Name five of the world’s biggest brands and I’ll tell you something they all have in common: they’re media powerhouses. But there’s something more intriguing they share, or more like don’t share. Few of them, if any, are media or entertainment companies.
The fact is, as long as what’s being pumped out is high-quality and original, people generally don’t care who’s behind it. Computer company Intel run the popular technology blog IQ that serves millions of readers. Energy drink titan Red Bull manage a huge sports and adventure media platform and host events like diving competitions and soapbox derbies. The plastic toy manufacturer Lego made a movie — and not just any movie, one that raked in nearly half a billion dollars and increased sales by 25 percent in the following year.
The brands that generate strong awareness and loyal audiences don’t restrict themselves to what they do best; they recognise what people want and give it to them in a way no other business could. They take a stand for something much more significant than making sports drinks or tiny plastic bricks and became an authoritative voice that speaks for their audience.
This approach is much longer-term and harder to measure than traditional campaign-driven marketing. But with younger generations not responding to old advertising techniques and looking toward brands with strong value-driven narratives, it’s inevitable that the shift from marketing to publishing will happen — it’s just a matter of when.
So let’s dive into some of the specifics and find out what it means to act less like a marketer churning out click-bait and more like a media house producing your own unique, original content.
Own your audience and data
You’ve spent years building a strong following on social media, but what do they translate to outside the platforms where the real business is done?
Third-party platforms like Facebook and Instagram are perfect for harvesting an audience, but not building one. Every Like or Follower you accrue is subject to the rules and restrictions of the platform, and therefore in one single update or wrong move, you could lose them all instantly.
The problem: they were never yours to begin with.
Many businesses fall into this trap by measuring their audience according to number of shares, comments, retweets, Likes, etc. Such social markers are useful for judging how well content is moving through the social-sphere, but they say squat about your actual following. For that, you need to drive people to your own property and convert them into blog or email subscribers. In this way, your audience is independent of any platform or external influence, and you can get to them know better by collecting data about them. The result: loyal customers who stay loyal and receive a highly-personalised experience.
Say something worth saying
Any brand can post a flurry of topical, controversial articles, have one of them go viral, and generate a buzz that lasts a few days or weeks at best. What’s more difficult is taking a unique angle and telling stories that only your brand can tell, so as to cultivate a valuable and devoted audience that sticks with you over the long term.
This advice seems to flies in the face of conventional marketing wisdom that’s all about time-limited campaigns and edgy media stunts. These still have their place, but only when embedded in an overarching narrative and used as tendrils to drive home a particular message or value.
Heineken did this well in 2017 with its ‘Worlds Apart’ video campaign. The Dutch lager company produced a short film that shared its stance on the sensitive social issue of discrimination, while also imparting the message that sometimes all it takes is a good beer and a chat. The campaign made sense within the context of the brand and enabled it to become part of an ongoing public conversation. Something that was only possible due to its strong values of equality and human rights and dedication to being one of the world’s most conscientious beer brands.
Treat content as a product
To marketers, content is a tool that’s primary purpose is to sell products. But to media companies, content is the product, and it delivers tonnes of value in its own right.
Herein lies the problem for most businesses who are accustomed to pumping out digital content as just another step in the customer journey. This approach may work for single-time buyers, but for repeat custom and building a loyal audience, the content should be the destination in itself.
Whether that be by offering information-rich blog articles, producing entertaining video content, or developing practical mobile apps and tools, customers want to know you’re not just out for their money, but to make the world a better place. Your products, services and content all contribute towards your greatest product: your brand. And as your greatest product, you get to choose how it manifests in the world. Will it be just another sales pitch, or will it be a meaningful and purposeful pursuit that people want to get behind?
Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long-term traveller from the North of England. Find him on Medium exploring remote working, technology, spirituality, meditation, and everything in between.