Branding is key to success

Steve Koonin knows branding. You should, too.

The president of Turner Entertainment Networks believes in it so much that he even brands the meetings he calls.

“Twelve at 12” is how he refers to the weekly strategy meeting he chairs at noon with 11 other company executives.

Koonin, a former sports marketing expert at Coke who went over to Atlanta-based Turner nine years ago to help turn around TNT, uses branding to build or repair a business.

(He’s such a believer that he once wanted to etch Coke’s logo on the moon. But that’s good material for another column. We’re talking Turner now.)

Koonin, a 52-year-old Atlanta native, says a clear vision and game plan helped re-establish TNT and later, TBS, in viewers’ minds. The result — higher ratings and more ad revenue for the networks.

He calls his recipe “The Three Ps”:

» Position the networks: TNT got a new tagline, “We know drama.” For TBS it’s, “Very funny.”

» Program to the positioning: That included launching several new series, such as “The Closer” and “Saving Grace,” to illuminate the brands.

» Promote the programming and the positioning: To viewers, advertisers and anyone else who’ll listen.

Branding needs to be consistent and well-executed, he said. And company executives need to have the courage to focus on what they do best.

“We had a mantra of growing our ratings by shrinking our focus,” Koonin said. “You can’t be all things to all people.”

For TNT, that meant getting viewers to think drama when they clicked to the network. Examples are “Law and Order” reruns and original shows like “The Closer.” It also meant sports, such as the NBA and NASCAR.

But Koonin removed documentaries, concerts and wrestling from the station (wrestling’s not really a sport) because it did not jell with the newly minted direction.

After you make your move, he said, “track the hell out of it.”

Use data that you accumulate to understand why and how people are responding. Break it down into demographic segments and see which groups are becoming your prime audience and which are not.

Then use that information in different, coordinated ways.

For example, Koonin said, it may make sense to schedule a commercial break right after a car crash. And then it may make sense to have ad sales sell that commercial time to an auto insurer.

That’s just one way to maximize revenue. He has branded that, too: “TV in context.”

Koonin favors keeping and nourishing the brand you create, like Nike has over the years with “Just do it!” But he also is willing to tweak it.

For example, TNT’s tagline now adds verbs at the end: “We know drama compels, elevates, inspires, empowers …”

With all his expertise, I couldn’t pass up asking him what I should do to brand my column and blog.

“Be consistent. You let people know what you stand for and what to expect,” Koonin said. “Define and deliver. … Readers and viewers want to be guided. Brands help them navigate. Become a brand.”


“Put it by your byline.”

That’s what we did: The Biz Beat.

One comment Add your comment

Alton E. Drew

June 23rd, 2009
10:24 am

This was a very insightful piece. We hear more and more about branding but this article laid out some clear guidelines from a good example.

Alton Drew