For those who subscribe to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, this will be familiar. Tzu was an ancient Chinese general and military strategist. His philosophies on fighting wars became a marketing playbook for many brands. One of his principles of war is to focus an attack on a narrow, defined target. It’s called Concentration of Force.

This concept is to direct all available assets to at one point in a focused attack. Advertising guru Roy Williams (The Wizard of Ads) explains how it applies to marketing:

One of the most common mistakes in advertising is to spread your ad budget across several different media so that you don’t leave anyone out. But persuasion – in most instances – requires repetition and familiarity.

Would you rather reach 100% of the people and convince them 10% of the way, or reach 10% of the people and convince them 100% of the way? Don’t spread your money too thinly by chasing the unicorn of “media mix.”

This is important on many levels.

Research Proves Mulitple Messages Don’t Work

Coleman Research published an article from Millward Brown, a global research company that measured the effectiveness of advertising.

They proved that:

Even by adding a second message to an ad, the likelihood that consumers take away either of them drops from 100% for a single-message ad to only 65%. By the time fourth messages are added to ads, the best likelihood of a message getting through to consumers drops to 43%.

Here’s a graphic that explains it in more detail:


Concentration Of Force

I was first introduced to Concentration Of Force by one of my mentors, Alan Burns. Alan is a student of Learning Theory, and how it applies to influencing radio listener behavior.

The Concentration of Force can be demonstrated as:

  1. Stretch an ordinary sheet of paper tightly between both hands in front of you. This paper represents the audience’s level of awareness. In order to impact listeners, a message must cut through this sheet of paper to get into their minds. It seems like it should be easy to punch through that thin sheet of paper. But is it?
  2. Have someone place the palm of their hand in the center of the paper. The five fingers represent different marketing messages a brand may be trying to “teach” a listener. No matter how hard a partner presses on the center of the paper, they will not be able to penetrate the single sheet of paper.
  3. Now demonstrate Concentration of Force. Ask them to place one finger on the sheet of paper, and apply just a little pressure. They cut through immediately.

The lesson: It’s only possible to teach listeners one thing at a time. Then another concept can be introduced. It’s the fastest way to build a meaningful brand as a personality.

Teach The Radio Audience

It would be great to perform a show, demonstrate personality, talents, and abilities, and wait for the audience to discover the magic. Sorry, it hardly ever works like that. Personalities (and station brands) would be better served to invest time and resources on a single key message. Perfect it and become known for that thing.

When the audience learns one thing, teach them something new.

Concentrating resources means having a keen focus on doing fewer things well. All effort should be on things that could have an impact. Imagine a new idea for an on-air feature. Based on learning theory and Concentration of Force, what strategy will have a greater impact? This is where the hand-wringing begins. How often should that new feature be scheduled? Daily? Weekly? Once in a while?

Most of the time, program directors and personalities go with what feels right. Or what seems logical. But science has a better plan.

The Concentration of Force And Learning Theory

Most shows create too much content.  They execute too many features and spread prep over too many breaks. As a result, they never make a connection.

It’s impossible to teach a young child algebra. They must first learn to multiply and divide. And before that, they must learn to add and subtract. Of course, they can’t do that until they understand how numbers relate. But they won’t grasp that concept until they learn to count. Understanding happens in stages.

Now think about how kids learn addition and subtraction. It’s through repetition. How many times were you frustrated over flashcards? Card after card produces a blank expression. Then one day, it all clicks. They get it. Repetitive exposure to the cards works. The Concentration of Force.

Social psychologists have proven it takes 12 exposures for a respondent to be able to recognize content well enough to have a response. Twelve exposures! Now factor in listening levels being much lower than most think. Then consider that most listeners use the radio in the background.

How long does it take for a contest, game, promotion, or feature to become famous? A long time.

Learning Theory and Programming Features

Now imagine a variety of contests, promotions, features, or games on a show. Maybe there are five games rotating once a week. How long does it take to get traction?

  • Fans who tune in every single day figure it out in 12 weeks…if they happen to tune in at the right time.  But most P1 listeners tune in only 2 days per week. Yes, you read that right. Even fans tune in only 2 days per week.
  • Fans tuning in 3 days per week (above average) learn it in about 17 weeks…again, if they catch the right quarter hours every time.
  • If they tune in 2 days per week (the P1 average), it takes 20 weeks.

Note that this is assuming the game is played at the same time, as listeners tend to be habitual. Rotating the game through different quarter-hours will prevent the game from ever becoming popular.

The Mind Clutter Effect

Add to that the mind clutter of managing so many different elements. The competition for attention adds another barrier to listener understanding. That’s why shows should grow one element at a time. Put it in place, establish it, promote it and become known for it. Then add something new.

You may argue that a show becomes redundant by scheduling the same features at the same time every day. That’s a valid point only if the feature isn’t good. That’s another reason to be selective.

It’s hard to burn out hit material. One client has been running a benchmark feature four times each morning for more than 14 years. It’s the strongest, most identifiable part of the show. It’s just now starting to show fatigue in research.

The point: Worry about burn-in, not burn out. Great features can run for years. If and when fatigue sets in, start a new feature!


A friend of mine is a personal trainer. Every time a new client comes in for a first-time consultation, they are asked what they want to achieve. Usually, the client wants to lose a few pounds, firm their legs or butt or just “look better”.

The trainer listens, then ignores what the client says they want. He puts them on a program to train the core muscle group. The first few weeks are spent working the abs and deep core muscles. Why? To be effective in reaching desired results, they must first build a foundation, one step at a time. The Concentration of Force leads to faster progress.

The Concentration of Force is a real thing. Don’t you think it’s time to apply it to your radio show?

Subscribe to Receive the Latest Radio and Personality News