Concluding Thoughts

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This semester we have looked at HBO as a brand from many different perspectives.  We have discussed the brand’s approach to cultural values, its cross-cultural significance, and its relationship to social class.  We have discussed the influence of reference groups of HBO consumers and the factors that influence the motivations, perceptions, and attitudes of those consumers in a modern media world.  Then lastly we looked at how HBO can use this understanding to persuade consumers through the proper use of media and communications.

Having now the perspective of the entire course, I would like to go back through some of these topics and discuss what, in the grand scheme of things, seemed to be the most important point of each of these topics, and any additional thoughts I might have now that the semester is over.

Firstly, is HBO and its approach to cultural values.   During this discussion, I stated that “HBO is known to be groundbreaking, original, and high quality, and it turn, highlights its attachment to the current societal values of innovation, entertainment, being social, and success.”   I would still support this understanding and would now like to highlight its importance.  One element that was not as apparent to me at the time would be how central HBO’s positioning as a “premium” brand would effect every decision it makes when approaching other topics.  For example, when we would go on to discuss social class, I would talk about how an individual might use subscribing to HBO as a status symbol because it is a premium service and therefore something not everyone could afford.

Secondly, is HBO as a cross-cultural brand.  During this original post I discussed how HBO offers both new content for additional markets in countries outside the United States, and its distribution of its U.S. content to these countries as well.  However, one element that I do not think was appropriately addressed was why HBO may choose not to make its foreign content available to U.S subscribers.  Considering the United States is a melting pot with many different cultures that watch HBO programming, maybe this is something that they should consider.  I feel that due to the brand emphasis on high quality content discussed above, that we could trust the shows being produced for HBO Europe, for example, would meet the standards of the traditional HBO viewers.  So it would be interesting at a future time to discuss what other reasoning they may have for not sharing this content with us?

Next we discussed, HBO and its relationship to social class.  This was one of those moments where I disagreed with the perspective of many others about the goals of HBO programming.  In it, we looked at The Wire and how it is being studied at universities such as Harvard and Boston University as a realistic representation of the struggles of the working class in the United States.  However, I still maintain that this is the efforts of the upper class and upper middle class of America to get perspective on the issues of those from a lower socioeconomic class, rather then those from a lower socioeconomic class fighting to represent themselves in the media.

Then, we addressed the important influence of reference groups on HBO consumers and potential consumers.  To date I have actually received a few comments on this post that support my thoughts that it is your normative reference groups that have the most impact on what shows you want and media outlets you choose.  Specifically, I said “The most pertinent normative influence comes from groups to which people belong, such as family, peers, and other members of one’s community.  In our case, this means that you are more likely to watch or try HBO if those who you interact with regularly, and who you trust, also do the same.”  I think this is important because as we moved into talking about a consumers motivations, perceptions, and attitudes, these reference groups are going to become even more important.

But, the discussion on reference groups in no way minimized the importance of consumer motivations as individuals.  However, I found this topic particularly difficult to discuss.  Media and entertainment fulfill certain cultural values, and are symbols of various cultures and social classes, but do they really fulfill a need?  The way I settled this conundrum with myself goes back to the importance of the elements we discussed previously.  Access to HBO programming is an acquired need and relates to how we interact with our greater community.  I still support this fact but would be interested to know if others felt the same.  Post your comments below if you have any thoughts!

In the end of November we also discussed the perceptions of consumers and how that should affect the HBO brand in the modern media world.  One element that I think is worth mentioning now that the semester is nearing its end is how surprised I was by the style of HBO commercials once I started viewing them.  I had always thought about the HBO commercials as scenes out of an action adventure movie, but in actuality they are very serious and dramatic, but rather quiet.  I think this is a good approach in the world of chaos and loud noises.  If you make your advertisements more subtle, they actually make a bigger statement.

At the start of December, we looked into the influence of consumer attitudes and determined that right now HBO is seen as favorable by the general public.  However, one thing I did not discuss in this post that is worth noting is the element of HBO related to sexual and violent content.  I know there are some people out there that say “Oh I can not watch that stuff, it is too graphic,” and it seems as though HBO has done nothing to address this audience.  I suppose they have just accepted that you can not please everyone?  I would say yes.  HBO has marketed itself as edgy and dramatic, I suppose the organization has to recognize that its programming is for a broad audience but not necessarily everyone.

