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Seth Godin's new book suggests radio groups are creating "Meatball Sundaes"

Posted on: 01/31/2008

When you think back on it months or years from now, remember where you first heard about Seth Godin’s book “Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing Out of Sync?“ and how it applies to the radio industry: Right here in RAIN: Radio And Internet Newsletter! (And the next time you see me at a convention, you can buy me a Sam Adams and thank me.)

And the next time you read a quote from a broadcast group head about “We’re extending our local brands online,” you can think to yourself, “Hey! He’s making a meatball sundae!”

Godin’s new book

Seth Godin is one of the radio industry’s favorite authors, marketing gurus, and speakers. He’s famous for such insightful (and easy-to-read) books as “Permission Marketing” and “Purple Cow.”

(Incidentally, if you’re ever thinking about writing a book, note that radio people like marketing books that are 5” x 7” and no more than about 200 pages long. That’s one reason we all liked the Ries & Trout books “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” and “Marketing Warfare” so much… and, conversely, one reason I can’t get anyone important in the industry to read Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma

What is a “Meatball Sundae”?

Godin’s new book “Meatball Sundae” is just starting to appear on airport newsstands now and I strongly recommend you pick up a copy when you see it.

The basic thesis of the book is that most companies produce good, solid, mainstream products (“meatballs”) and that many are currently trying to apply “New Marketing” (a/k/a “Web 2.0”) techniques (“sundae” elements like whipped cream, nuts, and cherries) to those products.

Unfortunately, thosesundaeelements don’t complement a meatball very well. It’s marketing that’s out of sync with the product being marketed. You end up with a meatball sundae.

If I’m reading him correctly, a good example of what he’s taking about is that many broadcast groups are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on building elaborate station websites — adding chat rooms, Flash features, tell-a-friend buttons, blogs, social networks, user-generated content, and so forth.

An AM or FM radio station is a good solid meatball — a great and useful product. But throwing dessert toppings on a meatball doesn’t do anyone any good. (Dessert toppings are good, but only when they’re on top of an appropriate product.)

Marketing enables (and demands) a new organization

So there are all these exciting new marketing techniques available and all these new things going on on the Internet. What should radio do about them?

Godin argues that if you want to use what he calls the “New Marketing,” you have to design a new product (and organization) that plays to the strengths of those techniques.

He writes, “Please note that I’m not insisting that everyone embrace these new techniques. All I’m arguing for is synchronization. Don’t use the tactics of one paradigm and the strategies of another and hope that you’ll get the best of both. You won’t.”

Only 17 people in the chat room

This is why Z-100/New York, with a cume of a million listeners a week, when I check usually has only about 17 people in its chat room: Putting a chat room into the Z100 media player is making a meatball sundae.

(Actually, offering Z100 on the web is almost a meatlball sundae in and of itself! It’s why, at a time of the day when there are many tens of thousands of people listening to the FM signal, there seem to be only 110 people listening online, if I’m reading the info on their player correctly. (Offering streams of your stations online is something you have to do as a customer service to your listeners, just to stay even. But trying to make a big deal out of it? Meatball sundae.))

A zillion opportunities

There are a zillion opportunties on the web in the radio/music space. But they tend to be national, not local. They tend to be customizable, not broadcast (i.e., one-to-many). They tend to be short-form, not long-form.

Switching gears to my Ries & Trout here, they typically require a new brand name to work — not a line-extended version of an old-medium brand name.

And, perhaps most importantly, they will require, as Godin argues, a different kind of organization, comprised of people with different kinds of skills.

Want to talk about this more?

I’ll be speaking at the RAB in Atlanta in a couple of weeks. Maybe we can talk there! Just drop me a line — kurt@accuradio.com. We can jawbone this over a Sam Adams. If you liked Godin’s book, you can pay; if not, I will.

You can buy the book from Amazon here or, for an overview, read Godin’s Squidoo “lens” on the subject here.

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  1. Kurt,
    Looking forward to meeting you in San Jose/Convergence 08/March

    Jimmy Risk · Jan 28, 07:06 AM · #

  2. Completely agree and what I’ve believed all along.

    I give it 5 years on average before terrestrial companies start buying out developed online-only brands and manage a portfolio of such, instead of a portfolio consisting only of streaming websites for terrestrial counterparts. That is, assuming the royalty issue is resolved where all parties can still make a profit of some kind.

    Ari Shohat · Jan 29, 08:22 AM · #

  3. Kurt,

    I agree, whipped cream and meatballs are a bad combination. Radio needs to add cheese, mushrooms and some complimentary sides to its meatball, because it’s losing its value as a stand alone meal. Radio seems to be learning the hard way that Josh White Jr. was right – “you gets no bread with one meatball”.

