Sirius lacks a brand and it ain’t Howard Stern

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

13 December 2010

It positions itself against…radio

After months of waiting with baited breath it is now safe to exhale. Howard Stern will remain with Sirius satellite radio for another five years.

But while this might be great news for Howard Stern and his listener base, it does little more then buy Sirius more time to transform the market as it promised.

The problem with basing a brand identity around a personality is that the brand is only valued as much as the personality. If that entertainer leaves or becomes a damaged brand somehow (think Tiger Woods), the brand itself is damaged. The importance of great branding is that it safeguards against such instances. That means it should establish Howard Stern as an extension of a brand, not the entirety of it.

“Howard Stern will continue to attract listeners to Sirius, but that is a testament to the strong brand of Howard Stern not to that of Sirius.”


Another problem lies in Sirius’s focus. “The best radio on radio”, as they advertise, positions them against radio. The problem is that’s outdated positioning. The FM dial isn’t its main rival. It’s the iPods and iPhones of the world. I remember listening to Sirius once when the host was promoting a mobile unit you can carry with you as you work out. “Imagine,” he said, “all that music without commercials.”

“Yeah,” I thought. “With an iPod.”

howard-stern-siriusHoward Stern will continue to attract listeners to Sirius, but that is a testament to the strong brand of Howard Stern not to that of Sirius. In fact, the Sirius brand has so little brand power that the FCC allowed it to merge with its only competitor, XM, an activity that would have been considered monopolistic if either had been viewed as competitive in the market.

Until Sirius reexamines its brand and finds the emotional triggers that will create brand equity and not just station equity, it will continue to be the service that most users let disconnect after their “free with purchase of a new car” subscription expires.

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