Lastly, most recently we talked about how to use this knowledge and persuade consumers effectively through the use of media.  I commented that as a media company, any mistakes HBO might make in regards to choosing and utilizing media and communication.  I think, once a company has a reputation like HBO it is a lot about keeping current customers engaged, and persuading new customers that have held out that your new content should be the missing piece for them to join the club.  Today there are so many mediums out there to get your message heard.  It is vital that you choose the right one or else you get lost in the noise.

In conclusion to the semester.  I have greatly enjoyed this process.  I chose HBO because I felt like it was relevant to my position as a B.S. in Television/Video and Business at Hofstra University, and wanted to use these skills that I was gaining to advance my perspective on a growing brand within my specific field, and I feel I have done just that.  Overall, I am proud of the perspective I was able to share.  HBO has a major following and hopefully some of those individuals have found this place and learned something.  I look forward to any opportunities to see it grow and become something big and better then myself and my class.

 

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Can You Hear Me Now? HBO And Persuading Consumers

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Persuading consumers is all about communication.  How then, does a media brand, who falls under the industry of “communications” maximize this skill?  The answer falls in mastering the process.  When communicating, there are five components to consider – sender, receiver, medium, message and feedback.  Just like any brand HBO has many subsets that could be trying to reach different audiences in different ways for different reasons.  But for the sake of understanding lets assume that the sender is the traditional HBO premium channel, the receiver is a current HBO subscriber and viewer, the medium is a video through the television, the message is watch our next episode of True Blood, and the feedback through increased buzz online about the episode is that, yes, the message was understood as intended.

Now, communication can also be broken down into the categories of impersonal and interpersonal communication.  Using the example above, the commercial for True Blood is an example of formal communication because it came from a formal company like HBO.  An example where this would be informal communication is if your best friend told you that the new True Blood episode was going to be on soon and that you two should get together to watch it.

An important element to the use of impersonal communication is the selection of media – or channel for transmitting the communication.  As HBO is a media company, this choice may seem easy.  But it is worth remembering from our previous discussions that HBO is very nontraditional in is business model and approach to advertising.  So although there may be some use of traditional media, such as commercials on TV and articles in magazines about HBO content.  HBO also takes advantage of new media – which includes elements like online channels, social networks, and mobile access to online content.

As a media company, HBO also has to deal with two new factors of the advertising world.  This is the ability for users of traditional media to time shift programming which allows them to skip certain commercials by recording the show and watching it at a later time, and the correct use of narrowcasting, which is are the methods that allow marketers online to create messages that are more addressable, customized, interactive, and response-measurable.

So how is HBO dealing with these two factors – the first is simple.  HBO has no commercials on its premium stations.  All of its programming is supported through subscriptions and the only advertisements that are shown are those for other HBO programming.  Also, HBO makes the HBO Go platform available to all its customers, making the need to record a show unnecessary as it will still be immediately available on any device.  Lastly, HBO has made use of narrowcasting by developing a system that keeps track of what each HBO Go subscriber is watching, and supporting its own fans online with special events for social media – such as this current event where individuals use twitter to receive predictions of the future from the three eyed raven from Game of Thrones – http://www.threeeyedraven.com.

In the end, HBO as a media company has to take communication with consumers seriously.  It is more responsible then most for understanding how media works and how to best take advantage of current cultures to get your messages out there.  Because, if a new media company can’t get it right, then who can?

Too Cool For School – Consumer Attitudes and HBO

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Attitudes are learned predisposition to behave in a consistently favorable or unfavorable way with respect to a given object and can be learned from direct experience with the product, word-of-mouth, exposure to mass media and other information sources.  For HBO, this would come from those consumers who have already purchased an HBO premium subscription choosing whether or not it is still worth it and sharing their experiences with others.  Attitudes may also be formed by those who may not have purchased a subscription yet but have still interacted with the brand, and of course by all those consumers who have seen advertising or reviews of HBO products and services.

Using the tri-component model, we can analyze the effectiveness of HBO’s brand in creating a positive attitude within the general consumer.

