By Tammy Greenberg
Hometown pride is a very real emotion that likely exists in the majority of Americans from coast to coast. To get a better sense of hometown pride, ask people if they listen a little more intently at the mere mention of their hometown? Do they have an affinity for a local sports team no matter how good or bad they may be? Do they tend to compare other places to their hometown. Have they ever heard a story stemming from a friend's hometown? If the answer is yes to any or all of these questions, that is the impact localism has on creating personal relevance and meaningful connections with consumers.
Whether marketing nationally, regionally, or locally, brands are reaching out with their messages where consumers live, work, and consume. Understanding local cultural nuances, tapping into current events, and helping to shape local trends makes a difference in establishing long-term relationships with those consumers.
RAB took the pulse of more than 350 attendees at the 2019 ANA Masters of Marketing Week and found that 72.4 percent of marketers indicated it was important or very important for their media efforts to engage locally with consumers.
Combine that with this fact from Edison Research and GeoBroadcast Solutions: 77 percent of radio listeners surveyed agree that they would pay more attention to ads on the radio if they were for businesses or products in their local area. It makes marketing sense — and all constituents agree — that local messaging resonates with consumers and drives behavior.
According to the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media, nearly 1,800 newspapers (dailies and weeklies) have either disappeared or merged with other publications since 2004. The erosion among American newspapers has led to a proliferation of "news deserts," or communities that have very limited access to local news and information. Smaller and mid-sized communities have been hardest hit.
With more than 15,000 local broadcast radio stations, no other medium informs, entertains, or engages better than radio. Rooted in the community where listeners live, work, go to school, or just go about their day, radio connects.
For example, take broadcast radio's commitment to high school sports or, more specifically, Friday Night Lights (football). Local community members may follow highlights of big plays and track live stats via social media and other platforms, and some games may have video live streams. However, there is nothing like listening to a play-by-play radio broadcast of a game impacting a local community.
"There are 80-plus schools in our coverage area and our stations broadcast these games because you can't get the information anywhere else," says Brooke Williams, VP and owner of Omni Media Group, which includes three radio stations (KWOX-FM, KMZE-FM, and KZZW-FM) in Woodward, Oklahoma. "It's everything to our communities and those listeners who tune in on the radio, in the stands, or online across the country to hear about their children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends. Nothing makes our team happier and more fulfilled than when a listener tells us how they heard their grandchild being interviewed on Friday night and how proud they are."
Radio is the top live and local medium, touching the lives of nearly 249 million people every week, according to Nielsen Audio RADAR 142 released in September. What's more, 84 percent of radio listeners believe that radio's primary advantage is its local feel and that it's a trusted source for information, keeping them updated on local current events, according to Jacobs Media Strategies' Techsurvey.
The numbers help to tell the story when it comes to radio listeners engaging with their local community and participating in events and with local organizations. According to MRI‑Simmons data, which is based on 24,000 interviews:
- 83 percent have attended a public meeting on town or school functions
- 80 percent have served on a committee of a local organization
- 79 percent have written or called any politician
- 79 percent have attended a country/rock/classical music performance in the past year
- 76 percent try to buy locally grown/produced foods
- 89 percent visited a radio station, program, or personality's website
The Edison Research blog indicates that people understand radio's role in the media environment, as well. "They 'get' radio," the blog says. "People see that radio is not simply a distribution vehicle for music, but a vital connection to the world."
A Trusted Voice for Consumers
As Marcel Marcondes, U.S. CMO at Anheuser-Busch, puts it, humanizing a brand has the ability to change the game. "Don't talk about the things you want to talk about, talk about what they want to hear," Marcondes says, referring to a brand's audience. Humanity is an increasingly critical component of marketing these days, and the brands that not only communicate with relevance but act with purpose are the ones that succeed.
How Bank of America (BofA) was able to resurrect the brand from the last recession — when trust in banking was at an all-time low — provides a solid example of how humanity drives brand transition.
At the ANA Masters of Marketing Week, Bank of America's CMO Meredith Verdone described BofA's transition from a product-led organization to a customer-led one. "We are not the center of their life," she said. "Consumers don't go around talking about how much they love their bank; rather, they are focused on their personal financial goals." Verdone also stressed how important it is "to be there for your customers and communicate with your customers when times are tough."
Indeed, when things go awry, there truly is no more important medium than local radio. Time and again, when disaster strikes, the first thing that fails is the internet and cellular telephone networks, but battery-operated radio stays on. Even if the power stays on, it can be hard to turn on the TV news for updates on natural disasters, horrific shootings, or even medical emergencies that can devastate communities.
It's unpredictable times like these that have proven, repeatedly, that broadcast radio is the backbone of the country's information distribution system; in fact, radio broadcasters see listening increases in the double digits — up to and exceeding 75 percent — when there is a local disaster.
The radio medium is and always has been a "call to action" medium that consumers turn to when they want it and when they need it. For example, as a series of powerful tornados tore through neighborhoods in Southwest Missouri, causing extensive damage and taking lives, Zimmer Radio's nine stations provided 10 hours of critical wall-to-wall tornado coverage, preempting all station content.
