After the Revolution, Marketing Rethought

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For some, we're in the midst of a revolution. For others, this is just business as usual. It depends on your role, your past experiences and your sense of adventure, but suffice to say, the dawn of digital service has dramatically changed the way we develop and market products, interact with customers and profit in our businesses.

The digital future-or perhaps we should we say the digital "present"-has led to an explosion in consumer access to information and entertainment, fueled by a vast array of technologies. Customers will be able to choose precisely what they want to watch or access, how they watch or access it and when they want to do so, with full control over a copy of the material while it is being used. More simply put: Consumers will have the ultimate in choice, control and convenience.

Emerging capabilities, such as video-on-demand, Internet via television and television to PC, are revitalizing our industry. Digital gives us the long-sought opportunity to enhance our customer relations, our marketing, our brands and our revenues.

SOUNDS SIMPLE

Having said that, developing, launching and marketing this universe of desirable digital services should be simple, right? Hardly.

Today, we face a big challenge-determining when and how the new technologies we are seeing (and which will be highlighted throughout the CTAM Summit) are truly ready for the consumer. In turn, there is the challenge of determining when the consumer is ready.

It is easy to be impressed by the technologies and easy to want to bring them to market too early. Our history is littered with attempts to market services that looked great in the lab, but were, in practice, too slow, lacked compelling content, were aesthetically unappealing or were too complex for the customer. But today is different.

Now, there are a host of excellent, marketable services, enabled by technologies developed with the consumer in mind. We need to stay focused on the proven technologies, and not get distracted by great ideas that can't be supported by our businesses.

We can be certain there are other mine fields to navigate, as well. For example, standards and compatibilities will pose challenges in the short term, along with customer privacy and the protection of intellectual property. However, as we move closer to the "write once, read anywhere" environment, and distributors rollout digital products in a significant way, we'll see another renaissance in the proliferation of content. Then, in an era of voluminous programming delivered over multiple platforms, we'll be challenged to make our brands firmly resonate with consumers. In essence, as one thing leads to another, there will be many new challenges.

BEING CIRCUMSPECT

At the risk of sounding cliché, there are ways to turn challenges into opportunities. Above all, and even more importantly in the midst of revolution, it all starts and ends with the customer. Everything we're doing in new-product development and marketing is meaningless if we haven't started with the customer. It's obvious, but not something we have done for very long or particularly well in this industry.

To best represent the customer at the decision-making table, we'll first need to learn as much as we can about the capabilities of new technologies. By developing a keen understanding of what works and what doesn't, marketers can more effectively focus on how to turn a new-economy idea into a viable business and respond more appropriately to competitive threats. We can concentrate our energy on the products and services that give us a firm advantage in the marketplace.

We must be extremely critical. There is a rush of options coming at us every day. It can be frustrating and confusing.

In fact, some of these services simply need another year or two in the lab. This is not to say the products should be a guaranteed success before introduction. The "first-to-market" phenomenon deserves attention and cable needs to be less risk-averse.

But we need discipline to narrow the options, and we should demand that suppliers refine their ideas, build sound business plans and research the services with customers, before we spend resources on marketing.

Marketers of content and programming need to be sure they've thoroughly considered and rigorously researched what customers desire and will pay for. In addition, they need to work more closely with operators and suppliers during the development process to make new ideas a reality.

For example, a new player that creates differentiated local content with an economically feasible business plan for operators will find an ear.

Finally, we share an advantage in the cable industry that sets us apart. We have deeply ingrained programmer-content and operator-distributor relationships. They have served us well in the past, and we can further rely them as we move into the new digital universe.

We could do well to live by the advice some of us heard as children: "Dance with the one that brought you."

Or, due to the influx of important new players in the industry, perhaps we should extend our advice to include another time-tested adage: "Make new friends and keep the old." Remember, one is silver and the other gold!

We invite everyone attending the CTAM Summit this year to learn, be watchful and cement important relationships. We can leverage our collective strengths-and with the customer top of mind for all-we can ensure our continued success.

Bill Goodwyn, executive vice president, affiliate sales and marketing, Discovery Networks Inc., and Kevin Leddy, senior vice president, new product development, Time Warner Cable are co-chairs of this year's CTAM Summit.

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