Ultimately one of the best ways to use survey information is to incorporate key responses into the station's database to begin a database marketing program. Database marketing (DBM) can be defined as "marketing in which the strategies and methodologies applied are based on having a considerable amount of individualized information about current or prospective listeners and contributors."
Information from DBM is versatile and can be applied to programming, research, development, and promotion. Although many commercial stations are using database marketing, public stations should have an advantage because we already have information about many of our most loyal listeners in the station membership files. How can a station make the most of database marketing?
Building a Database
To have an effective database marketing program, a sophisticated, expandable relational database software program is required. This may or may not be accomplished with your station's current membership computer software. Many systems were designed for traditional uses like tracking payments and sending program guides. While these functions may still be necessary, a true database needs to be capable of much more. Even if your current database is inadequate for this purpose, you may be able to download data into another more suitable software program for analysis and action.
Your station already has records of current and past supporters. But how can these be made most useful? By becoming proactive in using a survey to learn about the special characteristics and interests of your members. Learning more about listeners helps you target them more effectively. The database must contain individual information, and it must be more than just a mailing list reflecting a single demographic or socioeconomic description. Multiple demographic and behavioral factors must be applied.
What kind of data should be collected and managed?
For current and former members, most stations already have personal information such as their name, address (including zip code), phone number, and contribution information that includes dates, frequencies, forms of payment, and amounts of each financial transaction with the station. This is a beginning on which to build a database.
What other data might stations want to collect?
If your station is like the majority of public radio stations, you have multiple formats. Probably the most valuable information to add to a database is programming preferences. This is easy to determine by using a survey.
Programmers can use this information to compare cume and AQH listening as reported by Arbitron with programming that contributors cite as most important to them. For example, if a station features primarily classical music and news/information programming, it can determine what percentage of those in its database listen primarily to one of those formats, and which prefer both formats equally. This knowledge can provide an additional perspective in making programming decisions.
It could also be used for promotion and building loyalty. With the reasonable cost of technology today, loyal listeners could receive regular faxes, letters, or even e-mail of programming information that would be of special interest.
For example, if a person indicates that they listen to Morning Edition and also are interested in the environment, information about environmentally oriented specials on news programming could be provided to them on a regular basis. This would provide a useful service, and it would build the personal relationship between the station and the listener.
Program preference information can also be invaluable in development efforts. Currently, most stations use generic appeals, sending the same message to everyone in renewal or additional gift letters. They often contain appeals highlighting several aspects of programming, such as increased costs for NPR news, the need to purchase more classical CDs, etc. But since many listeners do not care for, and may even be repelled by, one of these formats, these generic appeals can actually backfire. Knowing the programming preferences of listeners allows communication from the station to be geared to their specific interests. For example, if a listener is primarily attracted to news, how does a station increase the likelihood of their support by providing an emotional pitch for funding classical music? Addressing personal tastes shows that the station considers them to be an individual. Since the content of the letter influences the likelihood and size of the contribution, this individual attention would almost certainly provide an improved monetary response, which could result in substantial revenue increases over time.
Basic demographic information such as age group, size of household, the number of persons in the household who are listeners, or the number and age of children or grandchildren associated with the household, can also be a useful part of the database. Comparing the age distribution of listeners to that of contributors can be illuminating for both programming and development. For markets with a high transient population, a station might choose to determine whether a listener is a full or part-year resident.
Additional areas to consider for the database include other radio stations listened to, listener interests, and hobbies. Determining whether a member owns or manages a business and their place of employment would be valuable for potential underwriting contacts or for the planning of special events or promotions with other organizations. Whether they listen to radio and your station at work would be critical data to include because of the large number of quarter-hours available through at-work radio use. Programmers could gain valuable insight by knowing the behavior of listeners during this time, which has traditionally been a challenging programming daypart for most stations.
How to Collect the Data
Individual listener data can most efficiently be collected as part of a general listener or member survey or in a special survey that is incorporated as part of the membership or renewal process. Stations should provide a membership profile to be completed and updated annually by new and renewing members. This data would then be entered into each member file. Although it takes a year or more for the database to become comprehensive, a vast quantity of useful data would be available over time.
Stations may also want to gather names and information from listener nonmembers by providing a similar profile to contest winners as part of promotions, request programs, and through other appropriate venues.
Since individuals are moved by different appeals, the mass marketing model that has been used for so long in soliciting funds for public radio must be redirected to individualized, database marketing before optimum results can occur.