Why Brands Need to Act Like a Media Company
Today brands need to be a media company first and sell their product second. In this article, I explain why.
There was a time when information, news and entertainment were produced by few, for the many.
Before the days of internet and digitalisation in the 1990s, you had to wait for the evening news and your morning newspaper. These pieces of information were produced by professional journalists and publications. They had worked for decades to earn our trust or at least they had done a good job of their branding to create a perception of trustworthiness. When they spoke or when they wrote about an issue, we stopped and listened. This gave those media outlets a unique power over everyone else because they had INFORMATION that the rest of us didn’t have.
Similarly, entertainment was a scarce thing, even more so, before Radio, Print and TV. Entertainment was a much more expensive and scarce luxury that you had to patiently wait for and sit through advertising.
Up until then, there were also a handful of other institutions that had millennia of credibility behind them, such as universities, governments, the banking system, monarchs, tribes and at the smallest scale, the micro-institution of family.
All of these institutions had one thing in common, their TOP DOWN structure. The heads of each institution were able to control those beneath them because they had a monopoly over information and how they chose to distribute it. Parents chose what information and entertainment their children were exposed to. Governments and media chose what the masses watched, read and listened to. And the educational systems were only accessible to the fortunate few.
Strangely enough, this created a level equality among the masses. Because we all had access to the same level of limited information which only took a limited amount of time to digest. In between consuming a confined level of information and/or entertainment presented to us, we had plenty of time to get on with the rest of our lives and businesses.
After World War II and the birth of the advertising industry, we observed a whole new mechanism of persuasion. The advertising agencies were in the service of large institutions and corporation. Hence, the top down systems of control was continued and strengthened.
In such a linear economic environment, conducting business was simpler. No matter what business you were in, your competitors were other companies who sold the same product or service, as you did. For example, if you were a Newspaper, your competition was other Newspapers. If you were a jeweller, your competitors were other jewellers. If you were an automotive company, your competition was other automobile manufacturers. You get the picture, it was plain and simple. Whoever paid more money for advertising was guaranteed more eyeballs and therefore more sales.
In the luxury space, things were a little different. These, often family-run and more exclusive, businesses relied on building relationships and word of mouth. Many also relied heavily on their relationships with the respective Royal families of their country and their association with celebrities. Many, also paid high prices for advertising in magazines that targeted affluent families.
Regardless of your business, however, the formula for successful sales was a lot more straightforward. Because it was much easier to “locate” the eyeballs. You knew where people attention was and if you were willing to pay the price, you were guaranteed their attention.
The Shift In Attention
What happened in the 1990s, and ever since then, has been a complete disruption of the structure of the society and therefore a shift in attention.
Digitalisation has caused a fundamental challenge to the structure of the society. We no longer live in a top-down society. The monarchs, the government, the educational systems and traditional media outlets no longer have a monopoly over the information we receive and how we are entertained. Everyone is equally capable of producing media, as much as consuming it.
Governments no longer have absolute control over what the public learn through media. Brands can no longer control what consumers learn about them, and they can’t hide behind a manufactured image that makes them look good. Educational systems such as universities who traded for hundreds of years on their “brand” name, suddenly seem like an overpriced luxury. Because millennials can find out almost any information they need, when they need them, through the internet. Parents can no longer have total control over what their children learn and how they find entertainment through their friends and micro influencers, on social media.
To the digital native generation, the use of technology comes naturally. They are often better, faster and much more agile than big corporations, educational systems and governments. As a result, we are seeing an increasing number of disruptive technologies and platforms that pose a serious challenge to the institutions that we have known and trusted for hundreds of years, even millennia.
Social Media challenges traditional media. Airbnb challenges the travel industry. Uber challenges transportation as we know it. Bitcoin challenges the banking system. What’s next? Governments, monarchs and taxation systems?
We are increasingly going from a top-down society to a nonlinear society. And, the shift of attention has a profound effect on the brands of today.
Where are the eyeballs?
In a society where everyone can create media and publish it to a worldwide audience at the touch of a button, locating the eyeballs is harder than ever before. In the past, if the brands paid for advertising in magazines, TV or radio, they could be fairly certain that it would be read, watched and listened to by their target audience. Things were a lot more predictable.
Today, even advertising on social media does not guarantee that you will reach people, especially, if the advertising is simply just about the product. Because the savvy millennials find a way to avoid advertising at all costs.
The nonlinear nature of social platforms and the rise micro influencers means that it is much harder to know where they will be looking and for how long.
There is only one effective way to overcome this challenge and that for the brands to act and behave like a media company, first, and sell their product, second. Simply advertising the product is no longer enough. You’ve got to create meaningful, genuinely well thought out, entertaining and information-rich content and only sell the product once you’ve given enough value to earn their attention.
Who Is Your Competitor
In a nonlinear world as described, here, your competition suddenly takes a whole new shape. Who is your competitor? If you are an automotive manufacturer, a cashmere producer, a chocolatier, or even a newspaper, you are no longer merely in competition with everyone else in your own trade. You are in competition with everyone else who is creating media. This could be your teenage daughter’s best friend who is posting cute pictures on Instagram or it could be giant media companies that are working hard to attract people’s attention.
The sooner brands come to terms with the reality that we live in a media world, the sooner they will be able to save their business and those advertising dollars that a few years from now they’d wish they had put in the right places.
Here is a quote from the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategy of The Economist, Jamie Credland, in my recent interview with him for my upcoming documentary on Luxury Brands and Millennials. Jamie says, “We live in a world where there is more content available to people than ever before. That includes News content and it includes content from your friends, and it includes funny cat videos and everything in between. All of those things are demanding for our attention all the time. At The Economist, people used to talk to us about who our competitors were and we used to list other businesses in the News organisations and say that was our competition. Actually, nowadays our competition is anything else that you choose to do with your time.”