The first step of this process is the Cognitive Component. Cognitions are knowledge and perceptions that are acquired by a combination of direct experience with the attitude object and related information from various sources.  To clarify, these elements are those beliefs about a brand that come from a consumers personal interaction with HBO and the information it has gathered through both formal sources such as advertisements and articles, and informal sources like word-of-mouth.

Based on the consistently high ratings for HBO shows like True Blood and Boardwalk Empire – HBO does fairly well in this department.  There is always more of the market share to be had, but those who use HBO services seem to stay loyal and be growing in number.  We have discussed in the past how HBO market’s itself as a premium experience and therefore must continue to provide the high quality programming and services it has promised.  But, as profits have shown, if it continues to do this, the cognitive component of this model has been adequately fulfilled.

The second stage of this process is the affective component. The affective component of an attitude consists of the consumer’s emotions or feelings which are considered evaluations.  This means that any negative cognitive experiences a consumer has may be more easily recalled, and similarly with the positive experiences depending on the consumer’s overall attitude towards the brand.  Personally, in relation to HBO this reminds me of the public’s reaction to the scene with The Red Wedding in season 3 of Game of Thrones.  Without spoiling the plot, I can say that viewers had a very emotional and passionate reaction to the events in that episode.  However, although the actions in the scene could not be considered positive, I would call this a high point for the affective component of HBO’s Brand.  It showcased the level of content that consumers expect from HBO programming and they had an emotional reaction to it.

Also in relation to this would be customer service.  This is a moment when a consumer is having an issue or has a question and any brand has the opportunity to turn it into a positive or negative experience.  Based on my research, there is not a lot of information publicly available about the HBO customer service process.  However, they can be reached – here – and I think that it is still worth discussing how important that element is to the consumer experience.  A brand that has positioned itself as a luxury, as HBO has, needs to take this process very seriously because its customers still expect the premium treatment.

The final stage of the tri-component model is Conation, or the likelihood or tendency that an individual will undertake a specific action or behave in a particular way with regard to the attitude object.  In relation to HBO, I would say this is the likelihood of a viewer to choose to watch HBO programming, the likelihood of a viewer to purchase or renew a subscription to the brand, and the likelihood of the viewer to recommend the brand to others.

HBO is now at an established point where it is trying to gain new subscribers and slowly gain more of the media market.  Therefore, the conation element is important because after the attitude towards the brand has been gained in the cognitive phase, and emotionally interpreted in the affective phase, it is now time for the consumer to act.  If HBO fails to take the positive attitudes consumers may have towards its products and turn these into actual sales and views, then they would have a major problem.

In the end, I think HBO is doing pretty well.  I wish that more information was available on how to reach them for customer service, but this model explains how an HBO consumer would develop its attitude towards the brand, and how new consumers may be persuaded to join.  I think understanding this helps a brand like HBO establish what further steps it needs to take to change and extend the brand into its next phase of existence.

Look Here! Consumer Perception And HBO

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Consumer Perception can be defined as a consumers subjective understanding of objective realities.  This is an interesting subject to cover when relating to a media brand because the media often works to construct its own realities in the shows and branding it constructs that the viewer can then become immersed in.  In similar fashion, HBO’s efforts to get the attention of consumers in their day to day lives, is often to create advertising that incorporates the fantastic or dramatic environments of its programming into the consumer’s everyday life.

HBO also makes particular use of contrast in its advertisements, showing parts of the programming that are loud and bold and will draw the viewers attention because it is so diffrent from what might have previously been on their screens.

HBO has also tried hard to make itself easily accessible to the consumer.  In media, the concept of a retailer is quite different then with traditional goods.  There are the cable companies that bring HBO’s premium stations to your television set, but there are also all the online portals that a viewer may use to access HBO Go.  In response to this diversity or retailers, HBO has worked very hard to develop its brand independent from this measure of credibility and make itself accessible on all manner of platforms that the viewer already likes.  In turn, the media industry has adapted to using access to HBO as a factor to give individual retailers crediblity rather then the other way around.

HBO has also discussed possibly making some of its products available exclusively online without the need for a premium cable subscription.  When deciding at what price to set this service, I am confident HBO will pull from the perceived price of the consumer, defined as the customers perceived value of the product or service it received.  HBO may also look at other external reference prices available to consumers, such as that for a subscription to Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime.

