Text Messaging to a Different Beat

Radio stations are utilizing SMS to reach listeners and create one-on-one interaction

You feel lucky as you call the radio station that is offering free Britney Spears concert tickets to caller number 25. You get a busy signal so you dial again, only to get another busy signal. By the time you get through the speed-dialers, the tickets are long gone.

Getting a busy signal on the phone is frustrating - especially for the 20 year-old concert-goer who really wants free Britney Spears tickets.

"It's a complaint we hear a lot," says one radio promotions specialist. "There are actually people who are experts at getting free concert tickets from radio stations because they're speed dialers. They shut out everyone else."

Callers aren't the only ones frustrated. Marketing promotions are measured by how many listeners they attract and keep on attracting. It's what allows stations to help quantify their audience to would-be advertisers. The busy signal means that radio station marketers and DJs are not capitalizing on opportunities to interact with listeners, build DJ followings, or increase listenership.

During the summer of 2003, KTTB/B96 - "The Beat of the Twin Cities," in Minneapolis, was determined to make busy signals a sound of the past and improve its one-on-one relationship with individual listeners. In its search to set itself apart from the competition, the radio station's marketing promotion staff decided to try out a new type of radio promotion. The promotion would use text messaging as the basis of a free ticket giveaway.

Text messaging has become increasingly popular in the United States during the last few years, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the B96 marketing staff. Not only was the approach novel, but there was an added benefit: "The Tone E. Fly Morning Show" would be the very first radio station in the United States to use the technology for a promotional contest.

B96 promotions director Chris Olsen turned to Vibes Media, an interactive marketing company, known previously for developing a tool called the Instant Response Platform, which allows marketers and brand managers to directly interact with target customers via text messaging.

Vibes, with its roots in one-on-one marketing, saw the potential to use the combined technology of cellphones and SMS (short message service) as a vehicle for one-on-one communications to a massive audience, like radio. One-on-one marketing can use a tool like a cellphone to directly interact, and have dialogue with, a large number of customers. This, in turn, generates more brand awareness and interest in that company's product or services. At the time, this was a gamble for Vibes, but one that paid off; more than half of the population in the United States now owns a mobile phone, and rarely are they without them.

Vibes' iRadio is the first large-scale text messaging application designed specifically for radio. Text messaging is perfect for marrying radio's inherent mobile nature to its mobile, phone-carrying audience. With text messaging, stations don't have to worry about listeners being shut out by busy signals or having to staff phone lines, and they can leverage an exciting new medium for more revenue.

B96's Olsen says there were several goals for the marketing promotion. At its core, the radio station wanted to build excitement among its listeners as well as increase the interaction between listeners and on-air personalities. The radio station hoped to increase text messaging usage among listeners and gain a distinct competitive advantage. It was this radio personality-listener interaction that the station expected to help fuel advertiser interest as well. But as they found out, the technology would create a one-on-one DJ-listener bond never before seen in media.

The radio station chose its popular morning show host, Tone E. Fly, to test run the interactive technology. The colorful Tone E. Fly has a large following in the area and the radio station expected that the DJ would get the most use out of the potential for direct interaction with his listeners.

At the start of each show, Tone E. Fly told listeners that the 25th individual to text in the day's keyword would win a prize, such as concert tickets. Having listeners text in their entry instead of calling meant that every listener would receive a personal response from Tone E. Fly. The promotion was available to any listener, anytime, using any wireless phone, with no restrictions. Once a message was sent to the radio station, Vibes' Instant Respond Platform automatically sent a personalized message back to every caller letting them know their text was received. There were no busy signals and listeners appreciated the one-on-one dialogue with Tone E. Fly.

"This is a level of interaction that was never possible before through phone-in contests," Olsen said. "It immediately gave us an idea of how popular Tone E. Fly's show was, and of audience data points based on what tickets or prizes would generate listener participation. It gave callers a chance to interact with us rather than hang up, frustrated by a busy signal."

