Back in simpler times, brand was brand and media was media. The equation was simple and definite: brands reach out to customers; media convey brands’ message; customers build affinity towards brand through their chosen media platform. Life was good.
But today the lines have blurred. With the democratization of publishing, brands no longer have to rely on conventional publishers as a vehicle of mass communication. The proliferation of digital media offerings and social media platforms enables brands to aggressively develop below-the-line initiatives, bypassing the hallowed halls of publishing houses.
In other words, brand can, and has, become the media.
Brand as Media
This development is empowering, even liberating for brand owners. With owned media, brands are able to directly engage consumers through their websites or mobile apps, thereby building a sustainable community of users. They have greater control of what message to convey, how and when. And if they do it right on the social media front, advertisers further secure earned brand equity through word-of-mouth and consumer advocacy.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the context of luxury brands. What began as a tentative step only some years ago has grown into a game of one-upmanship today. A recent Luxury Institute study on affluent US consumers found Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Saks Fifth Avenue and Gilt Groupe to be the most frequently downloaded apps by wealthy consumers who have luxury brand applications on their mobile device. LVMH blurred the lines even further with its editorially independent online magazine, Nowness, which covers a wide spectrum of topics related to the LVMH brand universe.
The appeal is obvious: a comprehensive, interactive user experience that invites consumers into the brand’s universe while amplifying brand engagement. It upholds the holy trinity of strategic marketing—branding, relationship-building, lead generation. What more is there to ask?
3 blindspots of branded content
Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.
For every Nowness, there are painful branded content failures that fell off right after it was launched. One is reminded of Bud.tv which, despite the fanfare launch, fizzled spectacularly after couple of years. The post-mortem? Unable to reach out to customers.
Let’s take a quick look at several other blindspots which mar the seeming infallibility of branded content.
Blinder #1. Good content is good, but not good enough
Over-emphasis of branded content is a common pitfall, as Bud.tv has shown us. Great content is crucial. But this is often accompanied by a misplaced complacency that interactive websites and flashy apps would lure readers to the brand like moth to fire. The classic marketing challenge remains- how to get this content seen by the right target audience?
The good folks at QualiQuanti hit the nail on its head on this one- “It’s not only about creating great content, but also about exposing the audience to the content and having it spread throughout the media landscape.” In other words, context is more important than content. Brands need to seamlessly insert their message into audience’s media ecosystem. They have to go to where audience are—but how to find the latter?
Blinder #2. Consumers are online, just not all the time
Every day, an increasing number of Singaporeans are becoming virtually connected. According to Nielsen (2011), Singaporeans spends 25 online hours per week, with 79% of them having used their mobile phone or tablets to access the internet.
But a gadget in one’s hand tells us nary about how it is being used. For one, usage motivation varies. FIPP finds that consumers tend to search for information online, but goes offline and flip their magazine for relaxation and inspiration. A safe choice, considering that the juries are still out on whether multi-screen consumption actually distracts or promotes brand engagement.
It is worth taking the time to understand the cyclical patterns of media consumption, rather than jumping headlong into the branded content universe. How consumers navigate their media landscape will determine whether your brand gets their full attention, or glossed over as just another digital noise.
Blinder#3. Not another luxury app!
Every brand, every campaign, has a saturation point. In the beginning, early adopters appreciate the privileged relationship with brands, perhaps even resulting in some well-earned advocacy. But past a certain point, even the most buzz-worthy app will see its novelty wearing off. Brand fatigue sets in as consumers realize there’s yet another app clamouring for their undivided attention.
And suddenly, the convenience of a single comprehensive info source on luxury seems so appealing. Something like a digital luxury magazine? Perhaps.
When we strip branded content off its veneer, we see just another vehicle to reach the ultimate destination: the consumers’ pockets and, in some lucky cases, hearts. Owned media is not infallible- in fact it has high stakes because a lot of expert resources are needed for content development, digital strategy, ROI measurement and many more. Brand websites and apps needs to work in tandem with other media that can amplify its strengths and complement its weaknesses.
(To find out how magazine can be a friend that benefits your branded content, look out for Part 2 of this article- “3 ways in which magazine complements branded content”.)
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