The High Cost of Brand Deviance

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Early in my career, I managed promotions for a classical music
station. One of our most popular promotions was a live jazz program
broadcast from the Hyatt Regency for 13 weeks in the winter. By all
accounts, “Jazz Live from the Hyatt,” was a huge success. Every week,
the atrium was packed with jazz fans clinking glasses of chardonnay, a
sprinkling of local celebrities, and a drooling drunk or two. Life was
good, or so I thought.

The net effect on our brand was decidedly negative. Because of the
event’s success, the station invested heavily in on- and off-air
promotion of the series. Too many people, we became the “Jazz Life from
the Hyatt Station.” The rationalization was that jazz, which has
roughly the same demographic as classical music, would entice new
people to try classical music.

All of the assumptions turned out to be wrong. The Denver Audience
Research Project was the first torpedo. It showed that while jazz and
classical music listeners were similar in demographics, education and
income, their preferences in music listening could not be more
different. In fact, of all the various radio formats, a jazz listener
was least likely to listen to classical music. We might as well been
pitching Cabbage Patch dolls in Muscle and Fitness magazine.

Arbitron data was just as bleak. Keep in mind, due to available
listeners, there isn’t much radio listening on Saturday evening anyway.
There was a significant blip in listenership during the broadcast that
disappeared immediately after the show. Remember, jazz fans aren’t so
keen on Boccherini. As for other parts of the day and days of the week,
there was no measurable increase in listening.

After a few seasons of “Jazz Live from the Hyatt” focus groups
showed that existing, loyal listeners to the station were confused
about the presence jazz program. Meanwhile, fringe or non-listeners had
high awareness of the Jazz programming but not much else.

While JLFH created community goodwill and heightened awareness of
the station, it was an abject failure from a marketing standpoint. Does
this mean that you should stay focused exclusively on the core of the
brand? Absolutely not. Risk taking is key to bringing new customers
into the fold, building loyalty among existing customers, and staving
off dry rot.

Photo of Khevan Onaje by Dizzy, San Francisco

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