When it comes to consumer perception, HBO’s main goal should be to play it fair.  If they take an objective look at the value of their product and not inflate the prices due to ego, or lower the price too much to continue to support the quality of media expected, they should be okay.  They are in a good position within the industry, and as they say – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But why watch? Motivation and HBO

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As a brand, it is hard to precisely explain what motivation a consumer might have for participating in HBO.

Psychology tells us that motivation is the driving force within an individual that propels them towards an action, to move them from a state of tension to a state of content.  But, how does HBO satisfy a need?

From my perspective, HBO, and entertainment in general, are acquired needs.  This means they are needs learned in response to our culture or environment.  So although logically I know I will not die if I miss the next season of Game of Thrones, in reality sometimes it can certainly feel like I might.

But, to ask another question, why is that and how does it affect my behavior?  I would argue that the need for entertainment and HBO relates back to our many discussions over the course of this blog.  Participating in the HBO brand conveys a position of prestige, and inclusion in a larger community.  This need then turns into a motive.  In the case of HBO, I would call this a primary motive as the need to be a part of a community can affect a whole set of behaviors beyond just buying a subscription to HBO.  This is an emotional motive, one set according to personal and subjective criteria, and bears little weight on the logic.

However, logical motives do come into play when a consumer faces the choice between HBO and another premium cable station, or between HBO GO and another online entertainment provider like Netflix.  In these case, logical factors such as cost, and type of programming play a major role in the decision.

An interest in the motives of the consumer leads to the development of a brand personality.  This is something HBO has in abundance.  The programming is dramatic, the advertisements are bold, and the whole attitude focuses on originality.  The brand itself has a voice that expands beyond each show to the overall network.

One example of brand personality and the inspiration of community with HBO is an event they hosted where they invited viewers to participate in a comedic “roast” of King Jeoffrey found here.

Another example is this segment on the new series “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” which starts by making fun of other brands because HBO has its own approach to advertising.

In conclusion, advertising requires a basic understanding of the motives of your audience.  It means that if HBO doesn’t understand why its current customers joined the brand, it can not inspire new ones to do the same.  Entertainment is not a need to survive, but it is an important one and relates to this goal that we all have to participate in a community and feel connected to one another.

Did you see what happened? Reference Groups and HBO

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We have well established that HBO markets itself as a premium company with high quality programming and overall customer experience.  But, if you have never before seen an HBO show, or are still hesitant to believe subscribing to such a service is worth the cost, how are you to be convinced?  One important elements of this choice are your reference groups.  Those individuals who influence the consumer and provide a measure of a brands overall credibility.

Source credibility is the impact a brand has on the consumer stemming from its perceived expertise, trustworthiness, and believably.  There is much that a brand can do to improve this itself through advertising, customer service, and simply producing a high quality product.  But, in order to get the word out to a larger population, the use of opinions and word of mouth from those who have already tried the product or service is essential.

Normative influence is learning and adopting a group’s norms, values, and behaviors. The most pertinent normative influence comes from groups to which people belong, such as family, peers, and other members of one’s community.  In our case, this means that you are more likely to watch or try HBO if those who you interact with regularly, and who you trust, also do the same.  Which makes sense if you think about it because we as humans like to be in the loop.  We like to know what everyone is talking about and feel like we fit in.  One small way this can be accomplished is by participating in the same media and entertainment as our peers, friends, and family.

Getting more specific, another reference group that would have a particular influence on potential consumers of HBO would be virtual communities.  These are websites that encourage consumers to leave comments and have others respond to them.   This way, fans of HBO programming have a place to communicate with one another even if they do not know each other in day to day life.  These viewers can bond over a shared interest in the shows and support of the brand, and therefore provide a place for those interested in the service to reach out and get information.

An example of such a community would be Reddit.com/r/HBO.

Another way to build up credibility as a brand through reference groups is the use of celebrity in advertising.  Obviously, HBO has a fair amount of great actors and actresses to pull from.  However, it is important to remember the diversity of HBO’s programming.  For example, below is an advertisement for a special event hosted by HBO that featured Lady Gaga.

