With around 90% of UK homes (ONS: 2018) connected to the Internet, the Internet is now an everyday part of our lives both at home and work. After search engines, and social media sites, media brands are among the most visited sites on the web. Globally the BBC, IMDB and CNN rank highly and in the UK, the Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail, and Times online newspapers as well as Sky also lead the pack.
So what can we learn from media brands and what are ways to ape them?
In the world of the Internet content is king. Thus, content, or more precisely, search terms should be at the heart of your strategy in order to attract customers to your website. The act of simply embedding keyword friendly code and text into your website drives traffic.
Establishing a blog has a similar effect. Using both keywords and links to websites increases website visitors by 55%, inbound links by 97% and indexed pages by 434% (Source: Chris Garrett)
Broadband and web 2.0 enables rich multi-media offerings including You Tube and the BBC iplayer. Thus the ‘lean forward’ mode of Internet usage no longer dominates, and merges with the more ‘laid back’ mode of watching tv.
This array of multi-media fuels more compelling brand experiences. Experiences that not only inform, but also entertain, and engage. For example, Pampers, the disposable nappy brand, now runs a portal covering almost everything mums need to know about pregnancy and babies. It is a thought-leader in the group and created new ways to interact and build relationships with child-bearing mums through the early years of their child’s life.
By including embedded video, even the most banal of business-to-business offerings now engage more emotionally.
In the world of the Internet, websites are also new routes to market or sales channels. But the difference is that they are sales channels that you can control. We’re all familiar with Amazon. Launched in 1994 Amazon is now a top performing (in terms of traffic) website in most countries of the world. It dominates the book market. Not only is this driven by the wide list of books stocked but also user-generated content such as book reviews and searchable book content.
Of course, media are also means or channels to communicate messages to customers. They also influence, or actually are, the message itself.
As long ago as 1937, P&G produced what became known as the first ‘soap opera’. So called due to the soap powder advertisement that followed the show. Called ‘Guiding Light’ – the first soap opera was a US daytime radio series. It transferred to tv in 1952 and aired until 2009.
The Guinness Book of Records started in 1955 as a marketing give-away for the Guinness brand. It still regularly tops the book best-seller lists. It also spawned franchised museums. The book and museum franchise are now owned by the Jim Pattison Group (Ripley’s Entertainment) being sold by Diageo in 2001. With foresight of the multi-media possibilities, perhaps the book would still be Guinness owned.
Creating ‘genre’ or subject driven websites conveys authority as well as cross promotes brands. In the baby care arena, Pampers is a good example. There are unbranded examples too. For example, Diageo runs unbranded whisky websites to indirectly promote its brands.
According to the IAB, the Internet overtook television to become the largest advertising sector in the UK in 2009. That’s a record spend of £1.75bn on search. This made the UK the first major economy, and the second after Denmark, to achieve this landmark. With the auction model driving pay-per-click price inflation there will inevitably become a point where brand owners scream ‘too much is too much’. So amass your own content to drive a high natural search ranking. And also a safety valve to contain costs.
In the world of the Internet, content is king. So use content to build and promote your brand. Also to add value, build stronger relationships with your customer, and tell your brand story. Create and use content to create more inventive and lower cost promotion vehicles and routes to market. As everyone is jumping in on the act from entrepreneurial bloggers and instagrammers to businesses, don’t be left behind!
There is widespread recognition among children’s tv producers that income from tv programme sales is seldom enough to cover production costs so brand licensing is often centre stage to increase revenue. However, if you start by thinking about brand innovation the upside is even greater.
The current brand licensing process is typically an auction. A producer makes a show. It’s then sold to broadcasters and aired. Production of a ‘style guide’ follows, with a synopsis of the show, the key characters and design elements. It’s usually an impressive tome, a wonderful work of art. This is then sent to potential licensees with a brief asking them to come up with new product ideas. The product rights are then sold to the highest bidder.
But the current model often leads to little more than putting a label on a product. While there are a few bucks in adding a logo to a pair of pyjamas, pencil-case or rucksack, the benefits seem marginal. Does the label aid brand recognition, stand-out or value? More likely it relegates your brand to a commodity found in cheap and cheerful stores. Thus undermining the brand.
Therefore thinking from a supply-push product development mindset alone isn’t enough. It’s akin to throwing mud at a wall – and hoping it sticks.
Moreover, markets are increasingly competitive. Media owners compete against retailers, and consumer goods companies. These businesses are amongst the most sophisticated organisations in the world. So, learning from, and out-thinking them, is helpful.
Consumers choose based on their needs; whether an offer meets their needs, and also by weighing up the benefits of competing offers. They subsequently buy when their ‘needs’ become ‘wants’. The retail trade also buys and stocks-up similarly. Based on what sets their store apart, and also drives store traffic and meets their customer’s needs.
So invest in audience or consumer research to make better product development and brand innovation decisions. In particular, invest in meaningful insights on consumers’ needs and behaviours. Also understand what engages and sets your tv series apart. Look for unusual character and personality quirks. Do this at the same time as programme production, in order to maximise both programme development and brand innovation opportunities.
