Aaj TV Groping For ‘The’ Brand Power To Dethrone Geo TV III: BRANDING STRATEGIES

The questions that arise are, why can’t Aaj compete with Geo in the conventional way, and why should it go after Geo in the first place? Can’t they co-exist peacefully as it is?


For the first question, no. Marketing is nothing short of full-fledged warfare. In a battle, one party avoids going head-to-head with its rival even if it has matching resources simply because it’s going to suffer considerable losses. Both the parties look for an element of surprise. They try to come up with a strategy that catches the other off-guard.


The same holds true for marketing. And here Aaj TV has resources nowhere near to that of Geo. According to a report published in the August 5 edition of Dawn newspaper, the Jang Group which owns Geo TV was one of the top 3 leading business houses in Pakistan. The Business Recorder Group which owns Aaj wasn’t even in the top 25. That’s how wide a gulf is between them. Aaj would be dead and buried in no time if it tries to pull off that stunt with a frontal attack strategy.


Secondly, does it even need to make that effort? Why can’t it be as it is? Two reasons. One, because Geo TV already has made some serious efforts to tackle Aaj, which I already  mentioned, and secondly because of the Law of Duality which states that in the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race. Even if it doesn’t come to that, the rule of thumb is that the leader in any category holds twice the market share of the runner-up who in turn holds twice the market share of the second runner-up. The rest make do with leftover crumbs from the three leaders.


Aaj has to ensure that it’s at least in the second place and to hold on to that place. And to hold on to that place, it has to make the leader uncomfortable as frequently as possible.


So what can Aaj do to compete with Geo TV?


First of all, it has to do away with mindless positioning statements, like Pakistan’s Premiere TV channel. For one, the majority don’t know the difference between Premier and Premium. And secondly, it is not the premier TV channel of Pakistan by any stretch of the imagination. It’s an utter waste of opportunity to come up with a statement that does you no good.


 Secondly, whenever they are showcasing their abilities and achievements, they invariably stress upon the point that they are the first digital channel in Pakistan with an Earth station and that it is directly broadcast by the AsiaSat satellite with a footprint spanning over 60 countries.


 I have no idea what that means, and neither will the majority of the people. So what’s the use of stressing this point? So it is technically superior to the other channels including Geo, good for them. But what advantage does that convey to the end-user? Is there a marked difference in the quality of the pictures and sound broadcasted? There isn’t, or at least it doesn’t appear to be. If they are beaming out superior quality broadcast, then that advantage is probably lost courtesy the cable walas. In any way it doesn’t make sense to harp about something that doesn’t mean a thing to the intended audience. It’s just like what KFC used to brag about that its staff can assemble or dismantle a fryer in five minutes. Duh! Why should the consumer care about the fryer and its assembling time? It’s utterly stupid. Tell the target market about a feature of your brand that impacts them directly. And it better be good.


Thirdly, Aaj should puff away all crash-and-burn thoughts of beating Geo at its own game. It should come up with a game plan of its own, then a ploy of convincing Geo that this is what the industry is going to be like in the future, and when Geo TV falls for it, weave a web around it or do anything you deem necessary at that point.


So how to do it? Simply follow the laws of branding faithfully and consistently for a considerable period of time. Unbeknownst to it, Aaj TV already is following some of the laws of branding namely, the law of the name and the law of the word, which more or less stress the point that a brand should have a name that is short, simple and memorable. Aaj has it. Unfortunately, so does Geo.


First they need to come up with a flanking strategy, and for that they need to conduct a comprehensive marketing research. To be more precise, they need to have a ‘brand picture’. Of course they need to have a brand vision first, but since they have already been running for a couple of years I assume they already have a brand vision, and if there is a need to change it, that would depend upon the brand picture. Brand picture comprises of the brand image, brand contract (what the brand promises to the consumer) and the brand-based customer model. Without delving into any more branding mumbo-jumbo, the most important element is the brand image which reveals the brand persona and the brand association, in short what the brand stands for.


And no, this survey cannot be conducted by Aaj TV itself. Only an expert can decipher the brand essence. The best there is in Pakistan is A.C Nielsen, which costs you a whopping Rs. 3 lac for just your brand picture! Like I said, branding is not cheap.


Whatever this survey reveals will dictate the branding strategies. Being a member of the audience myself, let’s come up with a few strategies based on what I perceive to be the brand essence of Aaj.


Aaj for me is synonymous with mind-blowing images of the state of the state, bodies lying in a pool of blood in the aftermath of violence, the severed head of a suicide bomber, and the attack on the offices of Aaj TV which their TV crew filmed at the risk of their lives. The stark reality, that’s what I get to see on Aaj.


Remember that marketing is a battle of perceptions, not product or services. It means Geo TV may have given a lot more of those sort of daring coverages than Aaj, but Aaj has been able to highlight itself more in that department, and if it can etch that perception in the psyche of the audience  then no matter how hard Geo TV tries, it won’t be able to reverse that perception because the audience is always right, at least according to them, and they don’t like to entertain the thought that what they thought was right wasn’t.


