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Brandstand: When the medium is bigger than the message

Brands must learn to consider digital media brands as partners towards customer engagement and not just virtual real estate or an attractive springboard to piggyback

As a significant chunk of marcom spends gets logically diverted to the digital world, both agencies and clients are learning to grapple with many new challenges. While the vast majority of it may be in the creation of effective interactive content and the application of suitable metrics, a silent but powerful barrier exists in the fundamental nature of digital media brands. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and their many revenue-hungry peers are actually formidable youth brands in their own right enjoying iconicity and influence that very few of the advertiser brands can ever hope to match. As a result, the client’s communication campaign must rise above not just the category competition but also the overwhelming impact of the medium itself.

In the traditional world of print and television, the media brands only enjoyed unique editorial identity and very rarely did that extend to becoming full-fledged consumer brands with a charismatic footprint beyond the category. So, Times of India, London Times, Washington Post and Adelaide Age were differentiated in their attitude to content while Time, Newsweek, Economist and Bloomberg were separated equally by carefully cultivated stance and style. The same was the case equally for TV channels which in the non-news genre are clearly a conglomeration of the content they carried. With the rare exception of the now-defunct Life Magazine and the still-thriving MTV, which achieved an influence beyond the category comparable to that of any consumer brand of its times.

In comparison, the world of digital media is vastly different with the stars of this world competing daily with Apple, Coke, Nike, Samsung and the other usual suspects for being the primary influencer of youth behaviour. The 2016 Interbrands rankings included Google and Facebook in the top five along with Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, quite remarkable in the context of the phenomenal advertising spends they attract. So suddenly a multimillion rupee campaign on Facebook must also ensure that it does not make the medium a bigger hero than the message, thus silently enhancing its brand worth more than fulfilling the campaign objective. It is definitely very tempting for even the most astute client to piggyback on the roaring media equity but there can be a big price to pay unless a proper Digital Partnership Strategy is in place; a new approach of treating the media not as content carriers but engagement partners operating on Gestalt principles.

The first and foremost pillar of the Digital Partnership Strategy is a strong commitment to Brand Integrity, ensuring that what the brand stands for is rigorously followed. A very popular trap in these dynamic times is a version of ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, inside clients and agencies propelled by the limitless number of options in the new world, which often results in the media features taking over the message uniqueness. If your brand stands for the ultimate level of safety then you must ensure that this is the common and dominating thread across every point of engagement.

The second and necessary element of this strategy must be the non-negotiable comeback of the Integrated Campaign Idea, currently at the mercy of topicality and lack of rigour. Just because as Father’s Day is around the corner or Facebook has launched a new feature, it does that mean that every brand is qualified to take advantage, unless the campaign under investment permits the extension of an innovation as such and adds back to the overall desired impact. A disturbing recent pattern is the open-source tactical idea which is greedily implemented for short-term applause as opposed to a larger plot.

The third area that is already under considerable focus is the definition of Evaluation1 Metrics for every possible activity. Taking appropriate advantage of the relative inexperience of clients and their own awe-inspiring stature, the digital media principals are happily designing criteria suited to their product performance and not necessarily applicable to client necessities. Marketing Departments in cahoots with media agencies and the media brands must co-create a common standard of performance evaluation, yet sufficiently flexible to ensure that integrity and dynamism works in perfect consort. Also, like the early days of market research and media planning, the work done in the early years will become valuable content for future academics and practitioners.

The fourth and decisive aspect for brands to stand above the media must be a culture of relentless Innovation and Collaboration. In the digital world, there is a fine line between marketing and communications and this spirit of dynamism must extend to the design and implementation of campaigns. There is a huge world of opportunity in joining hands with complementary alliance partners from any industry as only the power to connect to customers is a necessary criterion. What must emerge rapidly is the skillset to think afresh from a partnership perspective, between advertiser and medium, unlike the static media thinking sadly prevalent in the agency world.

It is clear that in the digital world the media brands are usually way more influential than the advertiser brands, in a holistic societal sense and not just from the category view. Brands must thus learn to consider digital media brands as partners towards customer engagement and not just virtual real estate or an attractive springboard to piggyback. To succeed a focussed combination of being obsessive with Brand Integrity, refocussing on the Integrated Campaign idea, a rebooting of Evaluation Metrics and most critically a culture of Collaboration and Innovation is critical. The opportunities that await us tomorrow are quite exceptional but to take advantage we must rigorously prepare today.

(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: shivajidasgupta@inexgro.com)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of BestMediaInfo.com and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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