Casey Kasem Headshot

3 Marketing Lessons from Casey Kasem

For a total of 24 years, the golden-voiced Casey Kasem gave us the scoop on what songs were trending and along the way, weaved in some classic behind-the-scenes stories and interviews on the radio show he hosted (and co-created), American Top 40. If you grew up in the 70s, 80s, or early 90s, there’s a good chance Casey was the DJ of your wonder years.

But in the process, for those listening close enough, he also taught some timeless lessons in marketing.

Here are the three marketing lessons from Casey Kasem that I’ve picked during my many years of listening…

Engagement: Make a Big Promise – Then Make Good on That Promise

Never underestimate the power of a good tease. When heading into a commercial break, Casey teed up a story that he would full tell when he returned, always tagged with “Details… coming up.”

A few favorites:

  • The 12 year-old who willed her way into performing on the Grand Ole Opry (Dolly Parton).
  • The rock singer who would fly thousands of miles after a show to not miss playing in his local soccer league (Rod Stewart).

While we call it a ‘tease’ or ‘teaser’ in entertainment, at its heart, it’s actually a promise. You’re creating a setup that you inherently promise to fully deliver on in the near future.

Whether you’re asking a listener or viewer to hang tight during a commercial break or asking a website visitor to sign up for your email, you must promise (and then deliver) something of real value – even if that ‘something’ is simply an entertaining or surprising story.

Casey promised and delivered over and over – and as a result, listeners kept coming back.

Story: Never Forget the Heart

If you know Casey Kasem and American Top 40, then you for sure know the Long Distance Dedication. In this regular segment, Casey read a letter from a listener who shared a personal story and requested that a special song be played for a special someone – often a fondly remembered summer love or a childhood friend. One time, the story came from a young woman dedicating “Somewhere Out There” to her son on his tenth birth – a son she hadn’t seen since giving him up for adoption as an unwed teenage mother. Sidenote: I recently tried to recount this Long Distance Dedication story to my wife and couldn’t get out word one – completely choked up.

Here’s the point for marketers and other storytellers… never forget to connect on an emotional level. For all of our illusions that we’re rational creatures, research and our own empirical evidence will prove out that we base most decisions on emotions.

Or to borrow from Thomas Cranmer, as summarized by Ashley Null…

“What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”

– Thomas Cranmer

So yes, appeal to our oh-so keen and discerning intellect, but only after you hit us, the audience, in the feels. Make us laugh or cry or gasp… anything but give us an inch of room to look away.

And story is what unlocks it all.

Branding: Make Yourself Memorable

One of the ways Casey Kasem made himself memorable was his signature sign-off…

“Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

For a time back in 2011, I directed and produced (and hosted, if you can believe that) an automotive series for eBay Motors called Done In 60 Seconds. Following my marketing guru Casey, I developed my own on-theme signature sign-off – “We’ll see you down the road. Until then, you keep it on 10 and 2.”

Even today, when I get to guest host the talk radio show, Steve Brown, Etc. (was that plug subtle enough?), I do the same thing – “We’ll see you next week. Until then, be safe… and stay dangerous.”

Maybe you don’t have or need a sign-off, but you can clear the path toward being top-of-mind by creating distinction for yourself. How? A few ideas…

Choose Your Niche
Don’t be the best at one you do; be the only one who does what you do. Try to identify your area of expertise, then drill into sub-categories until you find a space that you can really own.

Find Your Voice
It physically pains me to write that phrase – it sounds so unicorn-y. But the fact is, a lot of people are writing and talking about the same things. The distinction appears in how you say what you’re saying. I’ve found an angle in discovering actionable insights from unexpected places and explaining historical stories with a pop culture twist. Take the time to delineate your unique messaging ‘DNA.’

Serve Your Tribe
Here’s some good news: you don’t need to be known by everyone; you need to create top-of-mind awareness and distinction among those who (A) get what you do and (B) need what you create. As you begin to amass that group, serve them well and others will follow.

Tease, but deliver.

Connect on an emotional level.

Find a way to stand out.

None of these on their own seem to be earth-shattering ideas. Yet, as Casey Kasem’s career and enduring legacy prove, executed well and all together, they will help you create a message that keeps your audience tuning in week after week, year after year

And don’t forget… keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.

– Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter writes about Decoding Success, Creative Leadership, Marketing, and Productivity.

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P.S. You can stream full 4-hour, commercial-free episodes of classic American Top 40 episodes for FREE through iHeartRadio (you’re welcome).

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