The hottest trend in brand marketing right now is the very thing that has fueled traditional advertising's ongoing evolution: Brands are bypassing traditional media outlets in favor of creating their own private media platforms. That's right, brands are becoming the media.
Savvy marketers have realized that for the same price they once paid for a glossy ad or 30-second TV spot, they can now own their fully branded publication, video series, or interactive online platform.
Moreover, they're providing the same high-quality and engaging content found in those third-party publications and broadcast outlets, offering it to mainstream audiences for free and, in essence, competing with those very outlets that used to serve their advertising needs.
Of course, as new media channels continue to emerge, audiences become more dispersed, creating an urgent need for brands to spread their efforts across channels to capture the attention of their target audiences.
That fact alone negates the logic once used to rationalize huge ad spends on single outlets or mediums. Knowing that marketers must find revolutionary methods of enticing customers and prospects to engage with their brands, what better method is there than for brands to simply become the media?
Cases in Point
That's the theory, but exactly which brands are becoming the media? I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!, U.S. Wellness Meats, Nike, Gillette, Kikkoman, and hundreds of others.
Consider Unilever. Its new-media initiative for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! features Spraychel—the brand's animated mascot—and her adventures in the fridge.
Looking for a new way to generate buzz for the brand, Unilever created an innovative, entertaining brand experience that compelled consumers to spread the word through viral-marketing efforts.
Weekly webisodes and a "celebrity-esque" blog allow consumers to follow the storylines and deliver the latest gossip in the fridge. Moreover, viewers chime in to decide the outcome of upcoming webisodes. Unilever's most-recent campaign is at VoteSpraychel.com.
When U.S. Wellness Meats—a producer and distributor of grass-fed animal meat—realized that current educational materials on grass-fed meats were not only diffuse but often inconsistent, unclear, and untrue, it took on the challenge of becoming a dependable educational source for those seeking reliable information on grass-fed meat.
Its audience comprises athletes, parents, doctors, and others concerned about the nutritional value of the food they consume. Thus, U.S. Wellness Meats overhauled USWellnessMeats.com, which was once a traditional e-commerce site, and turned it into a regularly updated destination site for those looking for facts on sustainable eating, the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed meats, and the health benefits of the company's products.
Inspired by its customers' passion for health and cooking, and the many communications it has received over the years, U.S. Wellness Meats uses its new platform to feature professional and home chefs, a Wellness blog, and Wellness Kids, among other features. Instead of relying on outside media to educate its consumers, U.S. Wellness Meats can do that on its own, knowing that the information is accurate.
Another consumer brand that understands content marketing is Kikkoman, famous for its soy sauce. To familiarize more consumers with the versatility of soy sauce, Kikkoman's website has a Food Forum that has original recipes and serves as a resource center on Japanese cooking and culture.
Kikkoman has been running an innovative campaign around umami, or the fifth taste (the discovery of which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary).
The brand launched a commercial campaign on the Food Network and YouTube that introduces viewers to umami and presents various foods—including Kikkoman Soy Sauce—that evoke the fifth-taste sensation.
The commercial directs viewers to a micro-site (www.DiscoverUmami.com) to popularize the idea with customers by providing appealing and educational information, as well as more ways to use the product. The sell is subtle as the viewer gets deeper into the world of Kikkoman and Japanese-flavored recipes.
The New Rationale
People are more comfortable getting their news from multiple sources—a perfect environment for any business thinking about stepping in and becoming a trusted source of information.
And that's the general logic: When your company educates its current and prospective clients on its field of expertise instead of pitching them products or services, it effectively becomes a reliable source of information and entertainment.
In other words, your company (or brand) becomes the media and is in a position to provide thought leadership and build customer affinity.
You've established your company as a trusted resource; as a result, your customer feels more confident buying from you, and you have increased your ability to measure results in terms of generating leads and creating incremental sales.
Though traditional advertising will always serve as a means of general awareness, private media channels encourage brand loyalty and affinity, allowing companies to speak directly to their customers and prospects in a controlled environment.
Add a bit of good research to the equation and brands are able to create content that resonates specifically with the needs of various audiences and current customers, as well as content that supports permission-based marketing tactics that will woo their prospects.
Here's the bottom line: When a company or brand becomes the media, it effectively creates a direct dialogue with customers that leads to a predetermined behavior and increased sales. Creating your own media channel also increases accountability and measurability, which is critical in today's economic environment.