Photo Credits: Ari Goldberg photographed at FashionForward by Amy Seder
Brands As Media Publishers
The proliferation of the web has allowed just about anyone to become a publisher. Whether it’s your sister’s cooking blog, an international newspaper establishing a Twitter feed, or your neighborhood coffee shop posting on Facebook, new technologies and platforms have created an endless stream of content. Amidst this torrential downpour of posts, tweets, photos and updates, brands are struggling to keep up. They want to be a part of the conversation too, and realize they must master the art of content publishing in order to hold the ear of their audience.
So everyone agrees that brands need to become media publishers; but how can they do it successfully? And where do the brands, agencies, platforms, and communities fit into this new mix?
Ari Goldberg, CEO of StyleCaster, presented on this topic at FashionForward: Digital held at New York’s Crosby Street Hotel on October 27, 2011. Within seconds, Ari’s humor and contagious personality won the audience over, but it was through his solid dose of knowledge (from his varied tenure at LeBron James’ ad agency and media platform, LRMR), that Ari explained how brands need to create not just media, but more importantly, conversations.
“In old media, content was king, but in new media, conversation is king” -Ari Goldberg
A few examples of amazing content that supports and includes great conversations included Burberry’s “Art of the Trench,” which generated over 13.9 million page views and StyleCaster’s own collaboration with Diet Coke which included custom editorial interconnected with Facebook, and led to Diet Coke being awarded one of the most innovative campaigns of 2010. Ari also highlighted a personal favorite of mine, the EAS “The Unstoppable Tour,” where the brand created content relevant to the audience through an ‘Amazing Race’-style video story. In all of the examples and more, Ari explained how the content was created with a fundamental understanding of the audience, the brand, and the platforms through which consumers could consume and engage the content.
Now, great content, and the conversations it spawns, Ari explains, starts with great partnerships. In order to create the best engaging, shareable and conversational content, brands need to partner with others to get the best results. Partnerships, not to be confused with sponsorships, are vital, since allowing everyone to have a stake in the game fosters better collaboration, a greater brand-audience alignment, and ultimately better results.
Ari cites the little-known story about LeBron James’ decision to go with Nike instead of Adidas. Few people knew that while Adidas offered LeBron more money, Nike came to the table with a true partnership to LeBron. They wanted to invest in LeBron’s brand because they knew if he succeeded they would as well.
Now, it isn’t always this easy, as Ari elucidates. Many would say the age-old agency-brand relationship is flawed, since agencies want to provide the least amount of work for the most money possible, while brands want to receive the most amount of work for the least money possible. That, perhaps, is a topic for a whole other article, however the point is to start with a excellent partnerships. Partnerships where both sides actually like each other, each have a stake in the game, and are ruled by a solid transparency that allows for free dialogue and idea exchange.
So where does all this lead us? What is the future of branded media?
The future, unfortunately, is something nobody knows, but Ari’s best guess is that we will continue to see brands flourish through hybrid models. Brands will become media publishers, and media publishers will also become brands (see: Net-a-Porter). Companies like StyleCaster, will also have a seat at the table, fitting in nicely as content curators and as a platform for consumers to interact with each other and brands. Goldberg also predicts that instead of seeking a “holy grail” to publish their brand on say Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, brands will have to continue to place their bets across all tables, constantly seeking the media platforms (old and new) that are right for them. Verticalization of these audiences is also very important. By seeking out the best platforms for each audience’s vertical (a la ESPN for sports, or WebMD for health) brands are able to effectively reach their consumers and interact with them via the communication channels that platform uses itself.
Two things Ari touched on during the Q+A section of the presentation were commerce and metrics. The first, commerce, is something that brands selling products should never loose sight of. “Commerce first, community and conversation is secondary.” Again citing Burberry, Ari notes that despite all the critical acclaim for Burberry’s Facebook, Youtube and Twitter presence, their current website never looses focus of the commerce aspect, as everything is centered around it. The wealth of content, both editorialized and user-generated, never detracts from the usability and focus of the ecommerce portion of the site.
Goldberg also discussed the massive problem of metrics, and how brands exactly track what works by what ultimately sells. Discovering the key metric is the “holy grail” to marketers, and for now, brands should focus less on simple metrics like CTR and CPA since they can be confounded by a host of marketing factors, particularly creative, and start to focus on metrics that measure engagement. It takes the average consumer 8 encounters with a brand to eventually make a purchase, and this could be via a blog post, via their friend in person or on Facebook, through an Amazon price comparison, or in a print magazine. While tricky, metrics that focus on engagement, and the latency period through which it takes a consumer to buy, will be the most successful.
One final note I’d like to make after having the pleasure of hearing Ari speak and talking with him afterwards involves creating offline content. Brands like Red Bull have done a fantastic job of creating engaging, entertaining and compelling content through their offline events: races, interviews with athletes, and sponsorships of a myriad of outdoor sports. Offline events, Ari told me, create content that can be consumed on the spot, but also for weeks and months after, through a promulgation on the web.
It was a honor to have Ari speak at FashionForward and I think in the end he would agree that their is no silver bullet to creating content or conversations. The key point is to be true to the brand and your audience, and to constantly seek platforms where your audience exists and your story can be told.