Why smoothfm has switched up personalities and undertaken a rebrand

Robbie Williams leads the launch of a refreshed smoothfm brand

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One of the most iconic TVCs from radio stations in recent years would have to be the smoothfm ad featuring Michael Buble. The ad, along with the station’s niche targeting, helped propel it to the number one FM station in Sydney and number two in Melbourne.

So the decision to rebrand the station this month after seven years, and introduce a new face of the station, is a surprising one.

Yet Nova Entertainment has announced the launch of a refreshed smoothfm brand with a reinvigorated look and feel, aimed at modernising and energising the station’s visual appeal to better reflect the station’s commitment to creating an environment allowing audiences to relax and feel good.

Robbie Williams, one of the world’s most recognisable entertainers, will be the new face of smoothfm. Williams will feature in a TVC and multi-platform marketing campaign to support the station’s fresh new look and positioning. smoothfm’s refreshed vision will be supported by an extensive marketing and media campaign in Sydney and Melbourne across TV, out-of-home, cinema, digital and social media.

Nova Entertainment chief programming and marketing officer, Paul Jackson, told CMO Nova launched smoothfm with a more music and less talk format, and an emotive and timeless playlist. However, it is relaunching to gain more listeners from an extended demographic, particularly those who may have previously considered smoothfm as being boring or sleepy.

He recognised it’s fine line to walk to attract new listeners without alienating loyal ones,. So to help, Nova is regularly surveying listeners and using sentiment analysis to ensure it is on the right track, both with marketing and with programming.

Since launching in 2012, Jackson said smoothfm has cultivated a loyal audience with a music format designed to help listeners relax. It launched with a 4.1 per cent share in Sydney and Melbourne and 275,000 and 337,000 listeners, and in seven years has increased by over 200 per cent to 1.838 million listeners.

Last September, Smoothfm increased its offering by creating additional smoothfm stations, smooth Relax and smooth Chill, on the DAB+ spectrum and also via smooth app, broadening the platform and creating new commercial opportunities.

The reinvigorated look and feel in 2020 is about ensuring smoothfm remains a strong and relevant radio brand for a broad audience into the future, Jackson said.

“Michael Buble and our other amazing ambassadors have been very effective. Over the years though, while we started as an easy place to relax pitched to the older audience and finding that unique gap in the market, since then we've evolved year on year and we’ve brightened the station aiming to make listeners feel more upbeat,” Jackson said.

“So the tone of the station has changed over the years and the feel of it, while the audience has continued to grow. We have number one stations in both markets and the demographics actually got broader and a lot younger as well, as we expanded.

“So as we hadn’t done any marketing for 12 months for smoothfm, now was the right time to rebrand and do something big.”

Based on research into listeners, Jackson a big campaign done infrequently is considered to be the best approach, while for other brands across Nova, digital always-on campaigns in partnership with short and sharp activations work better. In term of marketing strategy, TV has worked very well for smoothfm so far, and this will continue, along with strategic out-of-home activations.

“TV has really worked for us and cut through in the past. So we will use a lot of TV ads running on Nine, Seven and Foxtel and support that with a big out-of-home that reinforces the feel good position," Jackson said. “Part of it will be all across things like social as well, a lot of food magazines, travel magazines, that kind of thing, and then cinema also. For smooth, we do fewer campaigns, but they need to be very big, very focused, and very clear and just have a huge cut through."

Research over the last year found core listeners loved the evolution the station has undertaken, Jackson continued.

"Then you've got the other group of people that float around on different stations, and their image and perception of the radio station lags behind where we were with everybody else,” he explained. “That's why we thought we needed to do something like this, because there's a bit of a disconnect for those other floaters. They say they never listen to breakfast because they don't want slow music then. But the station has evolved from this. So to reinforce what we are and really change the mind of some of the people on the fringes, there needs to be a different perception of the radio station."

The audience itself has also shifted. When smoothfm started, the target demographic was 50-somethings and the marketing was pitched to gain traction in this unique position as a result. The brand grew up in there.

"Right now, we're talking about 38 year olds to 42 year olds as our core target, we now have an equal number of men and women listening, we have tradies listening," Jackson said. "Plus, we are starting gain traction in the 25-34 demographic in Sydney and Melbourne past few years.

“So our marketing is aimed at reminding the people we're talking to everybody because we're lifestyle station, when you come to smooth our job is to leave people feeling a bit better than when you turned up, with great songs you can sing along to - it's positivity, basically.”

Like anyone, Jackson said the marketing team is using data to get smarter about its efforts. This has seen the team investing a lot more into digital marketing, and opened up opportunities to harness outdoor in a fresh way.

"For instance, we're running a campaign in Adelaide just now but we've made most of the outdoor digital so the message is changing in the moment all the time. We changed all our outdoor to reflect what’s happening on any different given day," Jackson said. "Now a campaign starts with an overarching look but is partnered with a dozen other key messages, which are the calls to action.

“Data is very important but you can be overwhelmed with information and how to interpret it. We do our own studies and while we have a feel for our listeners, the raw data starts to help us shape our thinking. There are lots of insights that we get from the data we have." 

And of course marketers must always work on and refine their brand's position.

"You think you've got all right, when actually you were reflecting something six months ago. We just need to tweak it or keep moving on. And we're I guess we're only as good as our next idea,” Jackson said. 

In this vein, Nova’s studies include sentiment analysis, for both marketing and programming purposes.

“We drill right down into how smooth makes you feel, is it easy, relaxing, does it feel good, is it sleepy, boring. And that's what we first saw two years ago, we found some listeners don't think we're easy place to relax, but that's our prominent messaging on the station. So we have to ensure that connects," Jackson said.

“I think it's always hard to get people to switch stations, so we've got to build a station with vision that we believe in. But then if the ratings don't come straight away, you can’t knee jerk and make changes immediately.

“It can take a long time to covert people. It is the classic game of needing to get their attention two or three times before you move from an intention to actual change. So a conversion could be six months, a year or two years before they eventually try it.”

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