From technology to globalization, it’s a truism that today’s successful companies must adapt to – and embrace – rapid change. One of the most pronounced cultural shifts in the past decade has been the growing acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, exemplified by the Supreme Court’s recent favorable rulings on same-sex marriage. That’s great news for supporters of equality, but it’s also a potential threat to the business model of Logo TV, the LGBT-focused network owned by Viacom. After all, if gay people have entered the mainstream (and appear as major characters on popular broadcast shows like Modern Family and The New Normal), why would viewers need an alternative?
Logo’s nimble strategy, which I recently discussed with Executive Vice President Lisa Sherman in Logo’s New York offices, holds lessons for any company facing a changing business environment. Here are her techniques for ensuring Logo continues to be a cultural force in an increasingly open society.
Stay close to the customer. From focus groups to monitoring social media chatter, Logo is intent on listening (and responding) to viewer preferences. When viewers complained about an ad running on Logo in some local markets featuring right-wing icon Chuck Norris (who is known for opposing gay inclusion in the Boy Scouts), the network took action and had it pulled. Logo also operates a number of niche websites (such as the lesbian entertainment site AfterEllen.com and the gay male entertainment site The Backlot), where, as Sherman says, “we can super-serve audiences within the gay community. It’s never one-size-fits-all.”
Understand your true business. It’s not just about television anymore, says Sherman: “We’re platform agnostic. We make content, and going forward, when we look at an idea to make a show, we’re already thinking about where it could live – in the social media world, what pieces should be on our website vs. with other partners, and finally, what’s going to go on television.” That approach has proved popular with advertisers, now numbering more than 350, including major brands such as General Motors, Kraft Foods, and Procter & Gamble.
Embrace technology. “The on-demand part of viewing TV is here to stay,” says Sherman. Logo is launching an app in the fall, and “we have to be on mobile devices, and to allow people to consume [content] when they want it.” She’s also emphasizing integration across platforms, especially by offering live online “aftershows” that drive viewers from watching television to visiting the Logo website. “Logo has the ability to be a brand that lives across all platforms,” she says. “We can be a creator, a curator, and an aggregator – the go-to-place for gay culture.”
Understand macro trends. When Logo launched eight years ago, says Sherman, “it was always about putting gay at the center of every story – for gay people, by gay people, about gay people. There were so few images of gay people on TV, such a dearth, that people were hungry for that.” From coming out stories to documentaries about gay soccer players and military officers, homosexuality was at the center of the conversation. But not anymore. “There’s been a sea change in the culture, and it’s more fully integrated,” she says. “Our shows [today] aren’t about being gay, it’s about what gay people like.” That includes airing reruns of The Golden Girls, a 1980s popular hit that has what Sherman calls a “gay sensibility: smart, provocative, unapologetic, and clever.” She jokes, “I’d argue The Golden Girls really is a show about four gay men in women’s bodies.”
Make an emotional connection. What’s Logo’s competitive advantage? Sherman says shows with gay characters on broadcast TV are great, but “they’re written for a bigger, broader audience – they’re written for straight people. You can appreciate that show as a gay person, but it doesn’t feel like it was written for you. We want [the LGBT community] to feel we get them, we understand them, and we’re speaking the common language of our people.” In fact, she says, “we hear from our viewers that they bring their straight friends to watch RuPaul on Logo, and it helps them understand [a piece of the gay experience].” That emotional connection allows Logo to position itself as a “home base” for LGBT viewers.
In a story she shared earlier this year at the launch event for Deloitte’s Leadership Center for Inclusion, Sherman left a job at a Fortune 500 company nearly 20 years ago “because I wasn’t comfortable being out there.” Today, her goal in heading up Logo is to create a “mission-driven culture, where everyone feels they’re working for something bigger than just hitting our numbers this year.”
Indeed, the triumph of Logo may be the ultimate form of advocacy. “If we can make this business venture successful, it’d do more to push forward on gay rights than just about anything,” she says. “Because what the business world asks is, are you successful or not? A successful venture focused on the LGBT audience is a win on every level.”
What is your company doing to adapt to rapid cultural and technological shifts?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on July 9, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.