Charlie Cook On Air

If you ask people the most important qualities in a friend, a spouse or even a co-worker, I’ll bet loyalty is among them. According to Karol Ladd’s bestselling book The Power of a Positive Woman, loyalty is number three.

Loyalty is not only important to friendships–it’s important to radio stations, station personalities, artists and musical genres. The record companies get kind of a pass in their brand on this one but they are tightly tied to the artist brand, of course.

How do you build loyalty? How do you build loyalty that lasts for a long time?

I remember asking Conway Twitty why he left a Rock & Roll career behind, when he could have been huge around the time Elvis was the King. He told me he knew Country fans were loyal to their heroes. He told me that he wanted a 25 year career. Conway read it right and lasted longer than just 25 years. No one could have anticipated the loyalty Elvis engendered.

I am always amazed to see where one of the format’s longer lasting artists is still out on the road many nights while not having a radio hit or a current CD for years. But they can support themselves, a band and a bus because they have built a base of loyal fans. Maybe they don’t sell out Madison Square Garden but they make a living doing what they love doing.

This is the same for pop groups, often rejiggered with one or less of the original members. Is loyalty illusionary in some cases? Are we loyal to what we think we remember?

I am a loyal Detroit Red Wing fan. Am I loyal to the uniform? Not so much to the players anymore, many of whose names I cannot even pronounce. I don’t get to Red Wing games anymore but I check CBSsports.com every morning to see how they performed last night.

Borders Books recently crashed after a good run. They came out of Ann Arbor about the time I lived there and had a 40 year run. How does a 40 year business just fold up? They failed to take advantage of managing loyalty to their brand.

I don’t go to a book store to buy candy bars and candles. I would bring my daughter to Borders to help her build a love of books and instead I had to fight my way through stuffed animals and trinkets that would catch her eye.

What happens then? In my case I would think twice before bringing her with me. Then because I would rather spend time with her I stopped going to Borders. Multiply that by 1 million and all of a sudden Borders has a real problem.

What built your loyalty? Hammer those qualities home day after day, week after week.

Lee Greenwood was a player in our format but “God Bless the USA” is his brand. That song built a loyal following for Lee. What if he made an appearance and decided not to sing that song?

Artists like to stretch and discover new avenues with their music. I guess that this is what makes them special. I will bet that singing the same music, the same style, night after night makes you want to climb a tower, but at the same time the fan has an expectation that needs to be satisfied.

Artists like Taylor, who understands her fan base as much as anyone ever has, can push the envelope more during her live shows. Heck, who would have thought 14 year old girls would spend two hours entranced by what is a Broadway like musical. Taylor did. This gives her the opportunity to stretch musically and tell a visual story with her music. Her shows build a connection with the fans and loyalty because it is visual along with being musical.

Radio stations should be loyalty machines. They have so many things to hook the listener with. Music is the number one thing. If there are two country stations in town you have to be the choice with more music, better music, more targeted music. Then you can build loyalty with a morning show.

Do you think Baltimore country music fans would feel the same about WPOC if Laurie DeYoung wasn’t waking them up? Laurie has built a loyal fan base by being consistently good every day. Laurie doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel every morning. She tries to deliver a morning show that has made her a Hall of Famer.

Some stations try to buy loyalty. Nothing wrong with that. Contests work just fine. Stations are actually trying to buy ratings but sometimes loyalty comes along as a secondary benefit.

I hear from stations that times change. In the consumer arena it is a zero sum game. If I listened to WXXX and now I listen to WZZZ something made me change my mind. My sixteen hours a week of listening is now either distributed differently or gone to the new guy.

The bottom line is that in order to build loyalty with your friends, your co-workers, you customers, or fans you need to add to the community every day. Just hanging around is not good enough. Contribute something every day.

You must do something that ingratiates you to your target.

According to Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, “If you’re a retailer, loyal and engaged customers are six times more likely to visit your locations.”

I am going to stretch that and say if you really care about building loyalty with your target you’re many times more likely to have them listen to your radio station, buy your CD or attend your concert.

Finally, a couple weeks ago my friend Cindi Hoelzle posted on Facebook a thank you card Taylor sent to her and family for attending her show. That is stretching and that is what Ms. Swift does every day.

Have a great weekend.

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