What HGTV Can Teach You About Your Brand

What HGTV Can Teach You About Your Brand

by Tracy Johnson

  • In spite of so many high profile news stories in 2016, HGTV out-rated CNN.
  • They do it by knowing who they’re for, who they are, and executing.
  • Your brand can do the same by following some simple steps.

Knowing who you’re for, and what you’re for are two of the most important things each media brand must decide. There’s a place for hard news, for engaging political debate and there’s a place to escape from it. It’s critical that each brand be clearly defined, and not get caught in the dangerous middle. And there’s a valuable lesson from HGTV.

There’s a lot of stress in the world today. Everyone seems on edge, quick to shout their disapproval of anything that doesn’t perfectly align with their idea of how the world should be. The 2016 U.S. election was certainly full of drama, intrigue, vitriol and stress. That’s likely to continue. The key question is how you should react to it.

Is your show an amplification of the real world or an escape from it? Do you relieve your audience of stress, providing a safe oasis to engage with your personality? Or do you contribute to the anxiety of everyday life?

If you listen to your audience, most are seeking entertainment sources to get away from their problems, at least for a short time. Being that safe place can be a welcome relief for an audience that wants to be comforted, feel safe and get away from it all.

Knowing Who You’re For, Ala HGTV

The concept works, especially if you’re committed to it as a brand. While CNN enjoyed a significant rise in popularity due to the attention and suspense surrounding the Donald Trump vs. Hilary Clinton campaign, HGTV beat them in the ratings. Think about that.

HGTV features a series of aspirational shows like Property Brothers, Love it or List It, House Hunters and more. In case you’re not familiar, here’s an episode of House Hunters to give you an idea:

According to Bloomberg:

The escapist appeal of looking at other people’s beautiful homes turned Home & Garden Television into the third most-watched cable network in 2016, ahead of CNN and behind only Fox News and ESPN.

Side note: It’s interesting that Fox News outperforms CNN. The conservative news channel has a distinct point of view, with a series of right-wing hosts that are anything but objective, despite their claim of being fair and balanced. That attracts a very specific type of viewer tuning in to have their beliefs validated.

But back to the main point: HGTV understands who they are and what they’re for. Their formula is consistent: A shabby house gets a makeover, and a happy couple moves in. Or house-flipping that looks like fun and there’s almost always a profit.  There’s a feel-good theme with a happy ending.

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At parent company Scripps Networks, chief programming officer Kathleen Finch understands their audience:

For the most part, our viewers live in suburban houses with yards. We embrace the real America.

That leads them to a certain code of behavior on their shows, and like a program director or content manager, Finch is the gatekeeper, emphasizing consistency:

We super-serve our viewer what she likes, and we give her more and more of it,

The HGTV Focus

The key is a refusal to upset HGTV’s audience. There’s no profanity, and on-air conflicts are confined to paint colors or tile choices.

Each episode finds friction between characters, which adds some suspense, but not the drama that causes stress. It’s more good-natured differences in taste or opinion. This allows viewers to choose a side without having their values threatened.

HGTV fans say the relentlessly consistency in programming is a comfort, especially in hard times. One regular viewer commented:

A lot of the news these days is really stressful,. HGTV is not something that’s going to hurt me. I watch it and dream of what I want for my future house.

And the audience appeal is incredibly broad. As more and more millennials begin to think about buying their first home, the network is enjoying growth in younger demos attracted for specific reasons.

Even Taylor Swift is a fan. She shared her love for  the show Fixer Upper on Instagram. 

Just casually watching Fixer Upper when this iconic moment happened.

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

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Unfortunately, Taylor has removed the video from her Instagram account, so you can’t see it. But, you get the point.

HGTV also succeeds with a healthy amount of recycling their content. They repeat their shows regularly and air past versions as new. By getting the most (value) from their best (content), they constantly offer high quality programming that’s consistent with their brand values.

Developing HGTV-Type Vision

What does this mean for your personality brand? You have to know who you are and what you’re for, then deliver it with the same relentless focus in every break.
As Scripps CEO Ken Lowe says:

We’re not going to surprise you. We’re not going to throw you a curve ball. It’s not easy to create content that people are passionate about and somewhat addicted to that is somewhat repetitive.

Sound familiar? Find where you fit with your audience. Here’s how:

Audience Persona: Start by building an in-depth target audience persona. We have a template to help you, along with a webinar that takes you through the process step-by-step. If you need help, let us know and we can do it for you. Access the tools here.


Character Profile: Then, design an in-depth character profile with your audience in mind, focusing on those enchanting, likable attributes that will draw them to you. Use the tools in Build a 5-Star Personality Brand to make that happen.

Execute: Once those are firmly in place, channel all content creation, messaging and marketing through the filter that is created at the intersection of the audience persona and your character brand profile.

You’ll be amazed at how focused your show becomes,

Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

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