So how can Aaj TV take advantage of this? The first thing is to come up with a new sub-category within the news category like High-Risk TV, Pure or Unadulterated Reality or Uncensored TV.  Then position itself as the leading brand in that category like maybe Pakistan’s 1st or leading provider of uncensored coverage or bold coverage provider. Come up with a believable positioning statement in line with that category. Then gradually start creating the hype that this new category is the best thing to happen since sliced bread.


Now if Geo or any other channel makes a beeline for this category, well and good. Don’t fight it, welcome it. Aaj will always have the first mover advantage and any other channel that ventures into this territory, be it Geo or any other is only going to authenticate it and prove that Aaj was right all along. It’s nothing new; happens all the time in all sorts of industries. Before the advent of the Beetle, people had scoffed at the idea of a tiny car catching people’s fancy, and yet it happened. The category took off and with it the Beetle, grabbing a massive 67% of the market share for that category.


So coming up with a new category is going to put the competitors in a Catch-22 situation. Should they ignore it and risk losing out on a lucrative opportunity if the category takes off, or do they go for it and in the process validate Aaj’s strategy?


Coming up with a new category may not be as hard as conforming to it. If Aaj does what I propose and comes up with the high-risk category, then it would have to revamp its channel structure. It would have to do away with all those programs that do not add to that brand essence, which pretty much includes all the entertainment shows. Then it would have to come up with more programs that do add to the brand essence, programs that reflect the stark reality of our society.


That’s pretty expensive, but with a little bit of shrewd thinking, Aaj can reduce the burden on itself, for instance by putting the onus on the audience itself. It can encourage them to make videos or even take pictures of anything that mirrors our society and would be interesting to show. For instance a mobile or car snatching, bribing of the traffic or even the mainstream police wala etc. With almost everyone having video and photo-enabled cellphones, it’s not hard to imagine people would gladly indulge in it. I mean they have been doing it for making kinky videos and unleashing on the net just for the heck for it where most of the time they don’t get credit for it. Just imagine how much they would be motivated if they are going to be given credit. People who make these videos and take picture would instantly be drawn to watch Aaj just to see their handiwork and that automatically increases the market share. The best thing to do would be not to have a separate program to show these audience-made reality clips, but to show them intermittently between programs just to keep people hooked on to your channel for the maximum possible time.


Of course there’s a downside as well. A considerable manpower would be required to sift through all these videos and pictures to find those which are really worth showing on TV and also to detect whether a person with directorial aspirations hasn’t come up with a staged drama. The storage part would be no problem. Just ask people to post these clips on YouTube with a tag you prescribe beforehand so that you can find them easily.


Now coming to those entertainment programs that have been axed to save the brand essence, they can be switched over to a new channel Aaj starts which has a brand essence specifically attuned to these shows. The new channel would have a different name of course, being a different brand, but to add credibility to the new brand and to reduce the promotional and advertising budget that is normally associated with launching a new brand, Aaj should use its name initially along with the brand’s name to endorse it. Then as the brand nurtures and develops, the Aaj name should gradually reduce in size until it disappears altogether once the brand is strong enough to stand on its own feet.


But how the audience is going to know that their favorite programs have migrated to some other channel? Use the hosts of the remaining as well as the new programs to occasionally mention during their programs about the new channel and the programs that are on it. Don’t make them gush over it, just a sort of reminder that Aaj is doing something new and exciting to make it more appealing to the audience and that’s why the programs have been shifted to a new channel. In short, use Aaj, the parent channel to advertise for the other channel brands it starts.


It’s going to be a tough (and an unpopular) decision for Aaj TV to remove all its other programs and focus solely on depicting the stark reality and delivering the news. However, it would be aligning itself with many laws of branding as well as those of marketing such as the Law of Contraction which states that a brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus.


Aaj TV only has to look around to see that this works in the television industry. The biggest examples are that of CNN and BBC. These world class channels rarely sidetrack from their brand essence. Both of them have limited themselves to just news and yet they have the whole world at their feet. One other thing Aaj can learn from CNN is that although it positioned itself as the leading news channel in the cable category, it has moved far ahead than just being a cable channel. The claim to be first in a category works only as far as building credibility is concerned. People don’t like a better service, because just about everyone claims to be better in this and that. What brands don’t claim as much is a claim to authenticity. Once the brand becomes larger than life, the claim is no longer needed. Coke was the first in the cola category, and yet have you seen it harping about that fact at all? It doesn’t need to now.


Closer to home, Aaj can learn a thing or two from the Dawn News Channel. From the looks of it, it appears to be a good branding effort. They have positioned themselves as a suave news channel which only delivers news in English. Notice how all of its newscasters speak impeccable English. So not only have they done the branding, they are delivering on the brand contract as well. Which shows that your branding should be backed up by an effort in the physical realm if it is to work.