April 29, 2022

To consider how your target audience views your services, you need a clear understanding of consumer’s tastes and needs, and you need to understand if your services meet the tastes and needs of the audiences you most aspire to serve. To truly understand the audience, you must use outside thinking, which we define as the way consumers view a company’s brand or services. Conversely, inside thinking is how a company views itself.

Our research over decades has shown us that what audiences value about the services they consume is frequently at odds with what the operators of those same services perceive to be important. 

An over-reliance on inside thinking is not unique to public media. Managers in almost any business engage in inside thinking more often than they should. In radio, the most common differences between inside and outside thinking are as follows:

INSIDE THINKERS believe that radio listeners... OUTSIDE THINKERS believe that radio listeners...
Care deeply about radio.
Do not care deeply about radio. (Listeners like and use radio, but there are many things in their lives that they care about far more deeply than radio.)
Pay close attention to what radio stations do.
Do not pay close attention to what radio stations do. (When stations make a change, most listeners do not notice, unless it’s directly brought to their attention.)
Can be easily manipulated.
Cannot be easily manipulated. (Listeners have lives and routines that are not easily disrupted. Getting them to change behaviors or perceptions rarely happens.)

In a 2017 study we discovered that fewer than one in four radio users can call to mind any public radio station. It’s hard to conclude that listeners are paying close attention to what you’re doing when you’re not even top-of-mind for most of them. Similarly, recent data shows that while podcast usage has grown substantially in recent years, only a little more than a third (38%) of all Americans listen to podcasts each month.

Here’s how inside and outside thinkers differ in podcasting:

INSIDE THINKERS believe that... OUTSIDE THINKERS believe that...
Everyone listens to podcasts and knows where to find them.
We still need to teach people how to find and consume podcasts.
Content is king. (If we create engaging, compelling content, it will attract a large audience.)
Content + branding is key. (You also need to build a brand that makes people aware of your podcast and wanting to seek it out.)
Success is measured by downloads.
Success is measured by satisfied listeners.

How Listeners Make Decisions About Media Selections

One of the first things outside thinkers understand is that the decisions listeners make about what to listen to are substantially driven by habit. Even with the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, listeners do many things at the same time every single day. 

If a listener tunes in to your station every weekday from 7:30 – 8:15 a.m., don’t get stuck trying to stretch their listening into the 9:00 a.m. hour. Perhaps that’s when the listener arrives at work. Instead, think about getting the listener to develop the habit of coming back to your station every weekday from 7:30 – 8:15 a.m. Outside thinkers work to become part of that habit cycle, considering opportunities to become part of listeners’ lives. 

Outside thinkers also understand that nearly every listening occasion can be tied to one of five primary needs that audio entertainment fulfills for listeners on an instantaneous basis: 

  1. Relive memories
    Reminding listeners of times in their lives that they perceive positively

  2. Energize and improve mood
    Picking up spirits and raising their energy levels

  3. Relax
    Offering an escape from the stress of everyday life

  4. Stay in Touch
    Keeping abreast of what’s going on in the world and the community

  5. Avoid boredom
    Filling in empty space when alone

The needs are not mutually exclusive; content can fulfill more than one need simultaneously. But if you want to drive usage, your service must be fulfilling at least one of these needs at any given time. 

How to Cultivate Outside Thinking

Outside thinkers find ways to step away from what is being discussed within the walls of your office among colleagues and find consistent ways to look at your services from the perspective of the audiences you hope to attract. Sometimes this is as simple as being able to tune out the opinions of colleagues around you. 

Conducting research is an essential way to understand outside thinking, though it can be costly. If such costs are out of reach, conduct listener surveys using your email database to discover what’s valuable to your desired audience. (Consider getting outside assistance to design a questionnaire that yields reliable responses.) You can gather listener advisory boards to have an open-ended discussion about what listeners like and don’t like about your service and about your competitors’ services. Craft questions that aren’t leading, but simply ask “what do you think of…?” Lastly, consider teaming up with other stations to share the cost of reliable research.

It’s a reality that any audience data set you examine from 10 years ago will look deeply different from audience data sets of today, and your organization must be open to change. Cultivating outside thinking includes building relationships with individuals who represent the audiences you hope to serve, and making sure new audiences are represented within your organization. 

Coleman Insights is a media research company that helps audio entertainment companies build strong brands and develop great content. From our headquarters in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, we’ve been delivering our insights to radio stations, streaming platforms, podcasters, music labels, music artists, and others for more than four decades.