survey fielded globally in this same period – 3/23-3/26.  The company interviewed 1,000 consumers in each of 12 countries around the globe – including the U.S.

it is a treasure trove of insights, relevant to what every brand manager (and broadcast owner and exec) are experiencing right now today.  While there are many revealing questions and insights, here’s a chart that stood out for me:

It’s encouraging for media brands to see trust levels so robust.  Note the U.S. is on the lower side – a 37% score.  That is most likely due to the way so-called “mainstream media” has been pilloried these past few years, especially cable news and newspapers.  Still, it’s impressive media platforms – like radio – show up strong, followed closely by email newsletters, another arrow in most radio station quivers.

Reading deeper into the Edelman study, radio broadcasters can glean important insights about how trust is cultivated – and lost.  Many are just plain common sense, but important nonetheless, as many consumers’ relationships with brands are being pressure tested by COVID-19.

How radio stations and the companies that own them are behaving right now may define their relationship with audiences and advertisers after we’re past this crisis.

Among other things, the Edelman team makes the following conclusions.  And you might think about them as “The 10 Commandments of Brand Trust during the COVID-19 Outbreak.”

  1. Do the right thing – More than eight in ten (81%) say its paramount they trust a brand to do what is right during the course of the pandemic.
  2. Brands can (and will) be punished – One-third (33%) say they’ve convinced others to stop using a brand that has not responded appropriately to COVID-19.
  3. Protect your employees – A whopping nine in ten (90%) say brands “must do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends.” Marinate on that one.
  4. Information is power – Another stat germane to broadcasters is more than eight in ten (84%) want their go-to brands to be a reliable news source during the course of the crisis.
  5. Emotional connections matter – An insight important to broadcasters right now is that 83% want brands to “connect people and help them stay emotionally close,” while 84% are appreciative of brands using “social media channels to facilitate a sense of community.”  This is something many radio stations are doing extremely well.
  6. It’s the e-word:  Empathy – More than eight in ten (83%) look for brands to support those most touched by the coronavirus.  And that’s turning out to be most of us.
  7. Humor can be dangerous – This one’s a mixed blessing for many radio broadcasters, especially morning shows and talk show hosts.  A majority – 57% – express that too much humor can be a red flag.  Obviously, this is a brand by brand, personality by personality call.
  8. What you do now will affect your future – Nearly two-thirds (65%) say the ways in which brands behave during COVID-19 will, in fact, impact how they use them down the road.
  9. Placing profits over people is a deal-breaker – More than seven in ten (71%), say this is not the time to place business ahead of human beings. It could cause them to “lose their trust forever.”
  10. Trust. Matters. Now. – A majority – 60% – say they are “turning more to the brands I am absolutely sure that I can trust.”  That’s a big one, going right to the heart of the matter.

This weekend, as we’re all hunkered down in our homes, I urge you to read the Edelman report, and think about the ways everyone in radio – from the corner office to the sales cubicles to the air studios (OK, spare bedrooms) – can impact their brand relationships with their audience, their advertisers, and their communities.

In just the past few weeks, radio stations and the companies that own them have already gone down their paths, both perilous and prescient.  There’s still time to get this right.

As the wise philosopher William Martin Joel once said:

“It’s a matter of trust.” 

You can download the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer report here.

And in partnership with the RAB, I’ll be presenting a top-line of our CoronaviruSurvey on Wednesday, April 15, at noon ET.  Registration info here.  

Fred Jacobs founded Jacobs Media in 1983, and quickly became known for the creation of the Classic Rock radio format.

Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.

In 2008, jacapps was launched – a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created – a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the “connected car” and its impact.

Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media’s commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.

Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.

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