Radio personalities should influence listener behavior or they shouldn’t be on the air. The radio dial is filled with personalities that take up time with acceptable content that doesn’t provoke a reaction. Broadcasters can’t afford this any longer. Personalities either make the radio station better or worse. There’s no in-between. But something (or someone) is holding most personalities back from having a truly difference-making impact on the audience. Look, nobody wants to be average. The problem is that few personalities (or is it programmers?) have the courage to be special. That’s why so many radio personalities are trapped in the Zone of Mediocrity.
The Zone of Mediocrity is a concept that refers to the middle ground where performance, creativity, and talent are neither exceptional nor poor, but rather, average or unremarkable. In the context of radio and media personalities, the Zone of Mediocrity represents a state where one’s content, delivery, and on-air presence fails to captivate, inspire or engage their audience. It’s a place where talent languishes, often leading to stagnation and ultimately, obscurity.
Colorful details and examples can help illustrate how personalities can perform with power and
confidence to avoid falling into the Zone of Mediocrity:
The Zone of Mediocrity is a terrible place to be stuck. It’s like wanting to be in a relationship, but the other person has put you into the “friend” zone. Or, as marketing expert Dilbert explains it to his team, the product is destined to fail when everyone “likes” it.
Great personalities that stand out are almost all hated or disliked by at least one segment of the audience. That makes us uncomfortable because everyone wants to be loved and accepted. Criticism stings, but it’s a side effect of causing listeners to become fans. The very things that attract a passionate audience that falls in love with a brand naturally cause others to complain, especially in today’s world of hyper-sensitive consumers.
So shows work hard to avoid saying anything that will be perceived as a problem by any subset of the audience. Their most attractive character traits that attract fans are downplayed for fear of offending someone. Talent becomes cautious. Soon, nobody dislikes the show. Most listeners think it’s just fine if they are even aware of it.
But nobody loves it. And that’s sad.
The Zone of Mediocrity
This is not a recommendation to deliberately try to offend listeners or suddenly become a Shock Jock. The point is that if a personality is going to reach its potential and become an on-air superstar, not just an announcer or DJ, she must focus on things that have the potential to cause listeners to love you. Reaching Stage 5 (Love) on the Personality Success Path can’t happen unless talent is willing to take a stand to build a clearly-defined brand.
Removing things that may be offensive to some listeners will not win. It traps personalities in the Zone of Mediocrity:
Legendary programmer Lee Abrams explains it well:
One of the reasons radio has lost its edge is that it’s average. There seems to be this effort across the land to create things that are average. Probably because of the fear of doing something wrong. But it’s the extremes that cut through. Average, unless backed by a marketing campaign of Biblical proportions will just blend in and not make any significant impact.
Attention goes to those willing to be extreme. Extremes cause strong reactions.
Escape The Zone
The Zone of Mediocrity has caused many radio personalities to blend into each other, delivering ordinary, low-hanging fruit content in an ordinary style. The result is a lack of differentiation between radio personalities, leading to a sense of sameness among listeners who hear it all as background noise.
The homogenization of programming, over-sensitivity to complaints, literal interpretation of research (especially trying to eliminate all negatives), and the pressure to attract advertisers are all contributing factors. In many cases, radio stations have adopted a “formulaic” approach that limits creativity and teaches personalities to stay in the Zone!
Here’s a solution for escaping the Zone Of Mediocrity:
- Know Who You Are: Build a deep character brand profile and stay true to it. A well-defined Character Profile bulletproofs performers from criticism by helping identify whether a complaint is valid or not.
- Take a Stand: The middle of the road is for roadkill. Get out of the middle. Tolerance is great in real life but in entertainment, it’s a problem. Inject segments with a strong premise with an energized point of view. Give listeners something to react to!
- Speak in Absolutes: Having a “take” with conviction is powerful and entertaining. Turn up the volume on personality by using the Three E’s of Entertainment and let it fly!
- Celebrate Complaints. Instead of trying to avoid complaints, how about celebrating them? Today, it’s more important than ever to stand for something! And that leaves you open to criticism.
Broadcasters spend thousands of dollars researching ways to get rid of things listeners say they don’t like rather than investing in creating things they love. That’s why so many are in the Zone of Mediocrity.
The result is a product that is tolerated but not loved. It’s like being a decent football team that plays not to lose. That’s a strategy to have an average season. The team may make the playoffs but they never win a Super Bowl.
If you are stuck in the Zone of Mediocrity, check out the Audience Magnet course. It includes the step-by-step process of building a personality brand that turns casual listeners into fans.
But don’t be mediocre. As Dilbert points out, hate is not the opposite of love. The opposite of love is indifference.