Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How Fox Sports 1 Can Use Positioning to Win

When News Corp. announced plans to launch Fox Sports 1 earlier this year, the initial question  was whether the sports cable channel market needed or would benefit from more competition (see our blog post from March 6). Sports media companies already had fairly well saturated the channel lineup. More recently, sport properties have joined the fray as the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and Big Ten Conference are among those that have launched their own cable networks.

Fast forward to August- the planned launch of Fox Sports 1 has occurred and now the question has become how the network will fare against the established category king, ESPN. NBC would like to have something to say about this question, too, as it invested heavily in rebranding Versus as the NBC Sports Network and paid handsomely for broadcast rights to the English Premier League and National Hockey League. Now that the question is no longer whether another sports channel is needed, attention turns to how Fox Sports 1 can successfully compete in the category.

Differentiation Options
When a new brand enters a well populated category as Fox Sports 1 has done, a marketing priority is to develop and leverage a point of difference. What is it that Fox Sports 1 does that is unique, better, or different from the existing choices consumers have for sports news, programs, and live sporting events? Without a distinctive point of difference Fox Sports 1 (or any brand in any category) faces challenges to convince people to change their consumption behaviors and begin watching Fox Sports 1. The significance of this challenge is perhaps summed up best in the title of a book by branding expert Jack Trout- Differentiate or Die. A strong and gloomy prediction for sure, but when you consider product failures in any industry, lack of differentiation is often a contributing factor.

Given the importance of brand differentiation, observers who watched Fox Sports 1 programming during its debut weekend remarked on ways that the new network can differentiate:

  • The anti-ESPN - Sometimes, when a brand dominates a category like ESPN does in sports media, there is desire for a formidable competitor to come along to offer an alternative. 
  • Programming - Original formats that deliver sports content in a way that appeals to casual fans and gives highly involved fans their fix of sports information and entertainment.
  • Personalities - ESPN changed the role of sports news broadcasters, creating celebrities out of several ESPN anchors over the years. FS1 could take a similar route and attempt to build a following around their on-air talent.
  • Sports - Oh yes, let's not forget sports as a way to differentiate. Some observers have suggested FS1 could become the go to cable channel for international sporting events. Others believe FS1 should build around existing Fox assets such as UFC and NASCAR to build audiences.

Why Positioning Matters
Brand differentiation is important because it is at the heart of a key marketing strategy known as brand positioning, defined as the part of a brand's identity that is actively communicated and demonstrates an advantage over competition (i.e., differentiation). A brand must stake a position or run the risk of succumbing to the undesirable outcome in the "differentiate or die" mantra. Without a clear position, a brand may be viewed as a commodity that is interchangeable; alternatives on the market can be chosen that meet the same need.

Will Fox Sports 1 succeed in the long run? That question will be answered largely by the positioning strategy used to connect the brand with its target market. A positive characteristic of brand positioning is that there is no "one right way" to position. Marketing managers make that determination based on a brand's strengths, customer needs, and standing of other brands in the marketplace. Fox Sports 1 can succeed if positioned effectively- that much is understood. What is not known is the best approach to transform FS1's differentiation into a distinctive brand position. Any ideas?