“What’s in a name?” Mr. Shakespeare asked rhetorically about four hundred years ago, famously concluding “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But what if your brand had a less pleasing aroma, as is the case with Comcast? Let’s be blunt, Comcast has got to be one of the most hated brands on the planet. So their recent introduction of the Xfinity brand would seem like a logical step to distance themselves from their own, self-inflicted stigma. But how soon will their customers forget?
As a matter of full disclosure, I’ve had mostly good experiences with Comcast’s customer service and techs, but their relentless increases in monthly charges has definitely gotten under my skin. And Comcast is hardly the only cable provider to ratchet up their fees in the name of “exciting new channels and entertainment choices.” The cable TV industry in general has raised prices dramatically over the past two decades, but now real competition is nipping at their coax. As with most cable companies, Comcast is steadily bleeding subscribers to satellite and fiber optic alternatives, losing about 6% of their customer base over the last two years. Still, they have replaced those losses with higher per customer revenues, based on increased purchases of high-speed Internet access, phone, and on-demand fees.
Even so, Comcast is at a marketplace crossroads where their need to compete has never been higher, but their current brand carries with it a legacy of negative customer experiences. Countless customers have been praying for the day they could cancel their Comcast service and still get the channels they want. Enter Xfinity. On their web site, Comcast describes the new name this way: “Xfinity is the new brand for Comcast’s technology platform, products, and services.Comcast remains the name of our company.” Seems fairly comprehensive, and if I’m reading that correctly, we can expect Xfinity to be the consumer brand, with Comcast fading in the background, perhaps lingering in the business services market.
So can a brand perceived as villainous by millions escape its own shadow? Certainly other brands have accomplished it. Many people have forgotten that First Union Bank took the name of the recently-acquired Wachovia after managing to become viewed as arrogant and out of touch with the average customer. Accenture, the largest consulting firm in the world, is the former consulting arm of the virtually defunct Arthur Andersen accounting firm, which was done in by their participation in the Enron fiasco. Accenture changed their name from Andersen Consulting just before Enron hit the fan and never looked back. Even GM had some success by starting a clean slate with the introduction of the Saturn brand, which built astounding customer loyalty almost overnight. Perhaps fun while it lasted, GM now admits Saturn was never actually profitable.
The introduction of Xfinity also should be viewed in the context of Comcast’s recent purchase of NBC Universal, which will give them a vertical integration into huge libraries of entertainment and the ability to develop content for cable channels like MSNBC and USA Network that it will own as a result of the deal. In that light, Xfinity is really a secondary move that supports their huge acquisition of NBC.
In addition, Comcast is likely assuming that the delivery of entertainment and news content is going to continue to change rapidly as digital technology opens up more avenues for on-demand, mobile, and computer-based viewing. As Xfinity, Comcast can build and deliver on a new set of promises with less of the take-it-or-leave attitude that has so pervaded their monopolistic reign in cable.
Ironically, just as their customer base is finally able to make choices about how they can access their television, Comcast is in the process of completely reinventing itself in order to offer more value, more choices, and now a new brand umbrella to throw it all under. Comcast customers waiting to drop the hammer may find that Xfinity actually feels pretty good after all.