Howard Stern has lost most of his audience. I’m not a big fan of his. I like public discussion of sex that is more interesting and productive than Howard offers. But I’m not above learning from him, and how can you not learn a lesson or two from a guy who has lost almost 11 million of his12 million listeners in just a few months?

Stern bet that his audience was so loyal that they would pay $13 a month to listen to him on satellite. Inside Radio reports today that most of Stern’s listeners are just plain too lazy to make the switch. (Though 13% don’t want to pay the extra fee.) The findings of this survey are consistent with the conventional wisdom that 80% of lost customers were not actually unhappy with what they were getting.

Each of us takes little gambles with our customer base all the time. Yesterday, for example, I told someone that I was changing our project specifications a little bit. I moved away from her vision and closer to my own. I made a bet that she likes working with me enough to put up with my change.

In this vein, an editor once told me, when I turned in a column late two weeks in a row, “People who write as well as you can be late. You just need to keep writing well.” That worked for a while, but then I really pushed his limits and he fired me. In this sense, I have empathy for Howard that he overestimated loyalty. Today I make more conservative estimates, and I bet Howard would do the same, if he could.

Once we all admit that we are all marketers, then we’re more humble about loyalty. Then we’re more careful to really get to know your clients and what matters to them — be they radio listeners, editors, consumer purchasers, or the guy in the cubicle next to you.

Howard Stern overestimated how dependent his listeners were on him, but perhaps he underestimated how beholden individual radio stations were to him. The trick, as a marketer, is to find out whose business is most dependent on you, and who you are most dependent on. Then you know where you have room to wiggle.

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6 replies
  1. lisa
    lisa says:

    This is a great observation. I’m not surprised. I’m convinced that people are lazy and they were fine leaving their knob on the HS dial. Now they’re listening to whatever else is on that station.

    Today’s society is one of no cost and no effort. People WILL pay but only through advertising or a smart method of automatic payment or an iTunes type concept.

    Good job on identifying the laziness of society and warning others who’ve benefited that they didn’t benefit only because they were good, but also because their audience was lazy.

  2. rob enderle
    rob enderle says:

    Interesting. Sirius financial forecasts are all very positive while their competition, XM, has had to review theirs.
    The Stern switch has had the desired effect that was to be expected from a 500$ million dollar investment yet somehow you seem to deem it a fauilure?

    Of course, in ANY analysis, you can color the debate and numbers in your favor but 4-5 million new subscribers in the first half of 2006 was more than Sirius bargained for as they were actually unprepared for the high demand. With the new portable satelitte receiver device coming out and online streaming, the last barrier to adoption will be hurdled.

    Personally speaking I always found his obsession with sex, masturbation and porn stars to get very tedious very fast but I have heard some of the best interviews heard anywhere on his show recently, which is now uncensored.
    The Dixie Chicks, golfer John Daly and recently outed Star Trek icon, Georges Takei interviews are among the most entertaining and candid you will ever hear and the switch to FCC free airwaves has dramatically increased the quality of the show and actually made Stern relevant again since he was floating in a sea of shock jock imitators on the FM dial.

    If any venture can succeed financially and creatively, it is usually called a success.

    Your post isnt.

  3. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Hi. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    You bring up an interesting point, which is how relative and mushy the idea of success is. And you’re right, you can reframe anything to be a successs. (We see this most often during Presidential campaigns, but those of us with smaller national profiles reframe often as well.)

    That Stern’s show has better interviews now is a nice result of the switch.

    However I happen to think that one of Stern’s own measures of success is how much power he has, and in the world of radio, power is number of listeners, and I don’t think he thought he’d lose so many.

    Whether or not Sirius feels like the move is a success – that is different. They did not have the listeners to lose that Stern did.


  4. CB
    CB says:

    Though I understand this is an old link, I figured I would comment on Stern, and his loyalty.

    Stern duped his loyal listeners, or a significant amount of us. As others, I purchased a few Sirius units once Stern announced his move a few years ago.

    Stern hijacked us once on Sirius. He used this platform as someone with judicial independence.

    His politic ran rampant, politics which over the last 20-years contrasted that of his preaching nowadays.

    His bashing of Republicans was so out of control that he failed to realize that an enormous amount of his listeners are conservatives. I for one dropped Sirius, tossed the radios, and now listen to FM radio and my IPod.

  5. customer experience
    customer experience says:

    I do believe that people are just lazy. It takes a lot of work to find out where someone you have been listening has moved. I also know that I would not be willing to money to listen to him and his views.

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