Lessons from Radio UK - Niche or No Niche

Last Update: June 12, 2020

The radio station market in the UK has been lagging behind in its love of a niche offering. Just as we are discovering in the digital online content our information can get lost. Yet we are afraid to pick a niche just in case we lose a reader, a customer or sale. Yet the ones that are losing are the people with no niche, the time of being everything to everyone has gone. It's like the sun shining everywhere verses a laser beam which provides focus. If you walk to a networking meeting and say your job title you have lost, go in and say who you help and how you help them you have at least a sporting chance.

Niche or fail

UK radio stations are having to niche or fail. For example, one I used to run was based on a location niche for people who care about their community and want to share in the “location conversation”. It was a challenge in that a local market can become a global one with the openings in technology. However, it worked as demographics were included so people who were slightly older had more of a sense of community and what we don’t know yet is if young people do grow into that. My friend sells candles around the world from his little village in Cheshire England because it is a “little English village” and the ingredients are locally sourced. We recently set up a small community radio station there based on helping local people through the current challenges of covid-19. Again a geographic niche and people know why it's there. It is local and it provides local conversation while helping you through your day. Its works. It has a purpose.

What about the national stations? Well there used to be one main classical music station focused on everyone who liked classic music. However now it has had to change. The publicly funded station appeals to classic music lovers who take it seriously. It can be very high brow whereas the main commercial classical station appeals to me which is a bit of a chill out zone, I don’t understand it but it makes me feel better. So one is very lifestyle the other is expertise.

The trend is intensifying

The trend is going further. One of the latest success stories is a digital station aimed at men and women who fix things from plumbers to electricians, they are out on the road all day and love the music and the fellow chat from people like them. People can relate to it because it speaks their language. Is it for their customers as well? It certainly is not, it is for them, none of this "lets be everything to everyone". The advertisers who pay to come on know who their ads are talking to. With the deepest respect they could not care about anything else, as that's their market. The plumber who needs the latest tool or the accountant who specializes in the trade area.

The segment within a radio stations are also now targeting specific lifestyle audiences

  • The chill out zone, a place to come after a hard days at work
  • The party at home segment with music for those with kids who can’t go out to party anymore but like a dance around the kitchen on a Saturday night and a glass of wine in tow.
  • The drop off zone, a place to come and relax if you find it hard to fall asleep at night. Although I know some stations who do that unintentionally!
  • The big drive home lift up -for those who want to get a boost and sing along after a hard day at the office.
  • Football and the discussion on your team again local with a sense of lifestyle and pride. A place where it is OK to say what you think about your team even amongst the opposition.

It's interesting though that despite these examples there are those all around us who still go for the "trying to be everything" to everyone and failing miserably at it. Radio stations can teach us that as their market share shrinks they have no option in a time poor society, so every second counts and why would I spend it with you?

So the digital streaming services are teaching UK radio a thing or two and with podcasting you have no choice, niche or no listeners, it's a simple choice.

Some of the boundaries of radio niches in old and new:

Old niches

  • Geography
  • Demographic
  • Social Class

New Niches

  • Geography with purpose and lifestyle
  • Demographics with lifestyle and mood
  • Social Class is replaced all together with jobs, careers and tribes, shared interests, problems shared.
My useful Metaphor

In radio there is great metaphor when thinking about your audience. When you launch a new service your audience goes through 5 stages so think of it in terms of your niche audience and your product:

  • Acquaintances - They have only just met you, are probably unsure of you and you need to earn their trust
  • Friends - They are learning to trust you, you have helped them and they are being trusted and spending a bit more time with you.
  • Best friends - They don’t think twice about spending time with you, they listen to you seek you out and watch your back
  • Lovers - They will do anything to make you happy
  • Divorce - You have really upset them and you are not who they think you are anymore.

The goal was to get them through each of the cycles and avoid the divorce as that was bad for business! It seems if we don’t niche we will never make their acquaintance in the first place. After all, they have busy lives!

From acquaintance to lover I say but no niche no love and WA continues to help me craft that.

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Bolupe Premium
This is interesting. I am a big fan of radio and was thinking about starting a podcast. I have picked up a thing from this, knowing the niche you serve.
That's great thanks and if you need any other help just let me know, but like anything podcasts need a great niche and need to be helping people in some way. Its a powerful growth market right now. Phil
Bolupe Premium
I absolutely agree and I will be reaching out to you when I’m ready to delve into podcast. I definitely need a veteran to show me the steps to take.
JeffreyBrown Premium
Well said, Phil!

Mark1957 Premium
I've noticed this too Phil, in the days of Radio 1 it was that or Radio Carline for "pop" music with nothing else on the horizon so everybody who liked pop had to listen to one of those.

These days with so many platforms and music stations available, station owners are having to narrow their appeal to get a loyal audience (narrowing down their niche) and even though they know their audience will be smaller than in the "old" days, they also know it will be loyal and probably tune in every day.

Great metaphor Phil👍