Connecting Brands & Networks To Make Content Matter | #audiences #transmedia #brands #analytics #YouTube #Netflix
Creative disciplines that seem to lack... Discipline.
Branded content. Branded entertainment. Branded transmedia campaigns. Content marketing. Brand journalism. You've heard the terms, but have probably struggled over their meaning, and their value. I know I have.
Several interesting new multi-platform campaigns (Ford, AT&T, Nike, Red Bull and Cisco among them), and a recent article in fast co.design entitled, "For Your Company To Last, The 'Brand' Must Die. But Stories Should Survive" got me to revisit some of my transmedia work, and to offer up some more perspective on why brands and their respective content are limited in their value and scope, as well as what can be done to change this paradigm.
The current reality is that companies are shifting their media budgets to myriad content initiatives en masse, many of them without the benefit of understanding what this means to their brands or their businesses.
I believe the success of these efforts is directly tied to how brands connect with, and immerse themselves within, networks of people.
As Scott Monty of Ford put it in a recent Twitter conversation that we had regarding the company's new Focus campaign, clearly the line between engaging audiences on their own terms and being able to sell products to them is blurring: "This isn't an either/or. It's a full-court press."
To 'engage' is to accept the notion that anything is possible.
Expanding on what Scott said in that Twitter thread, 'engagement' is a continual process of experimentation.
This not only flies in the face of current media planning, buying and distribution practices, but sheds light on the great challenges that our current ad and content models carry (particularly impression-based models). This also calls for far deeper explorations into how people make purchases, how often, and how they feel about them -- before, during and after they've made those decisions.
But first, it is essential that companies, via their brands, focus more earnestly on the relationships they develop with their customers, whether those customers are buying products and services or not, and whether they are consuming ads and related content or not.
I believe that stories are critical in decision-making experiences that align customers with brands, and can be far better integrated with elements like customer service, supply chain management, content creation, application development and experience design. I also believe that the union of these elements -- as per story and as per audience -- are what actually make businesses and their respective brands, social, and ultimately, more profitable.
Some precepts to consider. And a small experiment.
Branding in the 21st century is a fun albeit challenging proposition, as are the respective areas of storytelling and audience development. Here are some general guidelines that I use.
With this in mind, I decided to conduct a small experiment, influenced by some of the work I've been doing with a few companies that traverse the technology, media and entertainment spaces.
So here's what I did:
1. I chose two competing platforms -- YouTube and Netflix -- and evaluated, at a high-level, their performance both as brands and networks, i.e. their "network effect". To clarify, YouTube and Netflix are not close competitors, but both are now in the original content space, with subscriber models and brand sponsorships.
2. The implication here is that the size of the platform does not mean that the network is stronger; to better understand the potential value of these models, I correlated their digital and social media data (mostly unstructured), then looked at the discrepancies between their digital footprints, and the way they seem to operate as online networks.
3. Brand mentions included affinities around use of the platform (akin to "I like this because..." or "This feature is really awesome because..." or "This type of content is great because..." or "I prefer this platform because..."); these conversations are/were also connected to the content that is shared and distributed across these networks amongst fans, advocates and influencers, and are considered in this exploration.
Starting with the YouTube and Netflix footprints, it's not entirely surprising to see who has a bigger presence and why...
But here's where things get interesting. If you consider that industry influencers talk 100 times more often about brands that matter in their industry than the average Tweeter (according to a recent Yahoo! survey), and that half of all tweets consumed come from them, then the pool of relevant influencers that are connected to a brand mention it 2 to 60 times more often than other influencers within the same community.
This is where "network effect" really starts to play a role in how brands can matter within various media ecosystems (in this case, digital and social media). Let's take a gander.
Netflix, while exhibiting struggles with its subcription service, has a significant network effect. This means that audience groups are already interested in, and engaging with, topics and themes that are related to the content Netflix distributes through its platform. This also means that the intelligence garnered from these respective conversations lead to new, co-created stories. Considering that Netflix is getting into the business of creating and syndicating original content -- like YouTube is with its premium channels -- this is a critical insight. Let's look further.
In YouTube's case, there is lots of activity like this that has great network potential, but YouTube has difficulty capitalizing on it; the break-even on most premium channels, for example, is 500mm impressions, which means that any creator, brand or advertiser placing media there or buying ads against it is hard-pressed to turn a profit. On the other hand, Netflix, a distributor to date of traditional content, might have an opportunity to have a broader impact as a network through communities that are already keen on participating in the creation of new content (stories), and sharing (distributing) that content. In turn, its subscription model can actually pay people for their participation, as just one example of a new revenue stream.
Again, these informational bits are what lead to the development of stories and new content opportunities, whether they are journalistic, fictional, cinematic, or true multi-platform initiatives.
The more imporant takeaway is that brands and media companies are leaving BILLIONS of dollars on the table in ignoring or overlooking the inherent power that audience networks bring to the creative process, and, to the scale of their businesses.
Granted, brands come in all different types, shapes, sizes and functions.
Brands mean wildly different things to different people, and take on wildly different dispositions in terms of industry, creativity, media and utility. What consititutes good storytelling and engagement practices is also open for healthy debate, and has been for quite some time.
The tools featured above allow us to dive deep into individual behaviors, and look at the dynamics associated with fans and influence within networks, along with their purchase propensities. These elements were left out for this exploration, as was a methodology for how a brand actually engages an audience through story (I've discussed this in other posts; check out the links below).
The point of this is to demonstrate that relationships supersede transactions in a consumer landscape where control has almost entirely shifted towards the actions, needs and desires of the market, as well as in the way networks of people collaborate over the value of the products and services they choose to use, or, the media they choose to consume, remix and share.
To that end, my partners and I recommend that companies ideally build brands through the (co)creation of content by:
- Planning for the whole; taking the entire ecosystem into consideration from the onset, and developing meaningful assets for its adoption and use
- Building incrementally and experimentally; refining as you go, and "learning forward"
- Adapting to cultural behaviors, as well as enabling and seeding them with true social impact (read: altruism, intrigue and/or goodwill)
- Achieving scale by providing strong informational utility; making products and services synonymous with operations and marketing
- Leveraging audience (collective) intelligence; measuring and informing company divisions for sustained customer (audience) engagement, not just to track media and/or sales performance
Marketers, brand managers, strategists and creative agents alike: Your thoughts are always welcome!