As regular readers of this blog know, Pandora has been a hot topic for the past few years. In our new Techsurvey8, we included several Pandora questions that attempted to get to the heart of the real issues for broadcasters and pure plays alike – and what it all means to the people who count the most – consumers.
Along the way, regular reader Mike Anthony has been a regular contributor via the “Comments” section of the blog. Unsolicited, he sent me the following open letters last week – one to Pandora and the other to broadcast radio. Given how Pandora continues to insert itself into the news – goading and challenging radio - here are two very interesting “takes” on how both might benefit from their newfound and historical success.
The question that has been on every tongue at any and all gatherings of broadcasters: “Is Pandora radio?” The most recent answer based on research – not opinion – is both “yes” and mostly “no.” According to Jacobs Techsurvey8, even Pandora users are split as to whether the Internet pure play should be considered “radio” – 43% “yes” – 49% “no.” You boast that you’re a new kind of radio. (What does that even mean?) It’s my opinion the question is irrelevant. The questions I ask myself are, “Why does Pandora want to be radio” and “Why doesn’t Pandora want to be Pandora?”
Chris Spiek of the Re-Wired Group said in a Forbes article recently, “Branding experts and customers agree that the world doesn’t need another ‘me too’ car, music site or energy drink. Imitation may be flattering but it isn’t inspiring.” To quote Mike McCue, Flipboard co-founder, “I’d rather compete with 1,000 copycats than 1,000 innovators.” Stanford Professor Steve Blank talks about the four paths of startups. Pandora, see if you recognize your path.
Did I miss the research data that said radio listeners are clamoring for “a new kind of radio”? Seth Godin is famous for telling business to invent a new category so you can own it. Create your own path. Apple is the best example of this but the Internet has many more. So why would you want to compete in a category that’s full? Not to mention a category that many think is irrelevant or at least less relevant every day with all the new digital choices people have now.
It’s my belief that to succeed, you obsess over your customers and don’t divert your focus toward the competition. It’s clear Pandora branding doesn’t match the Pandora user perceptions. Pandora, your users have defined you and I’ve not heard one person say that “Pandora is a new kind of radio.”
You are what many wish radio should be. The good news is – again according to Techsurvey8 – nearly half of those who listen to Pandora believe your music is better than the stuff they hear on commercial radio. From a business POV, you have a very unique and engaging sales story and it’s not commodity ad sales. You can hyper-target active listeners in specific zip codes and zero in the local business message with documentable ROI which traditional radio has not found a way to do. You have so many unique qualities and benefits in product, service and sales that are so… Pandora. Imagine Pandora-like experiences or partnerships with Pandora-esque products and services (think Fab.com – Thrillist.com) where you charge a premium.
Pandora, be proud of what you are… celebrate your uniqueness, your individuality. You own a category and you don’t seem to realize it. You have risen to the rarified air of a one name brand. No explanation necessary. When people say Pandora, it’s understood.
I have my own Pandora incubator, my teenage son. To him, Pandora is about music discovery. Now that’s a personally relevant benefit. That’s “what’s in it for him.” Whether it’s classics or new music… what’s new music to him, he finds on Pandora.
Pandora, you are succeeding because you are different than radio in ways that are very relevant to those who love you as Pandora, and NOT because you are a new kind of radio. Stop telling people what you want to be and hear your users when they tell you what you are to them. Facebook never said they were better than MySpace… they just were in personally relevant ways. So be the best Pandora you can be… not a better-than-radio Pandora. Remember in the movie Social Network when Sean Parker told Zuckerberg to “Drop the ‘the’… just Facebook”?
Drop the “radio”… just Pandora.
The question that has been on every tongue at any and all gatherings of broadcasters: “Is Pandora radio?” The question I ask myself is, “Why does radio care what Pandora calls itself?” One of the things I learned early on in my tenure at The Research Group and then spent many years teaching others was the concept of strategic warfare…more specifically the rules of defense. How do you defend when under attack? One of the keys is to “know the difference between useful and useless attacks and allow useless attacks.”
According to Jacobs Techsurvey8 – even Pandora users are split but leaning “NO” as to whether the Internet pure play should be considered “radio” – 43% “yes” – 49% “no.” Radio let Pandora miss-brand themselves. Also according to Techsurvey8, of the main reasons why they’re AM/FM listeners, favorite songs and DJs are on top of the list. Pandora lets algorithms pick the music and they have no talent. They are not human, yet that’s what listeners want in their local radio station. Radio, let Pandora be a science project.
It’s time for self-examination. The very first rule of defensive marketing warfare is defending what’s important to the base target user. For radio, that would mean re-investing in talent and listener research because this is no time for guessing what consumers want. The key is about radio remembering what radio is – what radio does best – and that’s to serve listeners. In order to do that, we need to know them on a more personal level than ever before. Radio seems to have lost focus on its purpose. It often appears to be focused on maximizing shareholder value, selling things and getting ratings. Radio’s real purpose is to inform, entertain and provide solutions for listeners. Shareholder value maximizes, things sell, and ratings happen as a byproduct of listener obsession and satisfaction.
You have important, relevant emotional characteristics that Pandora does not. The biggest advantage is that listeners trust you. So, the important question to be asked is, “Is radio losing that trust? Trust is earned every day. Radio is not sharing with or touching listeners like it once did. How can we be a constant companion when there is no one on the air, no one replying to emails, or even answering the phone? Back announcing is not sharing. The less we share relevant information or make them laugh, the less emotional connection there is. When we lose relevance, we lose emotion, we lose trust and we become more Pandora-like and the relationship withers. In the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, “If you’re not entertaining or have expertise you’ve got no shot.” This is also how radio will lose the dashboard.
Warren Buffett just invested $142M cash in a newspaper company serving 63 markets in the South! I thought newspaper was dead? Buffett said “In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is not more important institution that local paper.” This is exactly what people should be saying about radio. Like I’ve said before – everything old is new again.
Your future success will depend on how many people decide to interact with you. Listeners will continue to engage with you if the content/reasons are relevant and personal (what’s in it for them?). What are you doing every day to provide solutions to problems and improve people’s lives? When you have real answers to these questions, only then will the platform to connect on matter. This is how to stay relevant in cars.
Are you going to be neutralized by the Internet or use it in combination with your well earned advantages? Bottom-line for radio: stop worrying about Pandora. If you need to look over your shoulder then keep your eye on Facebook, Amazon and Apple. They are changing your listeners’ worlds.
Best of luck.
So what’s your two cents? How do you see the radio/Pandora wars? Please leave your comments below.