When does a rose by any other name smell like a sow's ear? When it's Comcast rebranding its consumer offerings as Xfinity. If this mix of Shakespeare and the vernacular strikes you as a bit odd, allow me just a marketing minute to explain myself.
Comcast, the largest cable operator in the U.S., is undertaking a rather large effort to recast its image among consumers by renaming all its cable services under the Xinfinity brand. This follows their move late last year to rebrand their Fancast online video subscription service FancastXfinity. As noted in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, this move is an effort to appear more modern and appealing, as "its image as a monopolistic cable giant with shoddy customer service, clunky technology platforms and rising prices is well ingrained in the public mind, drawing a sharp contrast with new media brands like Netflix Inc., YouTube and Apple Inc."
Interesting comparison. Still, this is like the question upside down, backwards, or both. It isn't a brand issue in my estimation. I'll repeat: "monopolistic cable giant with shoddy customer service, clunky technology platforms and rising prices." Get the picture? I would imagine that if Netflix, YouTube or Apple had "shoddy customer service, clunky technology platforms and rising prices" they, too, would have negative customer perceptions.
We all know: changing a name or rebranding your services does not address the core issues plaguing Comcast and its negative consumer perceptions. Consumers are pretty smart and discerning. They know a good product when they see it, experience it, use it. And, they know a bad one (well, most of the time...how else has the National Enquirer survived for so many years?).
And, it's also not just a matter of monopoly or pricing. Apple has historically commanded a price premium for its products, yet consumers value the company's products, technology, user experience, value offerings, etc. and are willing to pay that premium. That's called the value equation.
If Comcast service were terrific (or at least customer friendly on a consistent basis), their technology strong and innovative (and, in some ways they are), then I don't think we'd be seeing so many negative comments or customer created web sites with names like "ComcastMustDie.com."
I am not on the inside privvy to all the information that has probably been collected, reviewed, analyzed, debated and regurgitated in the process leading up to this move. So, I can't totally fault Comcast for trying to address a problem. There are plenty of smart people involved, and I will accept that they believe that this is the best way to proceed. As Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, noted in the WSJ, "I suspect they're calculating that starting fresh by investing in a new name is a better option than trying to reposition the old one."
But, this is not simply a matter of repositioning. The bigger question I have is: is this the best way to spend the money to address the problem? The expense, in terms of out-of-pocket dollars and management/personnel time, to rebrand its service, conduct the launch marketing effort, as well as follow up efforts to further entrench the new brand will be a very big number (no one is saying how big, but let's face it...it will be huge). I can't help but wonder if that same money were applied to directly addressing the core problems - "shoddy customer service, clunky technology platforms and rising prices" - might actually yield a better, more effective solution and longer lasting benefit for both customers, the company and its shareholders.
Companies who undertake these types genuine of product/service quality improvement efforts gain credibility with their customers where it counts - in the perception of their products. Two auto industry examples demonstrate this - Ford's "Quality is Job 1" efforts (which was a slogan built upon Ford's concerted efforts to improve their car quality) and more recently the turnaround in quality (and quality perceptions) of Hyundai. Do you think it is a coincidence that Hyundai was the only auto manufacturer to realize growth in a disastrous 2009 auto year?
Brands are not just names. A Brand is a totality of a consumer's interaction with the product, functional and emotional, rational and irrational. "Rebranding" (and I hate that term) does not change the underlying functional/rational qualities of a product or service, or the experience a customer has in using that product or service. That comes by changing the service itself. Merely changing the name doesn't address the core issue; it covers it up, but it doesn't make it better, more efficient, friendlier, more on time, less confusing, etc. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear without changing that smelly ear in a meaningful, recognizable way.
Which brings me back to my point: a rose by any other name would smell as sweet...or as foul as a sow's ear.
So, what do you think? Is this a good move by Comcast or a distracted effort?
P.S. Don't even get me started on the name "Xfinity" itself...