Staying True to Your Brand

Stephen Yagielowicz
As 2010 swings into gear, a more upbeat but still cautious tone may be heard amongst the discussions taking place between adult entertainment operators — with some noticing a steady increase in revenues as the economic situation stabilizes. These discussions are not limited to our industry however, and are occurring in the broader mainstream markets as well, where the topic of brand identity and its role in consumer confidence and beyond is being analyzed.

Indeed, the role that brands play in modern marketing and their ability to be leveraged in times of need or opportunity can be seen in the overall reduction of adult websites and producers over the past year where countless operations dropped off of the map. If you were to look at a list of the specific websites and companies that ceased operations, you might opine "I never heard of most of these guys!"

And that's the point.

Effective brand building is only one component of excellence, but companies that are able to build and extend a brand are in a far better position than their no-name competitors, and will have also successfully addressed the fundamentals of corporate survival that will allow them to survive a periodical thinning of the herd.

This is why most of the adult companies you have heard about are still here.

But what about the big boys — the mainstream powerhouses grappling with many of the same issues as small adult companies — how are these well-capitalized brain trusts handling the core of their enterprise: the consumer's perception of the product and its providers?

Cable news outlet CNBC recently aired a show on Coca Cola entitled "The Real Story Behind the Real Thing," which portrayed the role of Coke's branding as having transcended both business and culture to become an entirely new communications medium. One bit of wisdom to come from this TV special was that the Coca Cola brand is so iconic that it no longer belongs to the company, but to the people of the world.

According to some observers, Playboy is failing because it hasn't yet learnt this lesson.

While the factors influencing these megabrands may seem beyond your own operation, it's important to realize that all media companies are facing the same issues to one extent or another and being able to learn from other successful operators can only strengthen your brand.

Sirius XM CEO Mel Karmazin talked to Neil Cavuto on the Fox Business Network about the value of branding among other things. Karmazin, whose primary success metric is "Free Cash Flow," believes that the way to build a survivable brand is to offer exclusive content that is in demand by the audience.

"Quality content is expensive, but I'd rather have it than not," Karmazin opined, when discussing the value of paying Howard Stern his enormous salary. It is the aggregate value of name brands such as Stern's that help build the overall value of the Sirius brand — a vital lesson for companies seeking short term profits (which may come at the expense of long term stability) by churning staff, or dropping those costly but member-pleasing HD video feeds, for example.

The brand-building value of exclusive content and how it should be monetized and controlled is also a hot topic with News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch, who is a leader in the movement against free content on the Internet. His battle with Google over the search giant's immediate indexing of News Corp. properties such as The Wall Street Journal may decide the future (or lack of one) of the newspaper industry — as well as lead to the widespread deployment of online paid micro-content offerings — and a whole new landscape for the Internet payment processing industry.

Among Murdoch's concerns is the brand dilution that comes from stories that should only appear at the WSJ website being blogged and reposted across the Internet, without compensation.

While this attitude of "exclusive content should remain exclusive" may find traction with the copyright-conscious adult community, many folks that decry the tubes may really be getting their morning news fix from Google or a copycat site, instead of from the company that paid for it to be created and published. Sure, WSJ bears one of the world's strongest brand names, and many will trust its reportage more than its competitors, but unless it's able to monetize its exclusive content and keep it away from pirates (and as it claims, some search engines), then it is doomed.

Although Murdoch may do much to help all media — including adult media — what will be the net impact to the brand? Sure, if he's successful, the older generations may thank him for saving their morning newspaper, and many media companies will praise the "paid content" consumer model. But will the younger generations turn away from the brand because it's run by the bogeyman that killed free content — much as they once eschewed Bill Gates' products?

Momentarily, perhaps; but while News Corp. may not have anything to worry about in the long term, its current battles illustrate the wide range of brand-impacting factors that all companies deal with — some more successfully than others.

What "image" factors affect your offers? Is the customer perception of your brand one of quality and trustworthiness — or do prospects abandon your offers, fearing a rip-off, or that it's "just not worth it"? Get it right and you'll succeed. Get it wrong and your company will join the growing list of no-name operators that are no longer with us.

Take a good look at your brand and stay true to what works — and change what doesn't.