Modern Brands Need to Become Mega-Applications (and Forget Media)

Media Has Become a Dated Concept, Which Gave Birth to a Sillier Concept, 'Social Media'

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Oren Frank
Oren Frank

One by one, the old disciplines of marketing and communications are being disrupted by the internet. Perhaps one of the saddest victims is "media." It is an old paradigm and an even older word, that in theory means "channels and tools used for the storage and transmission of data or information." To deal with this irrelevance we invented "new media," which I guess means media plus interactivity, but is this really enough to mark the shift?

The basic mistake is the attempt to continue viewing "media" as a standalone category and vertical. It leads to such amusing terms as "social media." Right, he must be crazy. We're talking about the future of marketing, social media that is. Well, I suggest you travel back in time to the 1999 "Cluetrain Manifesto" and read it again. It's all there, but it's about us, the consumers, and not about channels, transmissions and definitions. Because the internet and the web are networks of connected nodes, mostly comprising people, therefore, the internet is inherently social, built into its very design.

We are using the term "social media" and its younger sibling, "earned media," probably because it is our way to hang on to our old ideas about traditional media. Social media is basically the ability to self-express and connect many to many -- something many of us did on BBS boards with 14.4k modems. But in marketing and communications we actually use "social media" to show that we still "reach" our consumers even when they're on the web, and sometimes, we don't even have to pay for it! At least not as much as we pay on TV.

This is very useful for our boardroom keynotes, showing how smart we are, as we spend less on marketing. Man, we're on social media and may even have a dashboard to show how we accumulate earned media. We must rely on the bleeding edge.

When looked upon from the consumer point of view, this is just another case of our industry trailing the consumers. For the consumer, the brand's presence on "social media" is obviously meaningless unless coupled with improved and tangible value. Moving your customer service to Twitter and making it much faster? We get it. Inviting 200 professional dietitians to your online lifestyle forums? Good. Just being there and collecting fans? Absolutely useless. Our consumers see no distinction between product, service, Facebook page, point of sale, webapps, packaging and even a TV ad. All are parts of one continuum called the brand experience. It means that "media" is now fused with "marketing" and certainly with "branding."

I also believe most of us will agree today that: B(e) = V+C x Wom. Brand equity equals the value the brand delivers (products, services, utilities etc.) plus the relevant content it offers multiplied by word-of-mouth (or mouse). What it means is that "media" could be everything, and everything could be "media." Think of the Daily iPad app. Is it media? Is it a product? A service? Content platform? Participation tool? Yes.

We could then conclude that modern brands need to become mega-applications, combining a seamless experience of all its activities (value, content, distribution, participation, pricing, design, "media" and so on and on). We already have quite a few of those; look at for a very beautiful one. If we do insist on continuing calling a part of this construct "media," maybe its role is to be the brand's senses; conversing with consumers, collecting data and information, and constantly optimizing its offering.

If this metaphor is accurate, it calls for a very different way of managing brands -- both on the marketers' and agency sides. A new paradigm in which consumer-centricity becomes the core, or maybe the very definition of marketing, and a way of life for its practitioners.

Oren Frank is global chief creative officer at MRM Worldwide. During his career, he has worked with such brands as Honda, Volvo, Microsoft, Yoplait, Heineken, Axe and McDonald's.
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