The Marketing Democracy is a consulting firm that helps marketers, marketing services agencies, and the media integrate their various marketing assets into powerful, integrated marketing solutions. We have specific expertise in finding the powerful intersection between creative (content) and media (channel).


In a world filled with media, why do we have a scarcity of true Media Brands?

August 19th, 2010

We are working in times of exponential growth in the media landscape.   To the marketer, it seems as though new media channels for reaching/engaging audiences are emerging in near real-time.  The diffusion of innovation curve for digital/mobile innovation is no longer bell-shaped, it’s practically vertical.  We move from a glimmer of an idea, to mass consumption in no longer than a few CPG purchase cycles. 

 It appears as though the media industry is on top of the world: a vibrant industry ripe with promise and financial upside.  Actually, I’m not so sure.  The media, themselves, have long operated under a model that is based upon two foundational variables: 

  • Distribution: the definition of the term, medium, in the first place.  The idea that a medium represents a unique distribution pathway that enables content to flow from its source to an audience.    
  • Audience: the medium’s ability to aggregate an unduplicated audience that is highly desirable to marketers. 

Historically, distribution pathways were relatively fixed and a bit more proprietary.  Newspaper circulation networks were required to disseminate news to a particular community/market.  Network television affiliates were required to broadcast television signals across a coverage area (Designated Market Area).  The technology was not particularly “friendly” to redundant systems.  Thanks to digital/mobile technologies, new distribution platforms can and will spring up with limited cost or infrastructure required.  Much like the human body that can generate a new blood flow when an arterial route becomes clogged, new media will find new distribution pathways to avoid any “clogs” in a metaphorical sense.   Distribution pathways are no longer proprietary.

The same holds true for audiences.  Historically, audiences were much more proprietary than they are today.  Media consumption tended to be more concentrated around particular vehicles/properties. Today, in a world of hyper media consumption, it is quite rare that any particular medium can and will attract a truly unduplicated audience that cannot be found elsewhere.  Ask any media buyer, and they’ll agree that no single media property is a ‘must buy’ anymore.  A buyer can literally ‘buy around’ any property and still accumulate audience reach.

The old model is broken:  any medium that defines its strategy by virtue of either its mechanism for content distribution and/or its ability to aggregate an audience will, likely, fail.  There is nothing proprietary or particularly compelling in distribution pathways or audiences.  The media, themselves, are becoming a commodity.

The commoditization of media will open up an opportunity for those who understand classic Brand Management and can apply these timeless principles to the media business. Media Brands must live by the same rules as any other ‘Brand’.  

Some media brands truly understand the essence of what they promise to their audiences, and they can do so without having to name the ‘who’ or the ‘how’ in their promise.  A few favorites come to mind:

  • HBO:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  In a Cannes Case Submission, HBO was referenced as a ‘Brand of Preeminent Storytellers’.  This promise creates a clear sense of purpose that can take the HBO  brand across any media platform and appeal to any audience that wants to engage with a good ‘story’. 
  •  Martha Stewart:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Promises to “Enrich Everyday Lives”.  In her Mission Statement, she then goes on to describe the ‘who’ and the ‘how’.  But the promise is clear, and can stand alone.
  •  Real Simple?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Enough said!  The name speaks for itself.  The promise is clear, relatable, and applicable across platforms and audiences.

 True media brands are, unfortunately, the exception and not the rule.  From the below examples, it’s clear that the media industry has a fair amount of Brand Management work to do! 

  • ESPN:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Do you exist in service of the “Sports Fan”?  ESPN is definitely on the right track: they created White Space in the highly cluttered sports media universe, by promising a ‘service’ to a high value customer segment.  They have been able to expand their promise seamlessly across a broad array of media platforms.  I would like to see them go one step further:  can they remove the audience “The Sports Fan” from their Mission Statement and still make the brand promise work?  Even ESPN cannot own “The Sports Fan”.  But, they can own what makes ESPN unique, and attractive to The Sports Fan.
  •  CNN:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Are you a ‘Cable News Network’?  Let’s face it: the CNN brand was originally built around a unique and provocative distribution platform for news.  Clearly, this positioning is no longer unique or compelling.  Today, CNN claims to be the ‘most trusted name in news’.   The notion of ‘trust’ is an outcome: it’s earned.  So, what ultimately sits at the core of the CNN brand to earn the trust of the audience?   The promise is unclear and the health of the CNN franchise reflects this ambiguity.
  •  More:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Are you ‘For Women of Style and Substance’?  I like to call myself a ‘Woman of Style and Substance’ and I happen to read More Magazine.  But what does More’s new positioning statement promise me?  It tells me I’m in the right place: but why?

 Getting the Brand ‘right’ is only half the battle.  How do you flawlessly execute your Brand Behavior to consistently reinforce your Promise?   Can you make the hard call and edit out activity that may be appealing from an audience or revenue perspective, but is clearly ‘off brand’?   

Why does this matter?

In a world where new technologies can spring up overnight, and no one can claim ownership of its audience, your only hope is a powerful Media Brand that can move where the marketplace will go, and do so while remaining true to its Promise.



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