O&M’s Lazarus: Build, Protect Brand

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Philadelphia -- Increased competition must force cable operators to focus on developing and protecting their brands and bolstering customer-service relationships with consumers, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide CEO Shelly Lazarus told Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing CTAM Summit attendees here Monday morning.

“It all comes down to the brand you build and the relationship you create,” Lazarus said during the opening keynote address. “The No. 1 job has to be to build and protect your brand.”

Citing well-established brands such as American Express Co., IBM Corp., Cable News Network and MTV: Music Television, Lazarus said brands aren’t developed by advertising and marketing, but rather through building connections with consumers.

“It’s about who you hire and who answers the telephone. It is ultimately defined by how you engage with your customers,” she added.

The advertising executive suggested that cable operators would be best off focusing on their best customers -- a practice some operators have used in their attempts to sell new products such as high-speed data and telephone service.

“At the end of the day, you only need to focus on your most loyal customers,” Lazarus said.

Branding has become even more crucial as consumers face a wide array of media to choose from, including the Internet and gaming. She cited the example of a man who starts his day by logging onto the Internet to read e-mail or check out blog entries; keeps tabs on stock prices, sports and news from running Internet feeds at work; and returns home to watch Comedy Central’s The Daily Show on a TiVo Inc. digital-video recorder, skipping all of the ads, while browsing Match.com (www.match.com).

“When in that day did you feel like you were in charge?” Lazarus asked the audience, noting that the consumer has taken control. “And the better question is: Where in that day did you get compensated?”

Lazarus also warned that companies that control monopolies and don’t focus on customer service will lose to competitors, citing the example of Blockbuster Inc., after years of hitting customers with “draconian late fees,” losing market share to newcomer Netflix Inc.

“Blockbuster did not care about its customers because it didn’t have to care. There was so little competition,” she added.

Lazarus also said cable operators should closely align their marketing and operations departments. “In too many companies, marketing and operations are completely unconnected, with marketing being all too focused on customer acquisition and customer management left in the hands of operations, whose goal, in many cases, is to rein in costs,” she said.