‘Place’ in marketing’s four Ps driving digital audio boom
Building mental availability in audio has never been more challenging. Once-traditional radio businesses are now competing with video, streaming and social media content – but audio has some powerful strengths in that battle. As NOVA Entertainment’s Adam Johnson writes, the ‘Place’ in McCarthy’s ‘Four Ps’ is key with quality content and ubiquitous access –physical availability – driving marketers’ goals through audio.
Like many Marketers, when I consider the traditional – and some say still not bettered – ‘Four Ps’ of our discipline, my early career was disproportionately focused on ‘Promotion’.
I started out in advertising agencies, where ‘Promotion’ was everything, and visibility into your clients’ other three P’s tended to be opaque at best. I then moved client-side into technology Marketing where ‘Product’ (and specifically NPD – new product development) was the hallowed domain of industrial designers and engineers who beavered away on another continent and on very different timescales. Marketing could influence ‘Price’ when it came to the total value proposition, when you included bundling, short-term offers etc, but it’s fair to say this was always tactical rather than strategic.
My experience led to an inevitable conflation of ‘Marketing’ with ‘Promotion’. For shame.
In the intervening years, my career moved from technology into media and entertainment and, in parallel, the inexorable rise of digital audio. My own remit has evolved beyond ‘Marketing’ into ‘Growth’ which, as well as the traditional marcomms functions, also includes the digital content, product, platform and data teams.
As audio continues to grow, reaching new audiences in new ways, it has recently dawned on me how much time and effort I now spend on that most unsexy of ‘P’s – that of ‘Place’ (aka ‘Distribution’).
When audio was just ‘radio’, distribution was taken somewhat for granted. Content was broadcast over short, medium or long wave frequencies and every home, office, school and vehicle had the hardware to receive it. The Marketing challenge was that of maximising mental availability, to ensure your station was the one selected on the dial.
Today, the mental availability challenge has never been more daunting, with audio brands in a battle for audiences’ attention not only with each other, but with video, streaming and social media content. This alone is enough to preoccupy any Chief Growth Officer and his band of merry women and men as they strive to deliver on audience, share and commercial objectives.
But it’s the opportunities that lay within physical availability that really excite me.
When Jerome McCarthy proposed his ground-breaking (and ever-enduring) framework in 1960, he defined ‘Place’ as “direct or indirect channels to market, geographical distribution, territorial coverage, retail outlet, market location, catalogues, inventory, logistics, and order fulfillment.” Whilst he clearly had traditional consumer goods in-mind when defining ‘Place’, almost each and every one can relate to how we are growing all of audio today.
Whilst I won’t go through each one systematically, some are worthy of deeper exploration.
Straight out of gate is “direct or indirect channels to market”, an area where our industry is at a genuine inflection point. Do we maintain the radio model of ‘everything everywhere’ or seek to mirror other digital publishers and build-up our own walled gardens with sign-on gates and even pay walls?
At NOVA Entertainment, we believe in making our content available however our audiences want to consume it, wherever they happen to be. Our brands (comprising Nova, smoothfm, FIVEaa, Star 104.5 and Coles Radio) are built on this ethos, so our streaming products and podcasts follow suit.
Ubiquitous access is no less than our advertising partners deserve and expect, whilst having a sign-on gate on our owned platforms, as well as a fully operational CDP recording millions of customer events every day, ensures we’re also able to provide them with millions of hours of addressable inventory across our linear, connected and podcast products.
Some others in our category may take a different view on this and will attempt to create a ‘Spotify for Australia’. Our view is that Spotify do a pretty decent job of this already and our remit and opportunity are as distinct from algorithmic streaming services as they are exciting.
Next-up, I’ll crudely combine ‘geographical distribution’ and ‘territorial coverage’. Whilst radio marketing in the AM/FM era may have been simpler back in the day, your product was only available as far as your radio waves would carry you. In the case of FM, this is around 60km from your transmitter tower.
In a connected world, no longer is a radio brand beholden to having a broadcast license and transmission infrastructure. With a smartphone, a cellular/Wi-Fi connection and the Nova Player app, you can listen to any of our stations anywhere in the world. This is a great leveller and means audio businesses can no longer rely on broadcast spectrum as a barrier to entry to competitors.
Your product needs to be class-leading and your brand needs to be salient. With a certain irony, as the internet has opened up ‘Place’ in audio, it has ushered in a new era of ‘Promotion’ in our category. The proposition needs to stand on its own two feet against a myriad of other options and, in terms of audience education, today we need listeners to be able to quote our voice assistant utterance as readily as our FM frequency.
It has also created a paradox-of-choice when it comes to what McCarthy, when applying his thinking to our world, may have referred to as ‘inventory’. Pre-digital, having a limited amount of (literal) bandwidth made you really think about the product and brand proposition that would maximise your audience share. Your distribution pipeline was limited, so the content had to work its socks off.
Today, armed with a playlist and a logo, I could create multiple new smooth stations overnight and have them available across our own apps and websites tomorrow. We won’t, of course, because to be an extension of the smooth brand still means any new station would need to be true to the brand promise of ‘lifting the nation’s mood’, the music and presenter voices would need to be familiar to a core listener. And we wouldn’t want the customer to have to scroll through a sea of similar logos as they browse our apps. So, for NOVA Entertainment, fewer is certainly better in this regard, but the limitless distribution possibilities that digital audio provides remains temptingly compelling.
Finally, it’s worth touching on ‘retail outlet’. While listeners don’t ‘buy’ Kate, Tim & Joel from a shop, they do get them on their Alexa device. Or they listen live on RadioApp. Or they get the latest show podcast on Nova Player, on Apple Podcasts or they can even ask their Google Nest device to play it when they get home if they missed the show that day. These platforms are our shopfronts, be they first-party (Nova Player), industry aggregator (RadioApp) or Third Party (Google, Amazon, Apple et al).
The dynamic between a business like NOVA Entertainment and platform like Amazon really isn’t that different from how Unilever would have dealt with Walgreens back in the sixties, when McCarthy was pondering what makes an effective distribution strategy. Now, as then, it’s about relationships, education, merchandising and delightful customer experiences that maximise that critical physical availability.
If I told my twenty-something ad agency account manager self that, one day, I would spend more time and energy on my distribution strategy than what the TV commercial looked like, I think he would be seriously questioning my future career choices. And yet, as audio in all its forms (radio, streaming, podcasts) continues to grow, diversify and permeate all areas of our lives, I’m realising that ‘Place’ really is the place to be.