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What are you looking for?

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To Becky, or NOT to Becky

THAT is the question.  

When you see the name Becky, it goes without saying that were referring to the idea of identifying our target listeners using demographic markers such as age and gender. This isnt a new strategy and its most certainly not exclusive to our industry. I spoke with someone high in the food chain at a Fortune 500 Company about their demographic caricature; her name is Jennifer. They speak to each other in meetings and refer to Jennifer as if she is a real person.  After all she is representative of their target customer.  Jennifer this, Jennifer that.  

This Fortune 500 Companys rhetoric is not unlike the conversations Ive heard in Christian Radio. While I dont hear the name Becky” as much these days, it is commonplace in articles or in conversation to hear our listeners referred to as she” and her”.  

This approach has been used by analysts and strategists for years. Every product or service has customers, and demographics tell us who those customers are.  

We are no different. In the early days of TV and Radio we had access to only a fraction of the information we do today. In order to define who the audience was we used the information we had available. That information largely came from surveys and panels.

Demographics were (and still are) an easy way to segment an audience. Segmentation is used to take the masses and whittle them down into subcategories. From these subcategories we find the group that we believe is the proverbial center of the bullseye. The numbers are different depending on who you are speaking to, but it is largely believed that in Christian AC music the demographic at the center is a 40 ish year old woman. From here comes the assumption, if you get her then you get everyone in her sphere of influence”. 


Where Demographics Work

If you have a reliable source of gathering information then make no mistake, a demographic breakdown will absolutely tell you WHO your audience is. We see this in music testing. It is indisputable that I can take the survey we send out to our music team, and break that down into a variety of demographic categories.  

  • W25-54
  • P0-49 (if you’re looking to skew younger)
  • P0-100 (if you’re looking for the entire audience)

There are several ways to look at the data in order to arrive at a storyline that leads to the answers youre looking for. We see the same thing in the world of commercial advertising.  Many buyers are fixated on demographics and come to you with the preset hard and fast parameters they are looking for. If your station is strong in those demographics, you get the buy.  If you not, better luck next time.

There is no disputing that demographics tell you WHO.


Where Demographics Fail

Admittedly knowing WHO your audience is provides a relative amount of value. The problem with Demographic info is that they dont answer a very important question. Far more important than who, is WHY. Why are people listening to your station? What problem do you solve? What need are you meeting? What value do you bring to their lives? When you answer the why, your listener transforms from a demographic caricature to a real life person. They become a friend. Better yet, they become family. They are no longer a 40 ish year old woman. They are now a former addict who relies on your station each day to give them the hope they need to resist the urge to relapse. They are the single parent who listens because they want their kids to be exposed to good music that doesnt have themes they arent ready to be exposed to. They are the new believer getting stronger each day. They are the cynic whos been burned by the church, but who wants to have SOME connection to God and they find that on your radio station.


What Are You Trying to Accomplish?  

Thats one of my favorite questions. Ill explain why in a minute.

The human brain is fascinating. In order to resolve doubt, it must attach itself to something that it can point to and say, THAT is why Im sure”. Without that reference point wed all be mindlessly making decisions based on absolutely nothing of consequence. Mind you, some people dont involve their brains in nearly enough decision-making, but for those of us who truly care and take life seriously this is a logical process. The problem is, sometimes we outsmart ourselves. Other times were guilty of confirmation bias. We hear something that kind of checks out, and since it leads us to our desired result we say, what more do I need”. Other times we just dont dig deep enough to really find the truth.

When you take a step back however and ask something very simple like, what am I trying to accomplish?” the answers dont always line up with the actions youre taking. Lets look at this a little closer.

Ive heard a lot of phrases associated with our format. These are brand statements. They are a promise to your listeners. Many of them are some combination of the following:

  • Safe for the Whole Family
  • Uplifting and Encouraging
  • Kid Safe
  • Positive & Encouraging
  • Family Friendly

Why do we use these little brand statements? Most people would say they are representative of who they want to be. What they want to be known for. Maybe they even go a step further and have a mission statement. Ive heard several mission statements and most of them revolve around reaching the community they serve for Jesus; spreading the good news; taking light to dark places, being hope to the hurting. Its why we get out of bed every day right? This is the good stuff. Its what keeps us focused. Its what fills our tank.  

Guess whats NOT mentioned? Center of the bullseye. Forty-year-old soccer moms.  

If youre saying to yourself, youre mixing strategy and mission”, then youre 100% right. The whole purpose of developing a strategy is to accomplish your mission. So I ask again, what are you trying to accomplish?

Its probably obvious where I stand on the Becky question, or demographic targeting for that matter. It just falls miserably short. Demographics make it easy to pigeon-hole people into basic stereotypes. Weve done it for years. We started doing it because it was all we had. But now live in the digital age; the age of information and intent.  

Roy H. Williams illustrates this beautifully:

What is the income range of snowboarders?
What is the age range of people who do yoga?
What is the age and income range of Carolina Panthers football fans?
What is the age and income range of Republicans?
What are the beliefs and opinions of a person who is 30 years old?
What the hell is a Millennial?

Your intellect believes those questions have answers, but your heart knows the answers would be ridiculous. Age and income are not tribal markers. They are false categories that appeal only to the small-minded person within each of us that clings to stereotypes.

Let go of the stereotypes and embrace a more accurate picture.

Hills and snow and a love of adrenaline are what snowboarders have in common.
Yoga is what binds Yoga people.
A team unites Carolina Panthers fans.
Strands of belief unite a political party.

What matters to your customer has little to do with the year they were born or the amount of money they make. What matters are the desires and beliefs and values of their tribe.

This translates pretty easily to what we do. What kind of music do women in their mid-forties listen to? All kinds. What things do they like to talk about? All kinds of things. So if being a woman in her mid-forties doesnt help us with music or content, then why are we hyper focused on age and gender?  And even if the most aggressive numbers are correct, and our tribe is 60/40 or even 70/30 women in this demo; why would we willfully disregard such a massive part of our audience? There is nothing to gain, and far too much to lose.

Heres the beautiful thing. When you focus your targeting, messaging, music, outreach, social content, and everything you do on why people (ALL people) are coming to your station, you will still get Becky, but you also get Bill, Mildred, Oscar, Tristan, Keisha, Julio, Shanice, the list goes on and on.

Call me greedy, but I want ALL the CUMES.  Matthew 28 doesn’t say to go ye therefore into suburbia and make disciples of middle aged women…It’s time to move on from outdated strategies. It’s time to eradicate “she” and “her” language and move into a more comprehensive view of your audience. The mission is too important, and our listeners matter far too much…ALL of our listeners.