Advice for AOL

Dear AOL,

After reading the latest piece in today’s WSJ, Road Runner, America Online Wage Unsisterly Rivalry (subscription required) it occured to me that there is a much longer list of issues that I was previously considering. Before today, I knew about the properties not really playing along with AOL to provide content. I knew about the waning subscription revenues due to broadband adoption (and not your broadband). Today I awoke to the Road Runner vs AOL Broadband issue.

I guess I knew it was there… I am a Road Runner subscriber in NYC. I use AOL rarely but have maintained my account for many years (don’t ask why) paying the minimum to access over tcp/ip since you offered it. Today though, it really hit home how much you are out to hurt yourself with bad business decisions and that is well, just bad business.

It’s easy for me to suggest a solution I don’t work at AOLTW and am not dealing with any of your corporate politics. I imagine things are intense there based on company size and history of the merger… Anyway, I have a few ideas I thought I might share I think can help out.

You offer Road Runner over you cable system and sell AOL as a more expensive add-on but don’t offer a bundled price through YOUR OWN cable company. When I initially subscribed to Road Runner it was a separate item on my cable bill. When packages became available (through the second digital cable upgrade) a bundled option was offered which actually lowered my total bill.

You openly allow two brands to compete in the same space:

Corporate spokesman Ed Adler says it’s not unusual for a company of AOL’s size to have competing brands. “With America Online and Road Runner, we offer two unique brands to high-speed Internet consumers,” he says. “Having multiple brands in the marketplace allows us to share learning, be innovative and save money.”

Wrong! This is not like Coke and Fanta or brands of detergent. You can’t buy one on Monday and another the next week. Once you lock in you are set. (Bundling works…) When the average consumer converts to broadband from AOL, they don’t say but where’s my AOL? They move on. They realize that with speed, they can find what they want through other paths. They use portals like the one provided by their NEW access provider or Yahoo and MSN. You are missing a massive opportunity here.

Consider this…

You are a cable company, a multi-media company and an access provider. Use what you know on all fronts. What if you made some use out of you main online Brand (AOL) and played the game through a domain strategy. People who sign up for Road Runner get AOL.net addresses. AOL Broadband, get AOL.com addresses. AOL.com customers get the benefits of bundled service on YOUR cable company, value-add service on external providers.

AOL.net customers can get an AOL based portal to access some level of content you determine, though more than what is publically available. AOL.com customers can get access to your full arsenal of material. AOL.net customers can BUY pay per view access to AOL and AOL.com content because, like on cable, they are on your network. Provide benefits to your customers.

It’s not too late, but things are moving very quickly against you. Yahoo premium services (yes I know it’s not proven yet) and MSN are making strong moves against you. You still have the market share and the brand equity to move strong and maintain the lead. I know I am not alone in believing and perhaps wishing this would happen. Just do it. Stop the BS internally and make it so. Need some help? Send me an email.

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