As mass media dies, brands are born anew

If traditional mass media is headed for the grave, and with it mass market advertising, as Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield (pdf) and others soberly predict, what will happen to the thousands of brands built on a mass media foundation? Will they crater, too?

On the face of it, one might think that the demise of mass media and mass market advertising is bad news for brands. Actually, though, it’s the opposite. It’s a tremendous opportunity for brands to be born anew, fresher and more vibrant than ever.

Truth is, brands don’t need traditional mass media to survive. In fact, they may be better brands without it. Brands are a joint venture between companies and their customers. Intermediaries can get in the way.

Bob Garfield’s “Chaos Scenario”

Bob Garfield’s recent Chaos Scenario 2.0 — The Post Advertising Age makes a persuasive case for the decline of traditional mass media and mass market advertising. It’s a follow-up to his original Chaos Scenario of 2005, in which he laid out a grim future for the advertising industry in the emerging digital world. In Chaos Scenario 2.0 Bob introduces new evidence of forces disrupting traditional advertising. He foresees a world “in which marketing — and even branding — are conducted without much reliance on the 30-second spot or glossy spread.”

In short, digital innovations are providing new frameworks for companies to join with their customers, without the expense and the repetitive intrusions of mass media campaigns.

Companies are reclaiming their brands

Major brands have seen the writing on the wall for some time, and are exploring new forms of brand value, and new brand avenues to connect with customers. There’s a perception that the conventional mass media approach was beginning to hold brands back, that it was coming between brands and customers at a time when brands needed to be closer to customers than ever.

In a sense, companies are reclaiming their brands, dialing down broadcast messages and dialing up direct personal connections, to maximize interaction and value flow between company and customers.

Proctor & Gamble sets an example

One can see this thinking in Jim Stengel’s well-publicized initiatives at Proctor & Gamble. In a recent speech to advertising executives, Jim said:

Building relationships through our brands is the future of marketing. It’s not about new media models or new tools. It’s about engaging with people in a two-way relationship. It’s about seeking to understand the other person rather than trying to control their actions. Trying to control someone is no way to build a relationship—or grow market share long term. We have come to realize that at P&G.

That’s why we’re changing. That’s why we’re committed to building brands that stand for something meaningful to consumers rather than just “telling and selling.”

The end of brands as “messages”

I’d take Bob’s and Jim’s arguments a step further, and say that brands are undergoing their own radical change, and will soon bear little resemblance to the ad-driven, mass media brands that once defined brand practice. The message model of brands is on the way out. As it has evolved, it’s largely turned brands into the illusion business. This is a double trap that conditions companies to treat “consumers” as a passive audience, and then to churn out undistinguished products and rely on mass media “messaging” to make them seem special. The long-term result is the triumph of hype over innovation and value, with a loss of competitiveness, and customer trust.

That era is now winding down, accelerated by the Internet and digital technology. The once-passive “audience” is now the world’s greatest publisher. In the digital era, the role of brands is not to be broadcast, but to deliver value as platforms and programs that customers can use.

For brands, a clear path ahead

To see where brands are headed, check out the diagram in Brand evolution: from mark, to media, to means. One reason for the impending “chaos” in advertising is that brands are beginning the transition from “media” to “means.” They’re moving from “brands as messages” to “brands as enablers.” They’re in the seam, like a tectonic plate that’s being subducted, to be melted down and spewed forth as entirely new landforms. To those in the old regime, this seems like the end of the world. However, in the new world abuilding, the virgin brandscape is awash with new customer opportunities, on a new brand foundation.

What should companies do?

Here’s a short list of what companies can do to transition their brands from a sinking mass media foundation to a new customer foundation. The process begins by reframing your brand as a performance package rather than a persuasion package:

  1. Ask yourself: What is holding our customers back? That’s the first step toward creating brand value.
  2. Revisit the brand mission. Your brand mission is to create the customers that will drive your business forward. Creating customers is a structured process of brand innovation that develops and delivers value customers can use.
  3. Recast your brands as personal applications. That’s what they’ll be in our digital age. Brands will be a second skin, 24/7—or they’ll be ignored.
  4. Restructure your brand from monolithic to multi-threaded. The monolithic, essence-based brand sleeps with the fishes. Brands are now performance-based and situational, tuned to a customer beat.
  5. Merge your brand team with your innovation team(s). They are one and the same.

At first glance, these steps items may seem daunting, but they can be implemented incrementally. In the long run, they’re necessary. We don’t want brands to wind up like this.

Photo: Wikimedia

One Response to “As mass media dies, brands are born anew”

  1. Brands Create Customers » Blog Archive » Some brands go medieval on their customers Says:

    […] As the world transitions to a digital age, leaving much of traditional mass media behind, brands that embrace the medieval style become increasingly vulnerable to brand innovation from competitors, and to brand disruption from below, where customers chart a new course for themselves. By confining customers and holding them back, the medieval model works against itself. It helps make its customers ripe for the taking. […]