Evolving as Cable Marketers

As more cable systems are fully rebuilt, and more networks reach full distribution, the time has come for marketing to take the lead in pushing our industry to new heights.

The theme for this year's Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing Summit in Seattle — "The Art & Science of Marketing: Strategy. Creative. Results." — calls for a new industry focus on more sophisticated marketing strategies and breakthrough creative work.

From July 20 to 23, we're bringing together the brightest leaders in cable and other industries to share their ideas and their invaluable experience.

Cable marketing as art

The art of cable marketing is about developing and executing breakthrough creative concepts to achieve business goals. For example, cable networks that create exceptional on-air packaging are more likely to become compelling destinations, while MSOs with better ad creative than their direct-broadcast satellite competitors are more likely to attract and retain customers.

Killer creative is always a huge advantage and as an industry, we need to hone our creative skills. We have a long history of creative success, from the "I Want My MTV" campaign in the 1980s, to Comcast's successful rebranding of AT&T Broadband systems today. The right message packaged in the right way can drive distribution, build consumer loyalty, maintain viewers and rally corporate teams as they charge into competitive battle.

However, our marketing challenges are getting tougher every day. There are now thousands of TV programs available on hundreds of networks and on pay-per-view, video-on-demand, DVDs and recorded on digital video recorders. Viewership fragmentation and commercial zapping threaten each individual network's potential for ad revenue, while consolidation on both the programmer and operator sides makes life difficult for smaller players. At the same time, changes in DBS ownership will add strategic and creative firepower to a major programmer that will also be cable's biggest DBS competitor.

MSOs and networks must master the art of marketing to thrive. Mediocre creative just won't cut it anymore.

A methodical approach to conducting cable marketing means ridding ourselves of the "if we build it, they will come" and "when in doubt, mail it out" mentalities. We live in a world of customer choice. As cable markets become increasingly competitive, we must leverage a variety of information resources to identify growth opportunities in advance of our competitors and predict (and prevent) consumer defection.

Marketing science is about applying business discipline to cable marketing efforts. Expectations for free cash flow require better campaign management to quantify the return on marketing investment.

This systematic approach requires us to answer some key questions: What is the return on investment on this campaign? Which promotional offers deliver high response rates and solid retention rates? What is the probable lifetime value of customer X versus customer Y? We need insight into profitability at the customer level to ensure we sell the right combination of products with the right offers to maximize our efforts.

Marketing in a new place

Cable is a highly transactional business, so it makes sense for MSO marketers to add customer-relationship management to their bag of tricks.

Customers reveal a lot about themselves during routine transactions with their cable companies, whether it's on the phone or in the home. For example, we can find out if they own an HDTV set or multiple personal computers, or if they have teenagers. Shouldn't we be systematically collecting this information and using it to better serve the customer, all the while respecting their privacy?

Imagine harnessing this information, along with past purchase and payment history, to sell the most profitable bundle of services to a more satisfied customer. As we continue targeting the messages, offers and product mixes to consumers, we can employ database and campaign management software to track response rates, monitor churn, and enhance communications with CSRs.

Finally, new products and advanced technologies have created unprecedented opportunities for industry players, but have also increased and altered our needs. Marketing cable services and programming today is very complicated. We all need to know more about how to balance growing the core business along with new products, how to educate and entice customers and how to keep our edge on the competition.

It's an art. It's a science. And we'll be tackling it all in Seattle next week.

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