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Not long ago, cable operators were lagging in their efforts to build brand identities through solid marketing strategies. That's changing, however.

Now that innovations in fiber-optic technology are transforming the entire industry, cable companies have more to communicate to their customers than the latest rate hikes.


Introducing sophisticated products such as voice and data telephone service and high-speed modem service, the industry is inventing strategies to promote its new features, and expanding competition against direct broadcast satellite, Internet providers and telecommunications companies.

Until recently, cable companies did not feel compelled to distinguish themselves, says Julie Smith, director of brand marketing and communications at MediaOne.

About two years ago, operators started recognizing the need to boost their marketing and "began to address the problem in the last year, identifying opportunities to articulate a brand," says Ms. Smith.


To serve the introduction of specialized service such as digital TV, high-speed data and, most recently, wireline telephony, Cox Communications has shifted from mass-market advertising to a targeted approach.

The company now "requires a much more sophisticated, multitactical approach" to "make the right offer to the right audience," says Fred Bristol, executive director of marketing, Cox Communications.

Toward that end, the multiple systems operator is enhancing its in-house database to reach potential customers through direct mail and telemarketing. It also has opened up new sales channels by placing kiosks in five of its markets to serve as demonstration and retail sites. Those centers focus their attention on Cox@Home, its residential high-speed Internet access service.

To complement its general ad agency, Bigelow & Eigel, Atlanta, Cox is in the process of hiring a direct-response agency. Mr. Bristol says the company has narrowed the business to five finalists, and a selection will be made by the end of the year.


Cox runs TV spots on its cable channels with the slogan "Expect the best," promoting itself as a leader in technology, customer service and reliability. The overall strategy, Mr. Bristol says, is to strengthen customer relationships, and "to leverage a strong company image across the new products we're launching."

Tele-Communications Inc. is focused on fostering loyalty among its current base of analog customers before aggressively marketing new services.

The company revved up direct-response marketing in July, says Tom French, senior VP of corporate marketing at TCI.

In October, TCI launched a couponing promotion. Through joint promotional efforts, TCI subscribers receive coupons good for discounts at chains such as Red Lobster and Holiday Hospitality Corp.'s Holiday Inns.

According to Mr. French, it's added value to TCI service.


In the first quarter of next year, Mr. French says TCI will launch a similar, more comprehensive plan with its "frequent buyer program," in which customers accrue points good for the purchase of merchandise and services including airline mileage and phone card minutes, based on the amount of programming they buy.

TCI is using advertising on its cable channels to help promote these new offers. Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, New York, handles advertising for TCI.


MediaOne -- formerly Continental Cablevision -- changed its name, moved its corporate headquarters and hired a new agency Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners, New York. It budgeted $20 million on an image campaign "to be positioned in consumers' minds as the head of a brand new industry -- interactive broadband services," says Ms. Smith.

The campaign, which broke in May, is themed "This is Broadband. This is the way," and includes TV, radio and print ads.

Three months ago, the operator launched a campaign specifically promoting its high-speed Internet access service, and in mid-November launched advertising challenging satellite TV outlets.


Ms. Smith says for 1998, MediaOne is "committed to an optimal level of brand spending."

Upgraded technology also is driving new advertising initiatives from Time Warner, whose marketing operations are directed from the local, rather than corporate level. New York, the company's largest market, has already seen the initial stages of a rollout for MetroChoice, a line-up of 11 new channels and other new system capabilities, including high-speed modem.

It will take five years for the company to update capabilities for the whole market, but the company has already completed its system upgrade for certain areas in Manhattan and Queens, says Barbara Kelly, VP-marketing.

Because of the limited availability of new services, the company's campaign strategy is highly targeted through direct mail and telemarketing. Grey Advertising handles Time Warner.

In a more widespread city effort, however, Time Warner Cable of New York City last month placed a French-door ad in The New York Times TV guide promoting MetroChoice. The format was a first for the Times TV section. Also spreading the word, Animal Planet, a channel on the new roster, has tagged its TV spots with a Time Warner plug.


Having selected the new channels from surveys they sent to customers, Ms. Kelly says Time Warner wants to communicate that they are providing what subscribers have asked for.

In New York, after all, Time Warner isn't just battling other communications companies, but all of the other entertainment available to busy New Yorkers.

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