In the past two ListenerThink surveys, we’ve explored Pandora’s challenge to traditional, terrestrial radio. Last month, we studied the differences between Pandora and FM/AM among Pandora’s listeners — differences which weigh heavily in Pandora’s favor. Now, in the final episode of our Pandora Trilogy, we explore how the radio “empire” can “strike back”…

Specifically, what do Pandora listeners think radio does better than Pandora? What do they dislike about Pandora?

We conducted an online survey May 1-3, netting 751 Pandora listeners (those who have ever listened to it) who are also radio listeners,  age 18-64. Here’s what we learned…

Not surprisingly, radio’s #1 edge over Pandora is its availability…especially its availability in vehicles:

What is it about FM/AM radio that makes it better than Pandora?
Available in car/truck 13%
NOTHING 12
More variety of stations/music   7
Weather/Traffic/News/Info   6
More convenient/Easier to use   6
Local   6
Available/Accessible everywhere   5
Talk shows/radio   5
Personalities/DJs/People   4
Don’t need internet/PC/phone   3
Free   3
Has newest/current songs   2
Better music   2
Easy/Quick to change stations   2
Used to it/Habit/Traditional   1
Sound quality   1
Sports (talk/radio)   1
Live   1
Other 15
Don’t know 27

(The total exceeds 100% because respondents can name and be credited for more than one.)

Unfortunately, radio’s “in car” edge will erode over the long haul.  Auto makers are already beginning to add Pandora access (and online access in general) to their vehicles.  But as the table reveals, radio has other advantages…

The variety of stations and music is radio’s #2 edge (mentioned by 7%). And radio makes it easy and quick to switch from one station to another (mentioned by 2%).  In general, a number find radio more convenient and easier to use (6%)…accessible everywhere (5%), without the internet, PC or phone (3%).

And radio has specific content advantages among some Pandora listeners.   It delivers valuable information (6%) and it’s local (6%). Personalities are another edge (at 4%), with Talk radio specifically mentioned (by 5%).

Some might argue that these are low percentages that I’m pointing out. They’re right.  But remember, these are Pandora listeners, and what they volunteer about radio is significant.

One respondent put it especially well:

I like the connectedness to the city and hearing new music. It’s nice also to listen to the local DJ’s…Also, it usually easier for me to listen to the radio, whether in my car or at home.

As an unabashed fan of radio working with radio, I want radio’s perceived advantages to be top-of-mind with more listeners! That’s the purpose of this research…to find promising “nuggets” of perception that can resonate with the larger population of listeners — among them, the 27% of Pandora listeners who don’t know what makes radio better.

One thing we learned is that the focus of radio marketers should not be on the negatives of Pandora.  Seemingly, Pandora’s vulnerabilities would be the flip side of radio’s advantages (for example, that it’s not very available in vehicles, or that it’s not local, etc.) There’s some of that, to be sure, in listeners perceptions. But Pandora’s biggest negatives relate more to Pandora itself than to traditional radio…that it, too, has commercials, or that it limits the number of times listeners can skip songs they don’t like:

What do you dislike about Pandora?
NOTHING 35%
Commercials   9
Limited skips   5
Pay/Fee if no commercials   4
Need internet access/usage   3
Can’t select specific songs/artists   3
Dislike songs/artists played   3
Stops playing if you don’t provide input   2
Inconvenient/Hard to use   2
Limited variety/choices   2
Not available in car/truck   2
Repetition   1
Slow/Buffering   1
Less accessible/portable   1
Other   9
Don’t know 24

And then, there’s the 35% that finds nothing to dislike about Pandora, and the 24% that don’t know what they dislike. So it’s fair to say that Pandora is hardly without its own concerns, but its listeners quite like it, overall.

Therefore, traditional radio’s marketing focus should be on what it delivers, rather than what Pandora won’t or can’t. And this applies to the numerous other services than compete for listeners’ share of mind (and ear).

Of course, that would involve radio actively marketing to compete with its numerous new media challengers…something we’ve not observed in the industry, unfortunately. Instead, too many radio companies are delivering less local focus and service, less relevant news and information, fewer compelling personalities.

This might be great for their short-term “bottom lines,” but it’s very bad for the long-term future of traditional radio. And with competition from alternatives like Pandora, it comes at the worst possible time for the industry.

To survive and thrive in the new media environment, radio needs to focus on what it does better than any other medium…both on the air, and in an aggressive and ongoing marketing effort.