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In conclusion, although all these methods are important, personally I believe that as an entertainment brand HBO’s best bet on creating a strong reference group for new consumers is to do its job.  If the programming is strong and the price remains reasonable, individuals that ask the community if they should participate and get an HBO subscription should receive positive responses.

A Lannister or a Snow? Social Class and HBO

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When discussing social class and the HBO brand, it is more worthwhile to examine the pieces that make up the whole product.  By that, I mean to look at the shows, documentaries, and films HBO chooses to broadcast and see who they relate to various demographics.  We have already established in previous blogs that HBO advertises itself as a premium services, and aims to capture the audience with high quality original programming.  However, this does not mean HBO as a brand is used exclusively to those of the Upper and Upper-middle social classes.  Rather, HBO, at least in the United States, is considered by most to be “an affordable luxury” and therefore consumed by many parts of society.  That established, I would like to argue that the programming on HBO, although diverse and high quality, still appeals to an upper-middle and upper class mentality and however intentional or unintentional, produces programming that looks at our world through this lens,

The three shows I think most represent HBO and its relationship to social class, are Girls, The Wire, and Game of Thrones.

As a brief introduction, Girls is a comic look at the assorted humiliations and rare triumphs of a group of girls in their mid-20s.  I admit, I have never seen the show, however preliminary research shows that although very well written, and well produced, Girls is extremely limited in its representation of millennials, woman, and New Yorkers, which I would argue are the three main groups it seeks to engage.  The issues, as briefly outlined in this article by Forbes Magazine, include a lack of perspective about how millennials are living and their actual perspective on money and social issues.  In Girls, although all the characters all have only basic jobs, and despite what preliminary advertisements display, within the show itself there is little to no discussion of money or  financial struggles, which is a key issue for many 20-somethings today, especially those who live in NYC.  Additionally, the show has a strong lack of racial, ethnic, and religious diversity.  I feel this speaks to the upper and upper-middle tendencies of HBO as a brand because it is catering to those who, although they find the struggles of the characters in Girls entertaining, would not be concerned with the fact that money has not been discussed, nor is there a strong diversity amongst the characters, because this is more reflective of the world their social-class is seated in.

Yet, in seeming opposition to this patter, HBO’s The Wire, is concentrated on the often-futile efforts of police to infiltrate a West Baltimore drug ring headed by Avon Barksdale and his lieutenant, Stringer Bell, and  the media’s role in addressing – or failing to address – the fundamental political, economic and social realities depicted over the course of the series.  Nobody who has seen this show can argue that it does not do an incredible, through, and realistic depiction of the struggles of working and lower class people.  So much so in fact, that it is currently being studied at universities across the country, including Harvard and Boston University.  However, although this representation is very well done and a great step forward for addressing major social issues in public media.  I would point out that it is not a following of these lower and working class individuals that love and are interested in the show.  It is an academic interest from those of the upper and upper middle classes of society that have embraced this program and look to get a greater perspective on our world from the events it portrays.

Lastly, Game of Thrones has captured the attention and wonder of millions across the globe. As a very brief summation, Game of Thrones is about the struggle of various people and families for power and specifically the Iron Throne in a fantasy world based on the books by George R. R. Martin.  It is a media phenomenon and has repeatedly been the most pirated show ever.  Once again, this is a show with a diverse cast portraying those of many social classes.   It has even been praised by some as empowering those with disabilities or from poor circumstances to work harder for upward mobility in their social situations.  As stated in the title of this blog, we have the Lannisters, who seem to rule all the lands one way or another, and we have men like John Snow, a bastard and low in social status.  I would also argue that fantasy is one of the most approachable generas for those of all social classes, and there is in this show characters that all of us can relate to. Yet, the premise of the show is the struggle for power, for those who have it to maintain it, and for those who have none to gain more.  Once again, we see this mentality supported by the lens with which HBO develops its programming.

In conclusion, I do not feel that there is anything wrong with this perspective for the development of programming and this way of looking at the world.  As a business model I feel it is safe to say it has worked well for HBO so far, and that they will continue on this path into the foreseeable future.  Girls, The Wire, and Game of Thrones can of course be enjoyed by those from all walks of life, and many may see other aspects of them not outlined above that speak to a more inclusive culture.  But for now, I would distinctly classify HBO as a brand for the upper and upper-middle class of the United States and even abroad.

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