The messages listeners received reinforced that they had gotten through to the station and were heard. As listeners continued to text into the show and get closer to the winning number, Vibes' iRadio application would respond with a message such as, "You are number 24, sorry just a bit too fast;" or "You are number 26, try to be a bit quicker next time." These types of messages kept listeners interested and enticed them to try again during the next contest.

"If anything, I found text contesting more effective than a calling contest," Tone E. Fly said. "Instead of, ?You're caller five, click; caller six, click,' everyone participating is getting something back from you."

The Vibes iRadio platform also brought some fringe benefits to B96's DJ and promotions staff. Outside of just utilizing this technology to run contests and promotions, Tone E. Fly and show DJs were able to monitor all incoming messages and even respond to individual listeners. This provided DJs the ability to personalize their show as never before and listeners now had a direct link to their favorite DJs. Many listeners sent messages regarding song requests and ?shout-outs.' This alternative interaction only further endeared listeners to the station, and the show, due to the personal interaction that was now possible.

"I'm a DJ so I love the live nature of the interaction with my listeners," Tone E. Fly said. "Vibes' platform allows me to read incoming messages from listeners in real-time and choose who I want to give a ?shout-out' to on-air. I can even send my own personal messages right back to people. It's cool."

Vibes' iRadio offers a Web-based platform that shows all the real-time text messages coming into the show. Through the use of this tool, radio personalities were able to instantly view and respond to any message they desire through the Web interface. This made the interaction process easy for show personalities. The iRadio platform is easily modified on the fly, allowing radio stations to create multiple marketing campaigns without technical headaches.

Other tools allow for real-time reporting and adjustments so that programmers can make quick changes in order to maximize audience participation and interaction. The tools can keep track of the number of messages that enter the system during the duration of an event or day. It also keeps track of when messages are sent and can record and track participants in real-time.

This combination of tools is very helpful in the ability to break down a single contest/event and measure the number of people responding, how many messages each person sent, and display their correspondence. This also gave the marketing and promotions staff at B96 a better understanding of their audience, helping them to counsel advertisers on what shows were the best fit for their advertising dollar.

Although an individual may have already sent in his or her text regarding a contest, B96 wanted to encourage further interaction with their listeners to help strengthen the radio station's following. By asking users if they would like to participate in a game or trivia contest, B96 extended the amount of times listeners interacted with the station. This extended interaction can then be used to develop future promotions, and gauge the effectiveness of their DJs and the success of their radio shows.

There was also the added benefit of using these interactions as another opportunity for would-be advertisers. Interactive text messaging programs add a new dimension to radio sponsorship. By harnessing the interactive power of text messaging, radio stations can easily engage their listeners in one-on-one dialogue, even during large-scale contests. Sponsors like the fact that each message to the listener can be tagged with a "powered-by" message, making each communication brand-specific.

"After a certain promotion was completed, we'd still have these interactions with the listeners," Olsen said. "Quizzes or games can be branded with station identification or sponsor/advertiser tags."

In Europe and Asia, the acceptance of SMS has been fast and widespread. The U.S. market is starting to experience this boom and many companies are coming forward to capitalize on text messaging applications. Until now text messaging has been referred to as "the fifth media channel," but its widespread use hasn't really materialized. Text messaging is a boon to marketers, application developers, and ultimately carriers because of its rapid integration and acceptance by the phone-carrying public. The depth and personalized nature of the communication available in a one-on-one interaction appeals to customers while the sheer volume of traffic carried through carrier networks can generate serious revenue. As SMS adoption becomes more visible, carriers and consumer brands are increasingly looking toward this channel as another way to interact with their customers and increase revenues.

B96's interactive radio program ran a total of 12 weeks, and many of the interactions were repeats even after the initial promotion had finished. This additional interaction with listeners set B96 apart, says Olsen. "Listeners and advertisers took notice of how we were experimenting with the bleeding edge of radio and communications."

Many mobile marketing application developers miss the target when it comes to creating text-messaging applications for consumer marketing. They use the "one and done" method, which grabs and holds consumers only for a brief time. Mobile applications and marketing campaigns can be crafted to hold and retain consumer attention. B96 and Tone E. Fly proved this technology can create deeper one-on-one brand interaction with listeners.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.