When Bundling, Don't Forget the Brand

For the cable companies that made the sizeable investment in two-way, interactive networks, the harvesting of new customer relationships with the right new interactive products has to be more than a revenue siren song playing somewhere off in the distance.

Unless these new products are conceived, economically rationalized and branded with the customer firmly in mind, the returns could end up somewhere on the rocks.

When deciding how to allocate the bandwidth, information-technology and operating infrastructure resources necessary to provide a product and a quality-of-service standard that will maximize returns, it is critical that we build into and promote the competitive gaps in the marketplace, and recognize the potential fragility of "me too" products that are based only on competitive pricing and the ability to leverage existing customer relationships.

The level of thought and design built into the value proposition to the customer, in the form of unique product features and benefits and a marketable, saleable brand, will pay back in larger returns and longer-lived successes.

We've already reaped the benefits of this approach with broadband, and now we have an opportunity to recreate the broadband success story with Internet-protocol telephony. We may also have an opportunity to increase the value of DTV subscriptions with a new service array that combines the best that the competition can offer with some unique products conceived exclusively for our platform that beat the competition hands down.

Cablevision is selling Optimum Voice, our new IP telephony product, as a companion to Optimum Online, our existing high-speed data service. These products are already technologically integrated — they are made possible by the same voice-enabled modem — and, over time, they will be functionally integrated in ways that we believe will deliver entirely new values to customers.

We are attempting to build and brand a voice service that allows a customer to manage all of his communications through a single Internet portal; a service intuitive enough to find a customer where and when she wants to be found, all things that were never possible before and go far beyond delivering dial tone to a residence.

A robust network and today's technology open the door to these enhanced services. The migration to digital has increased network capacity; the recent upgrade process has delivered interactivity; and operators everywhere are scrambling to introduce consumer products that leverage these happy developments while simultaneously responding to consumers' growing demand for competitive communications services.

The technology is there, the demand is there, but hastily dropping additional services into the marketplace is not going to create the kinds of successes this industry is capable of attaining. To achieve meaningful and lasting success, we must ensure that new consumer products are designed and branded in ways that result in their being organically woven into customers' lives. They must become resonant applications of lasting value that people don't ever want to give up or go without.

An Internet-based voice service with compelling interactive features that the competition can't easily replicate will bring greater and longer-term returns than a new phone service whose only value is price. Similarly, new digital television products and features must capitalize on cable's advantages, and not just leverage the latest device on the consumer-electronics retail shelf.

This dynamic highlights the importance of customer education in the development, branding and deployment of new products. If customers have purchased a digital cable service that gives them access to hundreds of titles of on-demand content, but don't celebrate their new-found freedom from "appointment television" because they don't know how to get the movies out of the box, we have failed our most critical test.

This industry has proven its ability to get consumer services into the home. How long they stay there — and how significantly they benefit our industry — depends entirely on how well they are designed, branded and integrated with the other services we offer. Success comes when our services become meaningful and structural elements of our customers' lives that grow in value and significance over time, not just the most recent coat of paint in the living room or this year's TiVo.