Stimuli (1) brings to life ideas. Thus better enabling consumers to react to ideas, and challenge and build them. It therefore moves conversations beyond the superficial to the detailed. In turn, helping to uncover more insights. In addition, insights become more meaningful and better articulate how to differentiate products and services, and also command a premium. All can then be hard-wired into ‘style guides’ and also brand marketing plans in order to deliver the return on investment you need.
Brand licensing is a valid and powerful means of extending a brand into new markets and growing sales. However there are commercial upsides in thinking beyond slapping your label on a product. So think about what currently sets your brand apart or could in the future, and develop a brand strategy based on these insights.
Extending programmes beyond the tv screen to create brands requires the programme’s unique essence to be truly understood. Do this by seeing through the audience’s eyes. Also by using creative stimuli to explore, and push creative boundaries.
The same thinking process applies to any organisation thinking about how to extend their product or service into new markets. Carpe diem.
(1) Stimuli reproduced courtesy BBC Worldwide. These are just a handful of some 70 plus ideas created in order to explore new product and brand innovation opportunities for The Secret Show. Read more about our approach to brand extension and using creative stimuli in research.
The greatest brands have high awareness and a clear and distinctive image. Also an ability to evoke a strong rational and emotional bond with audiences, stretch into new markets as well as change with the times. With the opening of its new London store, The National Geographic Society delivered a great brand experience.
It all started in 1888 when 33 explorers and scientists gathered to form the National Geographic Society ‘for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge’. Over the years, the Society has supported many expeditions and research projects including polar and undersea expeditions, studies of animals, such as Dian Fossey’s study of mountain gorillas. It has also enabled discoveries such as the wreck of the Titanic (Robert Ballard) and the man-like Zinjanthropus in Tanzania (Louis Leakey).
The first brand extension, National Geographic magazine appeared in 1888. Then with its articles on geography, science, world history and current events, dramatic photographs from around the world, and trademarked yellow border, it became an icon of our times. Also a coffee table essential for the chattering classes.
In June 1985, National Geographic chose a close-up of an ‘Afghan girl’ as the cover photo for an article on the refugee crisis in Afghanistan.
Photographed by Steve McCurry, the girl had sea green eyes striped with blue and yellow. She peered with a mixture of bitterness and courage from within a tattered burgundy scarf. As a result her picture touched the souls of millions.
In 1964, the brand extended onto television with stories of adventure and science. In turn, it gave fame to marine explorer and ecologist Jacques Cousteau and his adventures on board Calypso. The first TV channel then followed in 1997. Then in 2007, National Geographic created a global media group comprising all of its magazine, book publishing, television, film, music, radio, digital and maps units.
Together with franchise partner, Worldwide Retail Store, National Geographic opened in Regent Street in November 2008. It is (or was*) a fantastic sensory experience.
On walking in you are greeted by a staff member from one of the many nations represented in the store. To the right are magazines and videos, all with the iconic yellow border, neatly displayed in a small pagoda-like structure. Beyond is a café with rustic tables and chairs. It is a great place to chat and enjoy a drink and pastry or pincho created by the fabulous Spanish chef.
All is interposed with state of the art interactive screens and video walls bringing HD quality pictures from around the world up close and real. After hours, the merchandise then packs away and the room becomes a lecture theatre.
Inside the door are a series of horse sculptures carefully crafted from driftwood. Beyond are rows of hanging prints taken by National Geographic photographers. Also a market-place brimming with hand-crafted furnishings and artefacts from all over the world.
In the basement you’ll find clothing for the great outdoors as well as the most fashion conscious. Also a cold chamber to test the weather-proofing abilities of the outerwear. This includes a wind turbine, block of ice, thermal imaging camera and visual display to add dramatic effect. The shirts are priced at £119 therefore demonstrating the premium that great brands command.
Finally, on the top floor polished wooden desks adorned with glowing globes signal this is where to book your expedition (or holiday). In the nearby technology department the latest camera and optical equipment is showcased in sturdy steel cases. Dressed in their khaki safari gear, staff are unobtrusive yet close to hand. For example, to advise on what’s best to see the stars or (photographically) shoot beasts in the bush. All that seems missing is a Masai warrior or lion on the loose…… but then again, did I really look everywhere?
While many great brands evolved by accident, what’s critical is management vision and conviction to push the boundaries. Also rigorous attention to detail to inspire and deliver consistently through all activities. As with all great brand experiences you should see, hear, think and feel the quality, value and difference.
*Sadly the London store closed in 2017, and its demise is our loss. Thus, we presume the high cost of a Regent Street venue, and associated high costs of merchandise, were insufficient to keep the business in the black. And/or alternatively following Disney’s acquisition of 67% of the shares, the place to visit is now the Disney Store.
Nevertheless, even without a stand-alone London store, National Geographic remains a great brand experience, with clever brand extensions, and underpinned by a clear brand strategy!
Photo credits: Afghan girl by Steve McCurry, other photos of the National Geographic Store © Guy Tomlinson 2009.