Consultant Tips

Gary Gorton is the head of sales and marketing for music testing firm ComQuest, responsible for the strategic development of marketing and go-to-market programs. Founded in 1994, ComQuest provides broadcasters with in-house turn-key callout systems, out-of-house callout, NetQuest Internet-based research and personal music testing. Gorton has over 20 years of experience in the industry. Previously, he was founder, SVP and GM of business research firm TUDLA. He also served as Sales Director for analyst firm Current Analysis, and Sales Manager in charge of major accounts in the market intelligence division of publisher Ziff-Davis.

by Gary Gorton

Gaining and maintaining market share is the recipe for success in the music industry today. Radio stations have to compete within a given market and the listeners in that market are their consumers. Just as with any commodity, it is important that the product is high quality and meeting the needs of the target audience, which is where music testing plays an important role. It is one thing to note what Arbitron has to say about a station's acceptance in the market, but there is also a direct correlation to how listeners perceive the product, in this case, the music on that station. Thus, music testing should be at the forefront of every station's marketing strategy.

The challenge that faces Group Owners is recognizing that the overall organization is growing via the success of the individual stations. Just as Target Corporation wants to make sure that each of their stores are number one in each of the respective markets, Group Owners must also be aware of station performance. While they do not want to stifle creativity at the local level, it is impossible to understand every market they serve to the extent that the local management does, so they leave the music testing to the experts at each station. However, they depend on the Program Directors at those stations to use the testing results to the benefit of the station.

Welcome to the 21st century, where consolidation and mergers have increased the size and scope of the Group. With this expansion comes more challenges. In most cases, there are small, medium and large markets that are being supported by the Group. Music testing is an expensive endeavor and budgets are getting tighter. Every dollar has to be justified and it's often necessary to get even more return on those investments. The large market stations have the budget, but the small and medium ones may not. Creating the ability to take what you learn from the larger markets and applying it to the smaller ones is the new challenge of the Group's VP of Programming. One solution is to systemize the music testing by requiring the vendors to provide the results in a computer generated format. This also requires new software for analyzing the results with clustering by market, format, gender, age, ethnicity, etc. The solution can be left to each Group or the vendors. Why not put the onus on the vendor?

Web delivered data with both the individual stations and all the clustering capabilities is a leading edge solution to this new dilemma. Have a secure web site that is maintained by the music testing vendor makes the management of the test results convenient and easy to use. No matter where an individual is located at any point in time, with 24/7 access to the web world wide, they can get the music testing information they need at their fingertips. Not just data but quantifiable results should be delivered in a format that is easy to access and create reports.

The result of this cutting edge solution is that now the Group's VP of Programming or research staff can leverage music testing that was developed for the large market stations and apply it to the smaller market stations. Group Owner level decisions can be made, and as is the case with Groups that have their own Research Centers or are using In-House Callout systems, databases of potential listeners/test taker households can be identified and managed for other marketing purposes. Being able to view those households and how they are distributed within each of the given markets is a benefit as well. And, who are the individuals that take the time out of their busy days to rate your music? The data is right there for all to see and gain value from.

There are various forms of music testing, and the most expensive and most pervasive is callout. Callout is normally only necessary when a station's music changes frequently. Most music testing vendors offer an outsourced version of callout where either they have a call center or contract with a call center to support the station's needs. For less frequently changing music, Auditorium Music Tests or the newer more sophisticated Personal Music Testing are the options. Augmenting these various options is the Internet or what in some cases is called "Online Music Testing." The Internet is considered a popular and cost-efficient alternative. No matter the method of doing music testing, the new challenge is to not only support the needs of the individual stations but also the cluster and Group Owner level. Systemizing the process and putting the results on the web is the best way to make sure that all can benefit. And when it comes to the end of the year and the evaluation of ROI is done, stations will find that music testing has paid for itself many times over.

When developing approved vendor lists for the local stations to work from, Group Owners should take into consideration these emerging solutions. It is also important to understand the key differentiators between music testing, music research and consulting. Music testing is a science and not an art; objective more than subjective; primary rather then secondary research and should stand on its own with no other agenda. There is a need for opinion, but opinion must be supported with data from music testing that is performed without bias. Second, the Group Owners need flexibility, so relying on a music testing vendor with more than one or two options for doing music testing is key. The solution should be portable and ensure flexibility. And, finally, availability and unrestricted access and use of all aspects of the testing process and results are paramount. For some Group Owners, the annual costs for music testing can be more then several million dollars, so to not derive any side benefits from this significant investment is not wise.

In today's competitive environment, music testing plays a key role in a station's success and profitability. Balancing all the necessary elements can be an overwhelming challenge, but by allowing the continuation of local creativity at the station level while gaining value from music testing investments across the entire organization, the long-term return will quickly become a reality.

Copyright 2004 The All Access Music Group