When I started my career, the business objective was clear—to identify and create real, meaningful, and sustainable value for customers. Within a few years, I distinctly remember a meeting where the head of the division said: “Never give your consumers a reason to switch.” While we were focused on creating new value, our team had made a simple mistake. If consumers want a large size product and your competitor offers it and you don’t, you have made it easy for the consumer to switch.
The point was clear. Always make sure that there isn’t a simple reason for the consumer to switch.
I learned this again at another company. We were years behind our key competitor in launching a loyalty card program. Research revealed that a key reason that consumers stopped shopping at our firm was simply because we didn’t have a loyalty card. While we invested millions in new service offerings, new store designs, new real estate locations, and superior customer experiences, our failure to have a loyalty card was a simple reason why customers chose our competitor over us. In fact, in many cases, customers preferred our stores, our associates, and our shopping experience. But they wanted a program that rewarded them for their loyalty–we didn’t have it and our competition did.
Consequently, I’ve been fascinated to observe Comcast’s failure to understand this primary marketing principle. As background, there has been a number of stories that have focused on the challenge cable companies are facing over cord cutting (e.g., how a TV critic cut the cord, data show shift to streaming as consumers drop cable and satellite, Comcast consumers mad about not getting ACCN, etc.). Most of the press suggests that it is the younger demographic who are rejecting cable / satellite, with the cable loyalists being the older demographic.
Comcast’s decision not to carry the newly launched ACC Network is therefore interesting–especially since most of their competitors, especially the streaming services, are carrying the ACCN. Who is it that are die-hard college sports fans? Many are older alumni who follow their sports teams over years and decades. Consider one measure of their passion— the sometimes crazy things that they buy that have their favorite team’s logo, including everything from apparel to yard signs to even rugs and household decor. Although there were a number of ways to watch ACC sporting events before the ACCN was created, many games will now be carried exclusively on the ACCN. And while Dish, DirectTV, Charter, Cox, and streaming services (e.g., Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling, etc.) carry the ACCN, Comcast has yet to do so.
As a fan of ACC basketball (and the University of Virginia Men’s basketball team in particular), I regularly read postings on different message boards. Much of the summer discussion, continuing into the fall, has been centered on who is carrying the ACCN, who isn’t, and how to switch. There are a number of posts that compare different streaming services and provide “how to” guides to help readers switch to the streaming services carrying the ACCN. Many on the message boards are older alumni (folks who graduated 20, 30, 40+ years ago). These are the backbone consumers of companies like Comcast as the younger demographic rejects cable in favor of streaming services (e.g., Hulu, YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue, etc.).
As just one example of the nature of the posts on these message boards, consider the following: “RVA Friends Who Just Dumped Comcast for Verizon (headline): Said the FiOS guy (who knocked on their door) told them he drives around neighborhoods looking for ACC flags. Also will save $800 over 3 years. While not one to like long term contracts with providers, that’s pretty cool.”
In an environment where cable/satellite providers are trying to keep customers—let alone grow—it seems like a bad idea to give your loyalists a very big reason to switch.
So what should Comcast do? First, Comcast should offer customers ACCN (i.e., carry the channel). Comcast could provide it as part of a premium package or offer it for an additional charge. To minimize defection, they should include it in one form or another. Second, management should be transparent and communicate with customers. One individual indicated (on a message board) that a Comcast representative said that management has decided not to carry the ACCN. And of course, that post elicited additional comments and discussion about how to cut the cord. At a minimum, Comcast should have some insight into which subscribers watch ACC programming and management should proactively communicate with customers and explain their position and plans. In the absence of Comcast management communicating with customers, their call center is likely receiving a number of phone calls inquiring as to the status and/or complaining (all of which are extra costs the company incurs).
While USA Today prognosticated that cord cutting may be accelerating, Comcast’s failure to carry the ACCN, while most of their competition is carrying it, reinforces a basic marketing principle: Never Give Your Consumers a Reason to Switch.