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Want to Be a Smarter Marketer? Follow Media Companies' Lead

Amid Fervid Competition They're Innovating Low-Cost, Crowd Pleasing Models for Social

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Marketers are used to holding all the power, while media owners scramble for dollars amid all kinds of disruption. But the smartest brands actually need to study their media partners and in many cases follow their lead.

Media brands operate in arguably the most competitive marketing arena. A cable network competes with 250 other brands for attention. Digital-media brands like Yahoo, Hulu and Facebook -- once upstarts and disrupters themselves -- are seeing shiny, newer upstarts invade their hard-won turf. Consumers switch brands at the click of a remote control or mouse. As businesses, their market share is tracked and measured in a matter of hours, rather than months.

But even with limited marketing budgets, media brands are improvising and making the most of their unpaid media options first. Here are some lessons we can draw from media brands:

Think like a publisher. The Daily Mail has become the largest newspaper website globally by perfecting its own brand of news and gossip, with bold use of visuals and clever search tactics to drive traffic to its site -- and encourage its circulation around the web. The Huffington Post has become highly adept at creating interactive content, receiving over 7 million reader comments a month. Both have built their success on the back of some of the lowest-cost models in the business. This is something brands can emulate.

Of course it helps to have a news hook, such as a new product introduction -- another area where all marketers can learn from media. In the months leading up to FX's "American Horror Story" premieres, TV viewers were teased with short, episodic flashes of unexplained, weird glimpses into the show. Viewers were left puzzled and uneasy, but primed to want to see the show.

Create cultural moments. Maybe it's easier said than done, but consider it your ambition. Rather than rely on advertising in other people's events, BBC America created its own event when promoting "Dr Who: Day of the Doctor" last month to coincide with its "Doctor Who" 50th anniversary.

BBC screened a cinema 3-D simulcast in 11 cities and made sure to be highly active on social media. On Tumblr, 14.5 million views were registered on the BBC America "Doctor Who" page; Twitter saw 1.83 million tweets.

The network promoted all of this on and off channel, creating celebrity spots online that in turn inspired spoofs. One came from Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy character from the forthcoming "Anchorman" sequel, another media-business case study in overachieving on marketing spending.

Innovate in social media. Eight of the ten most-liked Facebook brands, excluding celebrities, are media brands, and Fox's "Family Guy" has over 50 million "likes." Cable networks, however, have led the way in innovation of social-media platforms. MTV worked with Twitter to originate custom interactive experiences for its Video Music Awards, like an MTV Twitter Tracker site that encouraged viewers to tweet about VMA celebrities by expanding and shrinking the stars' photos as corresponding Twitter waxed and waned. The network also created Hotseat -- a seating chart of the theater that showed where celebrities were tweeting from during the broadcast. By clicking on a seat, viewers could see a celebrity's real-time Tweets.

MTV can usually count on a Miley Cyrus kind of moment to drive social media chatter at the VMAs, but it does everything it can to get in position before that moment arrives.

Make the most of strategic marketing partnerships. Clear Channel's iHeartRadio streaming music service has built an impressive brand amid a seas of alternatives. It's achieved this partly with the muscle of Clear Channel's radio stations, but also with the spectacle of the iHeartRadio music festival, album-release parties, exclusive artist content and partnerships with major media, technology and auto companies.

With so many alternatives to their products available instantly, media companies have not choice but to get their marketing right. Let's emulate their best examples.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Antony Young is president of Water Cooler Group, an independent brand media communications agency, and author of "Brand Media Strategy," a Palgrave MacMillan and Advertising Age publication offering strategies on communications planning in the Google and Facebook era.
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