Differentiating Cable Network Brands Is an Uphill Battle

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Posted Jun 13, 2012
Susan Gunelius

How do you differentiate a cable brand? There was a time when cable brands promised specific types of programming and delivered on those promises. If you wanted to watch music videos, you turned on MTV. If you wanted to watch music videos but were over the age of 25, you turned on VH1. Today, both networks offer little music content. But you can watch Jersey Shore or 16 and Pregnant again and again.

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This evolution has happened across the cable landscape. Every network is launching reality shows, and viewers never know what to expect or which network they're watching. They all look the same and stand for nothing. In other words they promise nothing unique.

What's a cable brand to do? Unfortunately, the answer of late is rebranding which ends up being short on substance and big on window dressing.

Dime-a-Dozen Cable Brands

Jeanine Poggi of Ad Age published a great quiz, Can You Match the Tagline to the TV Network?, that demonstrates how poorly differentiated cable network brands are and how ineffective rebranded taglines are. For example, which cable network uses the slogan "Watch and discuss"? Bet you didn't guess VH1, but that's the answer. How about "We got you"? Did you say BET? That's the new slogan for the BET cable network.

lifetime schedule

Cable brands are facing a big problem. Each lacks a clear brand promise and the ability to deliver on that promise, which means they can't own a specific brand position. Cable brands need to find ways to differentiate themselves from each other, but empty promises delivered in the form of new logos and taglines with no backing won't work.

For example, which cable network’s tagline says “Very funny,” and which says “Laugh more”? One is TBS and one is TV Land, but could you tell which goes with which tagline based on what you know of both networks’ programming? It’s doubtful. By the way, “Very funny” is TBS’s tagline, and “Laugh more” is TV Land’s.Recently, Lifetime rolled out a new logo and tagline, "Your life. Your time." That's a cute little play on the network name, but it doesn't reflect what consumers will get when they tune into Lifetime. As I write this article, today's programming schedule for Lifetime (shown in the screenshot to the right) shows a marathon of the Dance Moms reality show. I think it’s safe to assume that this show doesn’t match the tagline’s promise of content related to most viewers’ lives. It’s certainly not relevant to my life or my time. Is it relevant for “Your life. Your time.”?

Cable Brands Need Focused Promises

Bottom-line, cable networks need to develop focused brand promises and deliver on those promises in every consumer interaction with the brand. If people expect to find a specific type of programming on a cable network based on the brand tagline, messaging, and so on, then those expectations need to be met, otherwise, cable brands are a dime-a-dozen, and one can easily be replaced for another in consumers' minds and in the channels they select on their remote controls.

It could be argued that Fox News is one of the few channels that has a highly focused brand promise and delivers on it in every consumer interaction. Regardless of whether you watch (or like) Fox News, it’s a clearly defined brand that knows its target audience very well and caters to that audience at all times.

For a cable network to become a consumer's go-to-channel (meaning it's one of the first channels the consumer checks when he turns on the television), then the network must deliver on its promise every time the consumer turns it on. There is little reason to return to that channel if the programming doesn't match the brand promise and consumer expectations for it. After all, it only takes a second to change the channel.

Images: mylifetime.com

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