The Demographic Myth

Have you bought it?

The irony of PPM is that we have billions of data points that aren’t helping us know anything really worth knowing about the people we need most: listeners.

Yes, listeners, because without listeners, there is no selling, there is no revenue, and there is no business. It must start with listeners.

We’ve sat in hundreds of meetings over the years hearing our listeners described as “demographics.” We’ve even tried to personalize that process by picturing one of these listeners and giving her as much identity as possible.

But we’ve always known that’s a load of crap.

If we’re going to pay this much money for “research” that purports to accurately measure listening, shouldn’t at least part of what we learn be about the individual listeners?

Not just her age, or where she lives, or the magazines she buys.

I mean know her like we know people we’re close to, so we can speak to her. Really speak to her, rather than at her.

When she lies awake at night, what is she worried about?

When she’s with her best friend, what is she talking about?

What does she believe in, who does she trust, what does she aspire to be?

The best air talent I’ve ever known has always seemed to have an intuitive finger on her individual listener’s pulse, able to sprinkle in occasional comments or words that are heard in a very personal way.

This is where growth lies. This is where value lies.

Pandora is not trying to do this. In fact, their business model is based on mathematical formulae attempting to predict individual taste based on grouping millions of disconnected choices — never once caring why the choice was made when it was made.

We’re paying enough already. This Nielsen expense has crowded out marketing and promotion and staff. It may yet play the major role in the slow un-doing of Radio. And for what?

We’ll never get the right answers until we ask the right questions and demand to get what we pay for.