Marketing becomes media

By June 26, 2012Advertising

Somebody recently described Red Bull to me as a media company that happens to sell beverages. I think we will soon be able to say something similar about many of the world’s most successful consumer brands.

For those that don’t know, Red Bull has grown from next to nothing to a global force over the last twenty years in energy drinks –  a category they pretty much created. Their success came partly because they have a great product, millions of people LOVE Red Bull, but partly because they have built their brand with a series of innovative events and amusing adverts. Their flagship FlugTag events around the UK are fun and memorable, as are their ‘Red Bull gives you wings‘ ad campaigns.

Turning to fashion, two British of the more successful British startups over the last five years, Net-a-Porter and ASOS, have built their businesses by blending content with commerce – i.e. a mixed media and retail business model where media offsets traditional marketing spend. ASOS in particular stands out as having achieved significant success (£1.3bn market cap, TTM revenues and pre-tax £495m and 330m) on minimal marketing spend.

Just about every other brand is now headed in the same direction, catalysed by their move into social media. As they seek to engage customers in places where they are hanging out to be entertained rather than transact they are having to balance their sales oriented communications with content that is interesting in its own right, i.e. they are having to become media companies. To get specific, social media marketeers are now offering the following sort of advice:

  •  don’t ask, “How can we convert fans into sales?”—instead ask, “How can I provide value to my fans?”.  Then, and only then, will fans actually consider making a purchase as a result of your social marketing efforts.
  • —for every 5 posts you make, only ONE post (20%) should be DIRECTLY about your brand/product (i.e. “Buy our product”, “Visit our website”, etc).  The other four posts (80%) should be RELEVENT to your audience and provide VALUE in some form—informational, funny, interesting, etc.—but they should NOT be directly about YOU
  • Find 10 blogs (do a simple Google search i.e. “popular food blogs”) relevant to your audience.  Subscribe via RSS and share the most interesting / entertaining posts with your fans
  •  you’ll need to differentiate between the ones that perform well and those that perform poorly on your Page.  There are many ways you can do this, but I’d recommend simply running the numbers in a spreadsheet

The advice in these bullets could easily have been directed at a newspaper journalist. Although maybe not at a quality paper 🙂

  • Red Bull is one of the most succesful brands on FB…not because people want to follow a brand that sells them cans of hyperactive drink, but because they have awesome content from crazy people doing crazy things (which BTW happens to be branded with the name of that can). Pinterest is another example of a blend between UGC/media/commerce with so much upside. Big question is whether media will move quickly into this (ex Vogue who is already a media company fashioning fashion taste but does not yet enable -or want to enable-to help you close the txn)

  • When I read the title I thought it was an Orwellian reference:  “[they] looked from media to marketing, and from marketing to media, and from media to marketing again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” And then I read the article, and thought maybe it was 😉

  • It might have been if I knew that quote ☺. Marketeers have been talking about advertising as content for years now, but what we are seeing today is subtly different. Rather than thinking how can I make my advertising interesting like content companies are thinking – what content can I give to my customers in the hope that positive brand associations will follow.

  • neil_lewis

    Yes, that’s right Nic – all you have to do is think about the media industry 30 years – if marketeers wanted to reach an audience we bought an advert in a media publication or bought a list from a list broker (often compiled from newspaper, magazine subscription lists and trade directory entries).

    These days, we build a word press site, facebook page, twitter handle, linkedin group, google+ page etc… and then we start publishing and spreading the content to gain traction and readers.

    The shift in the past 4 or 5 years has been from purely text content to text with pictures (thanks to sites like iStockPhoto which supply the illustrating pics) to more and more image driven content – eg pintrest, tumblr and instragram etc…

    The shift is significant for startups because it has moved costs from third party suppliers (ie the media companies) to staff costs (often fixed) on the product and services owner. Which is why startups have become labour intensive not cost intensive – (albeit, you do at some point need to pay for the labour).


  • Thanks Chris. I haven’t read this for maybe 20 years. Orwell writes well.

  • You’ve reminded me that another way to look at this change is as a shift from bought media to earned media, and from spending money on advertising to spending money to on staff.

  • neil_lewis

    re: “from spending money on advertising to spending money on staff”

    That’s exactly right Nic – it is also a key driver in the growth of digital/ creative / marketing freelancers – because early stage companies dare not incur the fixed (and incrementally growing) liabilities of employees, they will depend more and more on freelancers.

    Hence, a key factor in a healthy startup community is a healthy freelance community too.

  • Interesting. Makes sense.