The stations aired live press conferences with the Jefferson City Police Department and a live call from Missouri Governor Mike Parson. This message from a concerned listener shows the power of local radio: "As a member of Mid Missouri, I wanted to take the time today to say thank you. In the minutes following the storms and tornado that struck Eldon and Jeff City areas, you all stopped normal operations to become the calm, responsible voice that people needed for help and reassurance … You all acted like responsible journalists and reported facts and didn't rush to report anything sensational or create an atmosphere of fear. You helped people and genuinely cared for the safety and well-being of those affected by this disaster. You put people before profit and are an example of how businesses and companies should operate."
But it's not just in times of crisis that radio shines, for the medium has a long and rich history of giving back to the local communities it serves. "Radiothons" on local radio stations and live broadcasts from children's hospitals — which take place throughout each year in markets across the country — benefit millions of kids, adults, and charitable organizations.
In just the past year, about 350 radio stations across the country shared St. Jude Children's Research Hospital's message of hope with their vast audiences. Listeners responded in record numbers to help treat childhood cancer, to the tune of $25 million raised. Station reps also hit the streets to deliver food, winter clothing, toys, and more, simply to make a difference in people's lives. KDBM-AM and KBEV-FM in Dillon, Montana, for example, have been helping out local grade schools through a school supply drive since 1998. In 2019, the stations provided 860 grade school kids with supplies in several rural communities. After 21 years, the teachers and kids know that help is on the way, and that the stations won't let them down.
Radio Moves the Marketing Needle
Advertisers in every single market across the country realize the power of local radio. They are leveraging the local connections that radio stations have to drive results for their brands. According to an IPSOS brand-effect study for a national insurance brand, people who heard a localized ad were more likely to consider buying the brand than those who heard a national ad. This is reaffirmed in a RAB-commissioned study focused on radio's ability to drive Google search activity. Ads that featured local, personalized messages achieved a higher percent of incremental search activity. Here are some other examples of brands that achieved search lift from advertising on the radio:
- For years, Nielsen has been able to help advertisers maximize return on advertising investment through their proprietary tools that demonstrate how critical it is to use more media channels (without needing to increase budgets) to maximize strategies. In its recently released Diverse Intelligence Series, focused on the Cultural Currency and Consumer Journey of Latinx consumers, Nielsen shared a case in which optimized media campaign planning enabled a TV-only advertiser to add local Spanish radio to its media mix without spending additional dollars, while boosting its reach to consumers by 57 percent.
- Katz Radio Group, the nation's largest radio representation firm, recently partnered with Facebook Marketplace, which was eager to enhance consumer-to-consumer shopping behavior. The Katz team customized the Facebook Marketplace radio creative on a market-by-market basis to include iconic local mentions and shoutouts that resulted in an uptick in awareness metrics in those specific local markets that are among the core target audiences for the brand.
- 1st Franklin Financial Corp., a consumer finance company with 300-plus branch locations in six states in the southeastern U.S., is committed to supporting its local communities. The offices leverage local radio because it is one of the most highly effective media to reach and engage consumers in the rural markets they serve.
- About a year ago, the Radio Broadcasters of Chicagoland (RBC), a committee of the Illinois Broadcasters Association, focused on demonstrating the power, influence, and evolution of radio as the most effective results-driven medium through innovative collaboration. The group ran a series of 60-second advertiser testimonial spots on 40 stations in a single major market (Chicago) simultaneously. The marketers who were part of this campaign were all local advertisers, sharing why radio is critical to their local market. Senior executives shared how impressed they are with radio as a marketing vehicle. "Radio is the most important thing we use on the media side because it touches so many people," said Ed Wehmer, founder, president, and CEO at Wintrust Financial Corp. Diana Sikes, SVP at Art Van Furniture added, "It's personal, it's daily, and we can tell our story in an evolving way on radio. That's hard to do in other media." Roy Spencer, president and owner of PermaSeal Basement Systems, also chimed in. "We can target different demographics, change the message. It's a tremendous, flexible medium," he said. John Alfirevich, dealer operator of Apple Chevrolet and president of the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Chevy Dealers Association, added, "Radio is the core of our influencer strategy."
Local Coverage, Growing Clout
Next year, of course, is an election year, with 470 U.S. senate and house of representative seats to be contested, not to mention the race for the White House. Couple that with hundreds of local political races and messaging for political causes and propositions. Next year also brings the Olympics, with nearly 400 U.S. athletes from local markets descending on Tokyo. Each one of these events, races, and initiatives is critically important to local communities and each have unique communication and media challenges.
It is anticipated that all of these players will turn to radio to solidify their place within local communities. According to a recently released Kantar study, the upcoming U.S. election is expected to generate around $6 billion in political advertising spending. Brands will struggle to compete in this hyperpolitical media market.
With television traditionally leading as the long tail for political advertisers, radio reassures advertising partners that local stations are there to help keep brands top of mind and relevant, giving them a good shot to cut through the proverbial clutter.
Radio has an enduring connection to the local fans that it serves. Whether it's a local personality who lives, breathes, eats, and sleeps in the community or a national talent who broadcasts to millions of people across the U.S., listeners feel as though radio personalities are communicating with them directly. It's content that marketers can emulate and a medium that provides the platform to engage and truly connect.
Tammy Greenberg is the SVP of business development at the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB), a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.