Expert Columns

You’ve already put in the hard work required to build a brand. You’ve created your brand promise by telling listeners what to expect. And you deliver on that promise every day.
Now comes the next step: Use your brand to engage your audience.
How does brand engagement work? I recommend three steps: Learn, listen, and live.
LEARN: Radio does a good job at learning about their listeners. We pay attention to ratings, demographics, and market research. But don’t just stop at the statistics. A good brand actively learns about its audience. But don’t be content with surface info. Go deeper. It’s what separates you from the competition. Learn about your users habits, her routines, her shopping preferences, her kids and what they like, and what everyday concerns she faces. Never stop learning about your listeners.
LISTEN: The next time you’re out in the field, take time to listen to the conversations around you. When you’re standing in a long line at the store, keep your ears open. What are people talking about? What’s the topic of the day? What are they saying…and more importantly, HOW are they saying it? You may be surprised to find out that your brand is addressing the issues people are discussing, but they aren’t hearing it because you’re slightly off-key. Listening to others can teach your brand how to talk to others.
LIVE: Live where your listeners live. This step is, I think, the toughest for Christian radio broadcasters. Because we represent Jesus Christ, we are called to live differently than the guys over at the Top 40 station. But the truth is, we’re called to minister to people who often live tough, messy lives. Your “Becky/Lisa/Sara” may be a classy mom who holds down a job, marriage and three kids…but her nephew just “came out,” her husband just lost his job because of budget cuts, and her mom has Stage 3 breast cancer. Oh, and kid #2 just got called to the principal’s office for bullying. Can your brand get down on her level and walk with her through the messiness? Are you willing to live where she is and walk with her through those times?
Each step – Learn, Listen, and Live – requires us to take an active role in our listeners’ lives. That’s how brand engagement begins. And the ultimate goal of brand engagement is to create community – you and me, us and them. Your station, your brand, has this opportunity. Are you ready to engage?

You’ve worked to develop a significant brand. You’ve put time into crafting imagers, creating an online presence, and reminding listeners about who you are.
Now, you want to know if all that work is paying off. How can you tell? It all comes down to this one simple question: What is the first thing listeners say about your station?
Listeners don’t have to parrot your slogan/ID/imagers word-for-word. Nor do they have to know the font colors and graphics. But remember that <b>a brand is a promise you make to your listeners. If you are keeping your promise to listeners, they’ll know. And they’ll be able to tell others about the promise you’ve made.
It really is that simple. But don’t be fooled. It takes a lot of hard work.
Our job in media is to build people connections. To relate. And we relate to listeners when we make promises and keep them. That’s why it’s important to not just say that we’re family friendly…<b>we have to keep our word. Even when it’s not convenient. Or easy. Your job is to always stick to your brand promise and put the family first.
Is your branding effective? Are you keeping your brand promises? You’ll find out when you take time to listen.

Who are you talking to when you flip open the mic or type a thought on social media? Current research provides some interesting facts on American's faith and practices. Here's a glimpse of our audience:
1) American = Christian. Kind of. According to Christianity Today (The Exchange, 2/14/17), about half of Americans call themselves Christians … but it's just a title. Only about 25-percent of the population calls itself Christian and lives like it. Note: Pew Research finds the number higher – 71% refer to themselves as Christian. (4/26/17)
2) Christians love Jesus, but not the Church. The latest Barna Group research finds that many American Christians believe faith is important, but haven't been to church in the past six months.
3) People still think of Clergy in positive terms. Sixty-six percent of Americans feel religious leaders bring value to the public. (Barna Group, 3/16/17)
4) More education = less religion? A new report from Pew Research finds that only 46% of college grads say religion is “very important” in their lives, while 58% of high-school-only grads say it is “very important.” (In America, Does More Education Mean Less Religion? Pew Research, 4/26/17)
5) Americans are more positive toward religion today than just a few years ago. Jews, Catholics and Mainline Protestants enjoy the highest ratings, while Evangelical Christianity and Hinduism are close behind. (Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Toward Religious Groups, Pew Research, 2/15/17)
What can you do with this reasearch? View it as a tool to help find content that will connect with people who are aware of – and in some cases – connected to Christianity … but may not have realized the power of the Gospel and the realities of the risen Christ. As a media personality, you may be able to reach people who may not respond to a more “formal” presentation of the Gospel. So use this platform to support our churches and show our audience the difference Christ can make in our lives. Be relevant. Be real. And shine a light.

Summer is a great time to strengthen your station brand. Your team is out and about in the community, you’re running a number of promotions, and you’re connecting one-on-one with listeners.
 Before you head out to that next remote, take some time to assess your brand and ask if it is still connecting with your audience, on-air, online, and in-person. And here’s the best place to start. Ask yourself, “What does my brand say about our station?”
Stop just a second and take a look at your business card. Take a look at your program guide. Check your web site, Instagram, Twitter  and Facebook pages to see what your brand says about you. Here are three things to look for:
1. Does my brand still connect with my audience? Branding is more than just a logo or an imager. It’s a promise you make to your listeners. It covers everything that you do. So put it this way: Do listeners feel like I’m keeping my promise?  
2. Does my brand image still look/sound relevant? Words and design change quickly. Are you still using the same words that you used in 2005? That’s not a bad thing if listeners still connect with your promise to stay safe for little ears. But have you and your listeners outgrown that concept? Are you more than “safe” for families? Families may want more than safe. They may want shelter from life’s storms.  
3. Does my brand stay consistent across all media channels? You’re more than just an on-air signal. You’re also a web programmer, social media communicator, video producer, and in some cases, a publisher. Do all of your channels march in lock-step? Will someone know what to expect on air by reading your Twitter feed? Do your jocks reflect the messages on your Pinterest page?  
Managing the station brand is a tough job. But it’s one of the most important things you can do in today’s media world. Remember, a brand is a promise you make to your audience. Make sure you’re keeping that promise.

Start planning your summer promotions now. Take a few minutes this week and answer these questions:
1) How can I serve my listeners – especially moms of school-aged kids – this summer?
2) How do I want the station to be perceived?
3) How can I keep listeners engaged on a daily basis?
4) Where do I want the station to be (financially, listenership, credibility) for Fall/Winter events?
Note: “Promotions” aren't always about doing things. More often than not, “promotions” are about establishing and strengthening your station image.
While you're planning promotions and events, here are a few dates to keep in mind:
• May 14 – Mother's Day
• May 29 – Memorial Day
• June 6 – D-Day
• June 14 – Flag Day
• June 18 – Father's Day
• June 19 – Juneteenth Day
• June 20 – Summer Solstice
• July 4 – Independence Day
Take a look at these dates and events, then apply the answers to the questions above. If these events help serve listeners, strengthen your credibility and engage listeners, they might just be a good fit.
This coming summer, put your time and energy into the promotions and events that will grow your station's brand and increase listenership.

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