Chuck Francis, VP New Media at RemergeMedia.com, wrote a well-received article in Radio Business Report recently called "A New Day for Radio
Chuck makes the valid point that, in truth, ratings don't matter, except to "...those that provide ratings." However, this common-sense statement misses the mark. Yes, it's not the ratings that matter to the listener or the advertiser. It's the thing that the ratings represent.
For example, Chuck says:
In the years I spent as a Program Director I cannot recall one single instance where a listener came up to me at an event or a remote and said: “the reason I listen to your station is because your station the number one station.” In fact, even if your station is 13th in the market – I’d argue you’re number one in the minds of the people that listen to you regularly.
One of the reasons that a listener is loyal to a station is because of its reputation among her peers. The listener doesn't look at the ratings and make a rational decision about whether or not to listen to a station because it's #1 in one category or another, but she does decide whether to listen partially based on her peer group's relationship to the station. The ratings are a surrogate for this - they tell us roughly how many and what kind of people are listening to each station. They tell us about the listeners' peer groups.
On the advertiser side, the ratings are a surrogate for a true measure of results. In the absence of a way to directly measure the ability of a station to deliver results for a specific product, the ratings system was developed in an attempt to predict what will happen if you run a spot on a station.
Those stations who achieve success without ratings have found other ways to measure their reputation with their audience and to predict the results their advertisers will have when they run a spot on the station. However, I suspect that these substitutes for ratings remain surrogates of a direct measurement of reputation or results.
TRA, a research firm in New York, is developing a very interesting way to measure results in TV advertising
... a methodology which could well be transferred to radio and other media. Instead of measuring how many people are viewing a particular program, TRA measures how many people actually were exposed to a specific ad and how many of those people actually purchased the product being advertised. This is similar in many ways to the work that was done on Arbitron and Nielsen's suspended Project Apollo, but TRA is processing millions of households' viewing data and matching it up against their purchasing data. As this platform matures and is able to capture not only TV viewing but also other forms of media, we will move away from the surrogacy of ratings and towards the direct measurement of the results of radio campaigns.
Of course, it is not likely that this direct measurement of results will be applicable for all advertisers, particularly local retailers. As data is developed inferences will be possible that are much more precise than today's rating system. TRA could syndicate their data in such a way as to provide local decision-makers tools to determine which media selections are best for their businesses.
Direct response radio marketers are measuring this today, for their clients. One particularly sophisticated firm, Strategic Media
, has literally written the book on the subject. Through extensive testing and results measurement, they have built very detailed databases of the stations and creative execution that works best for their clients. Perhaps local radio can learn from this and develop similar data for their advertisers to use.
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