Forum: Youve Made the Brand Promise -- Can You Deliver?

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Branding, branding, branding. Lately, the cable industry
has been inundated with advice concerning why it needs to pay attention to brands for its
companies and products and how it should go about creating them. It's been good
advice, and early signs are that the cable industry is beginning to take it seriously.
Branding makes a difference in highly competitive markets with near-commodity products.
Strong brands and consumers' loyalty to those brands make a measurable competitive --
and economic -- difference.

Before we conclude that the industry has crossed the chasm
on branding, it's worth reviewing some recent data. Our survey of cable-industry
executives (both operators and programmers) revealed that although branding is believed to
be an important factor in companies' financial success, it is not being accorded a
corresponding weight in their strategic-planning processes. Cable executives themselves
report not having a sufficient understanding of branding's role in delivering
business results.

Millions of dollars in media and promotions are being spent
to create, redefine and bolster brands in the industry. But media buys are just the tip of
the iceberg in overcoming the historical brand deficiencies in the industry. Cable
companies must turn their attention to reliably delivering on the brand promises that they
are making, or risk losing customers to companies that do deliver.

We believe that brand development is less than one-half of
the equation in building leveragable brand equity. Brand leverage is a function of both
inspired brand development and consistent brand execution.

Consumer-product companies have had to cope with this
formula for years. Faced with the reality that in many cases, the only differentiator
among their products is the brand, they recognized the need to expand the role of
marketing to one of brand management.

A Procter & Gamble manager is credited with proposing
that each P&G brand have its own staff, responsible for advertising and other
marketing activities for the brand. Through this proposal, the brand-management system was
officially born. The year? 1931. Few other firms followed suit at first, but, since the
1950s, companies in consumer products, durable goods, automotive, financial services and
other industries have adopted brand management as a logical way to leverage the brands
that they have created.

Brand management recognizes the fact that building great
brands is a difficult task that must be pursued with tenacity and consistency. Of critical
importance is ensuring that the brand incorporates two things: making a relevant promise
to the consumer about a product and/or service, and delivering consistently on that
promise.

Simply put, delivering on the promise means that the
customer expectations created by the brand are consistently met, all of the time. This has
been a nearly impossible task for the cable industry in recent times. The number and
complexity of products and product/service combinations has soared in the past three
years, and it continues to grow. In addition, operators are faced with unavoidable
initiatives -- from rate increases to rebuilds -- that impact customers. The increasing
number and complexity of offerings, combined with high consumer interactivity and 100
percent up-time expectations, result in a high failure potential and increased brand
liability.

Consumers now have an increasing variety of competitive
options available to them for all of the services currently provided by the cable
industry. If cable operators can't keep the promises that their brands are making,
consumers will, at a minimum, be more open to switching; at worst, they will actively seek
more reliable alternatives.

Marketing's role in this promise delivery is crucial.
In the cable industry, marketing is traditionally seen from a sales and revenue-generating
perspective. In this light, marketing's objective is typically to 'drive them to
the phones.' Adding 'branding' to the list of marketing's
responsibilities does not seem to have changed this historical role perspective:
Marketing's function is now to deliver revenue and volume targets, while ensuring
that customers receive the 'brand message.'

What's being left out is not the making of the
promise, but the delivery on the promise. Marketing can no longer simply focus on driving
revenue -- it must also assume a role in managing the delivery of the promise. This
requires marketing professionals to possess a deeper knowledge base across the business,
enabling them to facilitate cross-functional process performance. The link to and dialog
with operations, engineering, construction, human resources and information technology
must be strong and ongoing. Managing and delivering on the promise that brands make is the
purview of brand management.

Brand management is an approach designed to align marketing
with all elements of the consumer value chain and to help prepare sales and post-sales
functions for delivery of the service that is consistent with the brand. Brand managers
are central coordinators of all marketing activities for their brand, and they serve to
focus the efforts of functional specialists on brands, as needed. In addition, they assist
with the coordination of corporate resources to ensure the most effective marketing
possible for each brand. Marketers must now understand how each product (and brand) fits
into the overall corporate strategy and guide resource allocation accordingly.

Under this structure, marketing's role expands from a
revenue-generation/advertising focus to more of a service/operational excellence one. In
addition to developing compelling promotions and advertising, marketing must now seek to
ensure that the company has the product and service strategies in place to keep the
promise that the brand message is sending to the customer. Practically speaking, one thing
that marketing departments need to do is to involve both operations and customer-service
personnel in the product-launch and promotion-development processes. This will help to
highlight potential 'promise-delivery' problems before they reach the
end-consumer.

Our recent research verifies the current lack of a shared,
organizationwide brand strategy and message.

The competitive environment in this industry is changing
swiftly. Some of the new competitors already have years of experience in branding and
brand management. The cable industry needs to re-examine its existing marketing paradigm
and use marketing more proactively in a broader organizational context. Marketing should
not only generate revenue, but it should also lead change in operational excellence and
service delivery to best meet the needs of current and potential customers.

Marketing's stewardship of the company's brands
will ensure that promises made can be promises kept. And that, after all, is how great
brands are made.

Anne Torri is a senior associate in the
competitive-strategy practice of Dove Associates Inc., a Boston-based international
management-consulting firm.

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