What Web Sites Could Learn
from Radio Stations
by Donn Seidholz

Twenty years ago radio-station operators faced the same problems web-based companies face today: Too many stations chasing too few audience members and not enough revenue to go around. No one could gain enough market share to make any money.

People programmed stations with a gut feeling for what their consumers wanted. Instinct ruled the day. Little attention was paid to the user/consumer experience. Research was rarely used to determine market demand or appropriateness. Radio programmers were considered artists who just happened to have the knack for creating radio stations. They reported only to themselves without feedback about the target market. Some formats attracted large audiences and generated revenues by dumb luck. But, by and large, most stations appealed to niche markets with limited audiences and barely broke even. Over half the stations lost money.

Research wasn't budgeted for by stations. Most radio programmers back then wouldn't have known how to use research if they had to.

An interesting thing happened several years later. Several "rogue" stations started doing perceptual studies, music testing and format demand searches to understand what would allow them to create strong and lasting audience demand.

In almost every case stations using research for marketing strategies, target markets and strategic intent zoomed to the top of the ratings. Those that didn't lost out. Now virtually every radio station in the United States relies on research to deliver a product that fits the needs of the target user/consumer. Millions of dollars are spent each year on music testing, perceptual research, focus groups and potential demand searches. The radio business has never been stronger. Now research is a standard operating expense. Why? Because you can't create a viable product that delivers on the strategic intent without it.

What Can Web Based Operators Learn From Radio?

A radio station relies on two things to be successful---Time Spent Listening and Cumulative Audience. Both are by-products of customer need satisfaction that must be measured by research. If a radio station plays music that the target audience doesn't like, they won't listen for long (Time Spent Listening). If the station doesn't position itself with the target and deliver what the target wants, they may never visit the station at all (Cumulative Audience) Such concerns are monitored and addressed through research.

Web sites rely on the same basic principals---Time on Site (TOS) and Unique Visitors (UV). To increase TOS and UV, web programmers need to understand the user/customer. What is the strategic intent of the site? Does the site meet the expectations of the target user/consumer? Most sites today are designed without doing proper research. The proof is in the number of sites that are going out of business or have low TOS and UV.

Until web companies learn from the mistakes made by the radio industry years ago, they will be faced with the same issues they are facing now. Web sites cannot meet user needs without asking the users what they want. Without this input,designers are left guessing, or worse, misassuming. The results are web sites that do not deliver on the strategic intent of the business model.

The smart operators will rediscover the magic of R and D. Those that do will grow and prosper. Those that don't are doomed to the same fate that greeted myopic radio operators years ago.

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