For more than a quarter-century, Sam Howe has taken calculated risks to create brand recognition and loyalty among cable consumers.
As the chief marketing officer at Time Warner Cable, Howe has also helped create an environment that focuses on coordinating marketing efforts throughout the company to drive business objectives. He has pushed for consistent and targeted marketing messages that drive the bottom line and create customer loyalty.
“Sam has been instrumental in helping build Time Warner Cable into the powerhouse that it is today,” says Jonathan Block-Verk, president of Promax/BDA, which is honoring Howe as one of its 2009 Brand Builders. “He is not just a promoter. He has taken an active role in driving success at every company he has worked for.”
Howe considers himself a pragmatist. “A so-called risk doesn't seem so risky if it's doable,” he says. “We tend to make things too complicated and complex. Making and building brands isn't difficult or mysterious. It's all in the execution.”
When Howe joined Time Warner Cable in 2003, he oversaw marketing for the company's digital phone product, a relatively new offering for U.S. cable companies at the time. Most MSOs were bundling phone service with video and Internet service.
Howe, who previously worked for Telewest, had been successfully pushing phone service to consumers in the U.K. for years. He knew from his U.K. experience that the service could be sold on its own merits. When Time Warner Cable launched digital phone service in San Antonio, Texas, in 2004, it was the first product customer service representatives pitched to customers when they called the MSO. Time Warner Cable lured thousands of phone customers and then upsold them to the core video product.
Leading the charge
Howe also has led the marketing charge as the company battles competition from companies like Verizon. When the telco launched FiOS in New York City last year, Time Warner Cable—and Howe—kicked off a multi-tiered marketing approach to combat the encroachment. The blitz included the introduction of a Price Lock Guarantee offering customers the chance to receive services at a fixed price for either one or two years.
The contracts were a new push for Time Warner Cable. In fact, the contract concept had generally not been widely used in the cable industry. The approach, however, has worked for satellite companies and cellular firms.
After a few months of offering its price-fix guarantee in Staten Island, overall churn was down 23% and voluntary churn—customers who choose to drop service as opposed to being disconnected for non-payment, for instance—was down more than 40%. According to Howe, more than 90% of Staten Island's customers were choosing the two-year contract option.
The concept has been rolled out throughout Time Warner Cable's footprint, and 10% of its customers have signed up.
“There was some concern about losing revenue at first,” Howe says. “But we learned that customers wanted security and they wanted to manage their future with us. The concept captured customers' imagination. And we found that people bought more than they might initially because they knew how to manage the costs over the long term. At the same time, we're not relying on the evil yearly rate hike. This isn't about a promotion. It's really about helping our existing customers manage their expectations.”
The strategy further positioned Time Warner Cable's “The Power of You” tagline as more than a marketing ploy.
Howe knows that marketing successes don't happen overnight. It's imperative to make good choices and stick with them, he says. By being methodical, companies have time to thoughtfully respond to competitive challenges.
“Sam really sees the big picture, and he's very good at figuring out what to do first,” says Char Beales, president of CTAM. “He grew up in this industry, and he has a keen understanding of what works. He's not a command-and-control person, but his knowledge and experience give him the ability to lead and he does it well.”
Howe exhibited that instinct for plots that pay off when he targeted consumers who were interested in cable’s expanded lineup of programming but were not used to paying for TV. Betting they just needed a little taste of cable to adjust to the idea of paying a monthly fee, he launched the company’s 60 Days of Free Cable promotion.
Customers didn’t really understand what cable was and what it offered, Howe says. There was some internal concern at the time that that by giving away service, the value of that service would be hurt. Just the opposite occurred.
“We ended up with a 50% penetration rate after one year,” he says. “That would normally have taken three to five years. We added 70% new customers, and we lost 20% of them when the promotion was over. But in the end, we got the penetration rate we were seeking all along.”