Brands face unprecedented competition for consumers’ attention and mindshare today. It’s not just that certain segments of consumers are using ad blockers or switch channel to ignore ads but it’s also that informational clutter and promotional bombardment leads them to be ever-more selective of the kind of communication they value. As a consequence of this macro tendency, some of the forward thinking brands have decided to be more conscious and creative in the ways they communicate and build relationships with their audience.
The practice of brand journalism, being a literary organization, an integrated media outlet, or a publisher is becoming almost the only ways to attract consumers. The approach of brand journalism is distinct from content marketing in the sense that it is more about journalism (in its almost nostalgically original sense) or about journal keeping à la travelogues than it is about brand promotion. It may give a feeling of investigative reporting, ethnographic field notes or exploratory essays. The secret code is being a proto-source from which meaningful stories or knowledge come to light in an inside out manner. In order to establish this territory in the minds of consumers, brands are required to research and develop creative content inside out, reveal the latest thinking in the field or operate as cultured enlighteners by passing on insider know-how to their audience.
Some of the good examples of this approach are: Christie’s ed-tech project1, Harvard Business Review magazine by Harvard University, some of the online courses on Coursera, explanatory videos on global economic news by WEF, Oxford Dictionaries by University of Oxford and the renowned holistic media emporium of the niche brand Red Bull called the Red Bull Media House. The energy drink’s media emporium produces games, apps, TV, musical podcasts, movies, sports events videos and magazine through creative collaborations and a global network of correspondents in some 160 countries.2
What this direction gives to brands is that it adds value to the brand, raises awareness about it among better-targeted circles, increases soft assets and solidifies thought-leadership. By putting meaning or purpose at the core, by providing substantial content over fleeting content, brands reach their audience to guide and not govern, seduce and not sell, attract and not attack them. It connects with the audience of existing and potential customers in a more real value-adding and non-commercial manner. This is what distinguishes the thoughtful brands from the consumerist ones. Today, a steady flow of content is a sine qua non but, in some cases, the spacing effect needs to be taken into account as well.
In some cases, the real core product actually comes to life after brand journalism as opposed to before as it usually is. For instance, the Frieze art fairs that was launched in 2003 originally started as a brand extension of the art magazine, also called Frieze that was founded in 1991. The relationships built through this medium enabled the founders to attract 135 galleries for their very first show. “The number of exhibitors has more than tripled since then.” – wrote Mark Tungate, author of Luxury World.3 Instead of creating a product and then try to find the niche for it, they first built the audience and then created a brand for them.
The ‘brand as a media outlet’ is nothing new as it has already been the direction for some of the brands for the last decade. What’s new is that there is now a new paradigm shift that goes beyond the brand as a media company. It makes the brand transform into either an economic or cultural think tank. It implies that instead of a marketing department, companies need to move to holistic brand management where there is a think-tank department within. The work of this body is similar to a guild but only based on mental craft instead of the manual one. Reaching this dimension requires unconventional research, original creativity, rare competitive intelligence, curatorial discerning Third Eye, revealing the substance (or making, in a sense, revelations) and bringing educational value. The 4Es necessary for the management of such think tanks are: emotional, elevating, enlightening and enriching. Thoughtful brands that operate as think tanks do not just work hard but also think hard. Thoughtful brands that lead the thoughts rather than hear random flows of thoughts decipher cogito ergo sum right.
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