Why Brands Need Faces and Franchises in the Platform Age

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Casey Neistat in 'World's Largest Homemade Drone.'
Casey Neistat in 'World's Largest Homemade Drone.' Credit: Casey Neistat via YouTube

Three major inversions are brewing in plain sight that, if fully mastered, will make it easier for brands to be relevant. Fortunately for marketers, others have left clues.

This is what I learned last year by visiting many of the digital platforms that are consuming the majority of our time, attention and ad dollars. This research serves as the basis for our annual ecosystem forecast for marketers.

First, there's been an inversion of influence. The traditional pyramid, where authority figures on top sway the masses, has been upended. Studies show influence has shifted away from institutions and it now travels primarily through peer individuals.

Second, attention has flipped as well. It's no longer optimal for brands to just demand it. Attention now must also be earned. It's about relationships over reach.

Finally, content is no longer king, distribution is. Platforms are more powerful than publishers. And recent changes to the Facebook algorithm in particular now prioritize peers over professional creators.

These three inversions, as the election and Brexit particularly showed us, aren't going away. However, influencers and Hollywood have arguably successfully navigated similar disruptions and they provide a "faces and franchises" model for brands to emulate.


Social networks are democratic and open to institutions of all kinds. However, at their heart they exist primarily for connecting people.

The businesses that stress a storytelling approach that prioritizes delivery through credible, authentic and proximate peer faces vs faceless brands will be more successful.

This isn't a new idea. However, it's become more critical now that the feed is the primary theater for content consumption.

Influencers, by their nature, do this well all the time. They are relevant and authentic voices. But they have a leg up over others because they are inherently individuals. And they will surely continue to benefit.

This same approach to storytelling will become more pervasive elsewhere. More and more journalists, executives and expert employees will learn how to convene and engage social communities inside the platforms to get closer to their stakeholders.

CNN's recent acquisition of Casey Neistat and crew is indicative of where things are going. So is a focus by businesses like T-Mobile to show how their CEOs are relatable and authentic voices on social networks.


Another group worth modeling are the Hollywood studios.

The entertainment industry, arguably, has had to cope with a similar dynamic where large digital platforms have inserted themselves in between creators and consumers.

One way that the studios have navigated this is by doubling down on growing blockbuster story franchises -- extensive multiverses that are managed as brands.

Many of the most popular and anticipated movies over the last decade belong to such franchises. These include Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Minions and more.

Franchises are reignited over and over again through prequels, sequels and "requels." And while there is debate to how long this model can last, it seems our attention-staved world favors narrative continuity over clutter.

As more businesses begin to invest in creating their own content assets, they will also need to embrace a similar long-term approach. Feed fragmentation is real and they will need to adapt by investing in consistent signature content assets.

Further, they will need to look at how these programs are being activated with cross-channel synergy as Red Bull does. REI's OptOutside effort, which is now in its second year and on its way to becoming such a franchise (full discosure: REI is a client). And IBM has been nurturing story franchises going all the way back to the 1990s, with "Cognitive Business" as the most recent installment.

Other ways story franchises can come to life, include intellectual property development, serialized content series and social experiences that are physical and digital.

The news media too will do the same, most likely through in-depth reporting and innovation on the platforms.

The inversions of influence, attention and power are all real. However they can be mitigated when forecasted and applied through a "faces and franchises" approach to storytelling.

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