For all the changes affecting media these days, the essential product of media, its content, is really no different. But consumers now consume media content in a wholly different context, one that is embedded with many new cues. What’s changed about media are the cues that surround content.
Old media were advertising vehicles, pure and simple. The cues were all commercial; they were all about advertising. Content was read and viewed in the context of ads. All the cues directed people to the advertising. Media delivered a content experience bejeweled with ads that were themselves a type of content. Not so for new media.
New media are social engagement vehicles. Advertising is often there but ads play second fiddle to the social cues that dominate what consumers encounter when they read or view the content. The very layout of content attunes consumers to social dynamics. Consumers see the best liked content, the comments left by other consumers, poll results of prior consumers, ratings by prior consumers, links to other sites or content, and more. Content is surrounded by all of this. The cues that dominate the terrain in which the content is delivered are not just ads; they are cues about social context.
Content is no longer consumed in an advertising context. Now it is consumed in a social context. This has three important implications for brands.
First, ads are competing for attention against more than other ads. Ads must shout above the din of content conversations. Ads not only have to be more interesting than other ads; they have to be more interesting than the social interaction about the content. What’s perhaps most interesting about this in terms of advertising to date is that ads have not yet dared to engage the content in which they are placed. Ads are more relevant to the context next to them, but they have nothing to say about it, whereas many of the social cues next to the content are saying something that is specifically about that content.
The notion that the process of value creation and innovation can somehow be quantified as something predictable, with outcomes easily repeated, is a compelling one indeed. An entire consulting industry has been built around this premise. Unfortunately the magic of value creation doesn’t work that way. The source of value creation BEGINS with formless creative thought not data.
Everything that ever was, is now, and ever will be is at first a formless thought seed in the creative mind. Many of the products we can’t live without today started out as crazy ideas – automobiles, airplanes, personal computing, digital music and entertainment, smartphones, the internet and social media – stuff nobody needed or was asking for, but once realized was just the thing they were waiting for. All the stuff that has changed how we live in the world begins as formless crazy ideas.
Crazy ideas are always more richly embedded with game changing opportunity than safe ideas. A safe idea is the one you can “prove will work” before it takes form in the world.
As early humans, we learned and adapted within the context of our surroundings. When humans first learned that fire makes life easier (like cooking meat and keeping warm) the idea of fire was eagerly embraced as necessary for survival. I’ll bet before people figured out the “use value” of fire, it probably was a very frightening thing to experience–and not perceived as very useful.
We regularly answer marketing questions here on Branding Strategy Insider. Today's question comes from Ryan, a brand manager in Salt Lake City, Utah. He writes…
“I’ve been a huge fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship since its beginning in 1995. As a brand manager, it has been interesting to see how Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta have positioned the UFC and successfully made it the self-proclaimed “fastest growing sport in the world”. I’ve also followed how well, or how poorly, each of the fighters brand themselves in press conferences before and after the fights as well as through social media. In your opinion, are there any major differences in the brand management of a person vs. a product? If so, what are those differences?”
Thanks for the question, Ryan. This somewhat popular brand definition is ironic: “A brand is the personification of an organization or its products or services.” So if we are branding people, we are literally imbuing those people with human qualities. Hmmm…
Having said that, branding people is not fundamentally different from branding products. The big difference is, when branding a person, one can seek that person’s input on what motivates him or her so that one can anchor the brand in authenticity and passion. One also tries to anchor product brands in authenticity and passion. But sometimes that can be created and instead of asking the person one can investigate the underlying organization’s mission, vision, values, strategic intent, core competencies, culture, etc. Then the trick is to build relevant differentiation into the brand based on the target market’s needs and the brand’s unique strengths. In this way, branding is not different for people or products.
What is the single biggest thing weighing down the consumer marketplace right now?
The answer is uncertainty.
Despite the headlines, the biggest problem facing the consumer marketplace is not the weak state of household finances. Not that weak finances are unimportant. Unemployment and debt continue to burden many people with agonizing struggles to make ends meet. But the bigger problem facing brand marketers is the one affecting all consumers, not just consumers with pocketbook problems. That problem is the uncertainty weighing on people’s minds, making everyone overly cautious and guarded in their engagement with brands.
Uncertainty has been ever-present since the economy hit the rocks in 2007. From the very beginning, nobody seemed to know what was happening or where things were headed. Economists were baffled. Politicians and policy-makers lurched from one remedy to the next with only moderate success. The depth and breadth of the downturn caught nearly everyone by surprise. Now the feebleness of the recovery has, too.
Into this void of assurance stepped the media, with every newspaper, magazine and talk show competing for readers and viewers by stoking the general malaise with ever more dire headlines about what’s to come. The general sense nowadays is that everybody who’s supposed to know what to do is stumped, making it up as they go along.
Uncertainty is the only thing people know for sure.
Business leaders are over-educated. Never have I seen so much advice offered to executives about how to do things right. There are hundreds of business management books and over 2000 titles alone in marketing.
So why are we having such difficult economic times? Why did Detroit almost drive off a cliff? Why did the banks need bailing out? Why are some corporate legends such as Kodak, Nokia, Yahoo, Johnson & Johnson, Sears, Budweiser and even General Electric having problems? Sure, you can point to the dramatic increase in global competition which makes mistakes so costly. But there are books about how to deal with competition and I even wrote one of them. (Marketing Warfare.) One can only say “It’s a puzzlement.”
While there are a few shining examples of brilliant leadership, there aren’t enough.
If you study this paradox, the best you can do is categorize the most popular mistakes. So rather than get into the psychology of “Denial” or a study of “Why?”, it makes more sense to lay out what are the traps that keep people from doing the right thing, despite all this advice. Avoid these mistakes and bad things won’t happen.
The “Me-too” Mistake.
Many people believe that the basic issue in marketing is convincing the prospect that they have a better product or service. They say to themselves, “We might not be first but we’re going to be better.”
That may be true, but if you’re late into a market space and have to do battle with large, well-established competitors, then your marketing strategy is probably faulty. Me-too just won’t cut it.