The theory of social media is that it allows brands to leapfrog traditional media and forge relationships directly with customers using branded content. If you tell them great stories and connect with them in real time then your brand will become a hub for a community of consumers.
The reality is that building a brand in this era of social media has become a frustrating challenge making many brands less significant. The big platforms call the shots and the vast majority of brands are cultural mutes. This is not how things were meant to turn out.
While companies have put their faith in branded content for the past decade brute empirical evidence is forcing them to consider. In YouTube or Instagram rankings of channels by number of subscribers, corporate brands barely appear. Only four have cracked the YouTube Top 500.
YouTube’s greatest success, by far, is PewDiePie, a Swedish guy that critiques video games. He has 48.5 million subscribers with over 14 billion views. Coca Cola, by contrast, who launched their “Liquid & Linked” strategy, with great fanfare in 2011, currently have 1 million subscribers. McDonalds, one of the world’s biggest spenders on content have 275,000 subscribers (Oct ’16), about 200 times less than PewDiePie. The story on Instagram is much the same.
It turns out that consumers have little interest in the content that brands churn out. Very few people want it in their feed. Most view it as clutter, as brand spam.
Social, however, is a game changer and as branded content strategies fall flat we turn our thinking to what alternative branding methods can be empowered by social media.
Content has and will continue to be the commodity. It’s just at the moment there is too much of it, most of it is not very good and even if it is the resources needed to amplify it are considerable.
Brands generally succeed when they break through in culture with branding as a set of techniques designed to generate cultural relevance. Great examples include “Happy little Vegemites,” “I still call Australia Home,” “Slip, Slop, Slap,” the Carlton Draught Big ad, “My Dad picks the Fruit that goes to Cottees,” and Sam Kekovich’s love of Australian lamb.
This early form of branded content worked well because of the oligopoly represented by entertainment media. Consumer marketing companies could buy their way to fame by paying to place their brands in this tightly controlled cultural arena.
Once audiences could opt out of ads, it became harder for brands to buy attention.
So we can define value in today’s connected marketing and media landscape as the need for brands to create, influence, co-create and integrate themselves seamlessly in culture and relevant sub cultures.
The challenge for brands is they often cannot create culture by themselves and so must collaborate with influencers of culture across the spectrums who wield influence.
Broadly there are 3 types of influencer: Cultural, Reputational and Media.
Cultural influencers can be celebrities but increasingly it is the influencers of subcultures, who are building audiences via Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat etc. that are becoming today’s trusted voices. It’s important that brands collaborate in this space rather than dictate heavy handed marketing, bringing new operational dynamics to the table.
Reputational influencers can range from employees to thought leaders, analysts and experts. The challenge for brands here is that what they do in this space needs to be integrated with cultural influencers.
Media influencers include “professionals” led by journalists and media companies but also importantly blogger networks and the power of their engaged niche audiences.
Content marketing has enjoyed a good run but it’s not enough to create content in a complex media ecosystem that makes it extremely difficult to break though and earn attention.
Brands will have to learn how to influence culture and sub cultures by collaborating with those who create it externally while coordinating their functions internally to generate attention and distribution at scale.