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(DIGITAL) The Visual Side of Radio Pt. 2


In the over-communicated, over-marketed world we live in today, a poorly conceived/executed brand image can mean doom for a product. Commercial Radios audio product, our audio brands, are strong, but as a modern media organization our visual imaging is important too. In this second part of my focus on creating effective visual imaging for radio stations, I take it to the senior thesis level with John Partilla, Chief Operating Officer at Dentsu Network West. Dentsu, following the completion of their acquisition of Aegis for almost $5 billion, will become the 5th-largest ad agency in the world. 

CM: John, we are an audio medium. Why, and how important, is the stations visual brand image to a listeners perception of the radio station?
JP: The visual identity is important on a minimum of two fronts. One is to attract potential new audiences and listeners who might not be currently tuning in, i.e. the visual design or iconography is used to give some clue as to what experience the listener can expect, so they can make a determination as to whether that station has relevance to them or not.

The second important component of your stations brand image is that it validates what the existing customer base feels about that station meaning, the station image and what it conveys is consistent with their passions and interests.

CM: So, a very simple example: A person just moved to town, has no idea what stations exist in the market, she sees two billboards on either side of the freeway advertising a station. Shes going to pick the station with the visual that best matches her personality or identifies more closely with her lifestyle.
JP: Thats exactly right, Carl, and as people spend increasingly more time in the digital space they have opportunities to engage with and be exposed to different designs and identities. Its not just the external advertisements that listeners may or may not be seeing, it is the digital community as well and every point of engagement you have.

CM: So in additional to the station logo, billboards, or wrap on the station vehicle, youre saying a station needs to make a conscious effort to reinforce the station brand image everywhere. So websites, Web content, apps, blogs, YouTube videos, DJ Facebook profiles it all needs to be consistent and fit with the overall brand plan.
JP: Exactly.

CM: John, is there a formula for what makes a strong brand? Can radio stations learn from the thought process that goes into the work an agency like yours does for your customers?
JP: Yes. There are three key ingredients that go into successful design, and identity and branding communications.
The first is clarity, which is the ability for a consumer or viewer to take away, concisely, what the message is; what you are trying to tell them about who you are.

The second is distinctiveness. This is the ability for that design or communication to stand apart in the marketplace, both within your direct competitor market place and in the crowded field of all brands that are vying for attention.
The third and most difficult to stick to is simplicity. Everyone gets simplicity right on the surface, but often there is a tendency where people fall in love with multiple messages and multiple themes and the image gets cluttered and the strength of your brand is diluted.

CM: Should the station do focus groups with listeners on logos or go with their gut instinct?
JP: Focus groups are a good tool to test your brand, but before you get there, well before launch, your team needs to come up with a communications roadmap. Things like: What is your positioning in the marketplace? Why do you matter? What do you stand for? Why does the market need another station with this format?
If you cant answer those questions, you need to think harder.

Secondly, once you identify what your positioning is, what you stand for and why you matter, you want to create the design and iconography and all the ads and communications that help you express that distinctiveness and that relevance. Once youve done that, then you can take it to a focus group.

And all of that should be done because it not only helps you know where you are going as a team, a station, and a brand, but it helps build awareness and excitement and enthusiasm for the experience well before you launch.

CM: Is it a good idea when considering a new station launch, or a rebrand of a current station, to take your ideas to big advertisers in the market?
JP: Absolutely. Because we all live in an increasingly dynamic state. Meaning, the rate of change seems to be accelerating faster and faster each year, its important that brands, companies, stations, more frequently revisit their relevance and their distinctiveness. And do it both in terms of their product offering and in terms of their communications and their design.

More often than not I think brands will discover that there is a need for a refresh. Perhaps from a design point of view. perhaps a refresh from a positioning point of view. Maybe your competition has increased or a market segment has shifted in terms of priority. Maybe the tools with which you communicate -- i.e. digital, social media, etc -- have changed. In which case you need to reevaluate your marketing mix, and how your communications need to adapt to fit the new marketing mix.

In the digital age, the need for change is greater and more frequent than ever, and as you embark on those considerations, it is always important to communicate with your existing consumer base, as well as prospective customer base, because you dont want to risk losing too much of your franchise. And you also want to understand the upside opportunities for markets or audiences that could be gained based on decisions you make.

CM: How often should a refresh be considered?
JP: Annually is a good benchmark.

CM: Is there a risk in being too trendy?
JP: Again you are striving for relevance and differentiation in the marketplace, not necessarily to be of the moment in fashion. But reviewing the brand identity doesnt mean you need to change each year, just evaluate where you are each year.

CM: Is there another consumer-forward industry that we could look to for cues as to where our brands should be or when its time for an update?
JP: I think first of technology. The technology sector has to continually stay relevant in its utility and design. Then obviously the fashion industry. And also I think automotive because each year you can look at what trends or needs in the marketplace they are addressing with their design and communications. And every few years they will do a more robust image adjustment, both of the product design and their communications.

CM: Auto, fashion, and tech typically put big resources behind design -- a lot of local owner-operator stations dont have that. Should, or under what circumstances should, a radio station set aside some budget to hire outside creative for help developing its brand?
JP: Well it comes down to the reality of: Are you using your marketing/creative department more for strategic design and creative conceptualization or for execution. Its hard to do both and if you find that you are light on the strategic vision/conceptualization side, or your internal creative resources are stretched too thin, then it might be a good idea to explore an outside design firm to help you better explore and consider fresher and broader choices for the station image and brand. Your logo, your iconography, says a lot about who you are as a station, and great execution of a strong brand image will deliver a better long term ROI than a brand image that is poorly thought through or poorly executed.

CM: What is the most important takeaway from this conversation for station brand managers? Whats the most important thing they should remember when crafting their brands?
JP: Definitely remember clarity, distinctiveness, and simplicity. Clearly state who you are, make sure your positioning is unique and distinct in the marketplace, and dont complicate your messaging with multiple themes. Then hold steady to those three across all your communications -- audio and visual.

John Partilla is Chief Operating Officer at Dentsu Network West -- Europe, Americas and Australia. He can be reached at

Carl Magnuson is an online contributor to Radio Ink, runs R&DIO blog and is the Co-Founder/Director of Sales at Social Radio an interactive personalized content player for radio station websites. He can be reached at


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