Starbucks Understands Urgency & Ratings Better Than Radio

Starbucks Understands Urgency & Ratings Better Than Radio

by Tracy Johnson

Starbucks is likely more skilled in the principles of radio programming than you. They understand urgency & ratings. Or, in their case, selling coffee.

You know it’s important to create appointment tune in occasions. The more occasions, the higher the ratings.

You also know that it’s important to be consistent, delivering (or over-delivering) the audience’s expectation.

The problem is that these two critical factors seem at odds. The solution? Create a sense of urgency in your programming. That means adding a Call to Action (CTA) that makes it important to listen.

In marketing, many brands have done this by making products available for short periods of time. The popular treat receipt promotion at Starbucks is available often, but not always. When it returns, it creates buzz. When it returns, there’s a cause for celebration, promotion and news. A sense of urgency.

The Seattle-based coffee retailer’s loyalty program has earned admiration for a vibrant member engagement. They offer consistency (buy a drink, earn a star every time), simplicity (earn 12 stars, get a free drink) and incentive (free coffee).

But they also inject the program with limited time only promotions, such as “get a drink at five different Starbucks in the next 7 days to earn bonus stars” or “Buy a breakfast sandwich to earn 3 bonus stars-only for the next 2 weeks”.

How Urgency & Ratings Are Linked

A promotion offering limited engagement almost always performs better than one with no deadline. Why? There’s an implied urgency, a sense of fear that I’ll miss out if I don’t act now. It simply seems more important.

Free Cake

Like retail, radio offers mostly the same. Every day sounds mostly like the day before.

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We lock in features, games, contests and promotions and often fail to inject it with enthusiasm and excitement. Too much of the same leads to apathy, and when a listener is apathetic listening occasions suffer.

Radio’s creative challenge is to add urgency and excitement to the day-to-day programming mix.

3 Ways To Create Urgency & Ratings

Challenge yourself to turn the routine to urgent, with the goal of adding “can’t miss it” tune in moments.

Here are three ways to help get you started:

Special Packaging

Create a special edition of an existing feature.

For example, if you play Heads Up as a feature, offer a special one-week limited time themed series. Theme it by topic or attracting contestants from a specific career field (Nurse’s Week). Or, if you do Hometown Heroes, make it Teacher’s Month.

You can do this with special programming, too. Don’t  just sprinkling in “oh wow” songs from your library in regular programming. Showcase your library depth with a special weekend. This stands out more and gives you a chance to promote aggressively.

Rotate Minor Features

There’s a lot to be said for consistency, but sometimes absence can add excitement when a feature returns. Many brands re-introduce products for limited engagements as well.

When McDonald’s brings back the McRib, an inexplicable frenzy drives sales. There’s even a McRib locator website showing where the sandwich is available now.

Most of your audience won’t really miss a minor feature that is resting, as long as it’s replaced by something compelling. After all, you don’t realize Starbucks’ treat receipt program has expired, because they simply don’t refer to it or promote it when it’s on hiatus.

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This gives you a chance to introduce a new element and promote it aggressively with celebration. When your resting feature returns, re-introduce it with excitement.

Caution: Don’t rest your most valuable features. McDonald’s never takes the Quarter-Pounder off their menu.

Produce It Differently

Dress up the feature with updated production and promotion. Even if the content is fresh, it may sound stale just because othe presentation has become routine.

What have you done to innovate and surprise your audience?


There are dozens of ways to keep your show fresh, interesting and urgent, but it demands attention, creativity and time.

Program your station so you have an immediate answer to this question: “What are you doing today that’s new, exciting or fresh?”

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