    You’re right, a chatroom for Z100 is a waste of time, but I think radio needs to do something to exploit its individual communities (i.e format p1s) if it hopes to halt the ongoing revenue slide.

    In no particular order, here’s how radio could turn that meatball into a full course meal:

    1) Do a major overhaul on its websites. Pictures of joks, local servers in bikinis and a list of the last 10 songs played don’t make you much of a destination. They should buy some content and make it available on an exclusive basis. Really good sites by format wouldn’t cost that much to create over a large platform of stations. And if the improvements brought more visitors and page views, ad revenue would support the expense and actually make it a profitable exercise.

    2) Get into the social networking business. Each station has a community of music (or sometimes talk/sports) partisans to build that community around. Older adults in particular, may not want to hook up with myspace, but could well hop onto a sports, or country music networking opportunity.

    3) Stop promoting HD radio. HD Radio is an Emperor with no clothes. Two of the top three reasons people cite for being interested are no subscription fee and no ads. Without one or the other – no revenue. It’s time to recognize that the Internet is the future for radio them, not HD. Radio still has better programming talent as an industry than Webcasting. Why not use it to own the space, rather than buy in the way the big 3 networks did when they saw cable taking their audience away.

    4) Sell marketing service verticals. Only CBS has the platform to do it on their own, the others should forge alliances. Creative synergy brings much more value than media tonnage and there is no established price point for it the way there is for media.

    Bob Bellin · Jan 29, 09:06 AM · #

  4. Congratulations on a vivid image that’s as wrong as it is unappetizing. As theatre of the mind this image is great, as credible business counsel it is distasteful. Involve your listeners or die.

    Looking at today’s radio websites is no indication of their potential. The terrible state of radio websites demonstrates thinly staffed, under supported, and stretched operating teams. Today’s radio websites illustrate top down command and control radio management that miss the powerful bottom up growth that creates great audiences.

    • Some radio stations invested a lot of money thinking they could copy MySpace like they would extend a program format. Listeners don’t need another MySpace. They one they have now works pretty well. MySpace may seem national to you but it is really very local and extremely personal. No radio station will ever get as connected as a listener’s MySpace pages … don’t try.

    • Some stations made one-time websites investments and expected traffic to show up because the paid a lot of money for web services, programs, and graphics. Two weeks after launch the site started to decay. Two-years after launch its dead. Websites must be as fresh, as current, and as inviting as the morning show. Listeners can contribute inviting, fresh, and relevant content faster than any PD can keep up with. That’s too scary for most PDs.

    • Leadership teams are disappointed at the money spent, that talent consumed and the lack of meaningful revenue. It’s a natural response to move a low performer back stage maybe off stage. If you think this new arena is a mismatched sweet topping on the main course you are wrong. Listeners want to be involved and appreciated. Its two-ways now. One-way can only be the listener’s way. One-way … just your-way is a road to disaster.

    Local radio websites with Web 2.0 tools can engage the audience in a meaningful, fulfilling way. They can extend the station brand. Good websites can engage listeners and build TSL. They can bring more effectiveness to sponsor programs. Most operators have just given up. They tried for almost 10-years with no success. It is time to let new people like your 20-something webmaster with more traffic on their MySpace page than your website. Listen to them. Let them experiment. They will connect with our audience. What’s going on now isn’t working for you but web tools are growing the internet and eating your lunch.

    A radio website isn’t a meatball Sunday. It is a neglected garden or a wonderful neglected home in a great neighborhood that needs remodeling.

    If your solution is the old one-way broadcast. That’s a meatball.

    Editor's note: Steve runs a company, CELLit, that sells Web 2.0 tools for local radio station websites.

    Steve Poley · Jan 29, 05:07 PM · #

  5. Kurt,

    Some of the goals for radio are really the same as they have always been. Build a community, start conversations, entertain your audience (and of course make a profit). The “new media” or “web 2.0” space offers many opportunities for radio to help achieve that goal.

    Many of Godin’s points are right on the money, however, don’t stop experimenting or trying, though admittedly the chances to do this are disappearing. Chat rooms and streaming the station, okay, not the best use of resources. So now we know.

    I agree with Seth in that we need to seek the perfect combination but once in awhile we may have to scrape off the cool whip once we’ve found that meat sauce would be better. The real challenge, especially with increasingly limited resources, is selecting the right toppings to begin with.

    Phil Wilson · Jan 30, 02:41 AM · #

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