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Digitalisation – a term that brand makers can hardly get around. But there are certain brands that have to deal especially with the topics of digitalisation and permanent innovation: Media brands. We talked to media brand expert Elmar Rugevics.

By Gina Block, GMK Markenberatung.

What was once the classic triad of television, radio and newspaper is now a multitude of formats and channels that intertwine on diverse platforms … What are the challenges for managing multimedia media brands and what makes this special form of brand?

Mr Rugevics, what actually makes a brand a media brand? What do you think falls under the term?

That’s a good question and not so easy to define. There are many things that fall under it. Strictly speaking, we speak of a medium as a means of communication, and that can be anything from a brochure to a television programme to a podcast. At this point, I would distinguish between classic brands that have always had media as their core business – for example, newspaper brands or TV stations –, newer media brands, such as the large streaming providers, of course, but also influencers and YouTubers, and brands that are now increasingly becoming “also” media brands in the broader sense, rather incidentally to support the core business.

The latter applies to almost every brand nowadays – and is not really new: almost every company has a website, but it has also printed brochures in many cases in the past. This does not make it a media brand, but at least a media–producing company. What is still relatively new, on the other hand, is the variety of possibilities, especially digital ones, that open up here for companies to get in touch with their target group – and to reach new potential interested parties. An industrial company that accompanies its engineers on the construction site in an exciting, relevant way and reports on everyday work in a brand–typical way can create a potentially highly emotional connection point here. At this point, I would like to add that I do not mean classic advertising media, but media with which the company offers added value and information. Only at this point would I speak of a brand “also” acting as a media brand – at least in an extended sense.

I have also deliberately referred to influencers here as media brands – because many of them have now become their own brand. In my view, many successful influencers fulfil all the criteria of what is understood by a brand and are often even more consistent – and thus more professional from a brand management perspective – than we know from many established companies in the industry. They generate a certain image in the minds of their target group of what kind of content they should expect from them, and thus become media brands themselves. So you see, basically anyone can be a media brand – “content is king” is the keyword here.

And what exactly distinguishes such a media brand from other brands?

There are various special features. There are, of course, characteristics and requirements that apply to all brands – and thus, of course, also to media brands: They must be recognisable and, ideally, their entire appearance, from their offer to their behaviour, must be so consistently designed that people can form a clear idea of them. But media brands are also subject to some special framework conditions. On the one hand, there is the special temporal pressure: the media world, even more than other industries, is extremely fast–moving, and this does not only apply to the genres where “topicality” is already an end in itself. At the same time, especially for media brands, the actual core product of the brand is created anew every day – and above all often live every day. Somewhat exaggeratedly, one can say: where other brands sometimes work for months on a product launch, many media brands have a new launch day every day – which of course represents a considerable challenge for brand management.

In addition, media brands certainly have another very special market environment: The fact that nowadays everyone can distribute content means that the competition is significantly greater than in all other industries – and it is all the more important here to stand out from the competition with a clear positioning and a differentiating offer.

While we are on the subject of challenges, what would you say are other challenges in managing media brands?

The live character is a great challenge and requires a very clear brand identity, which must be internalised, understood and implemented by all employees – especially, of course, by the moderators and the actual “media makers” in the company. It should also not be underestimated that mistakes in media brands are often very serious or “conspicuous”, as they simply reach a “large audience” in the most unfavourable case.

With many media brands, it is also often necessary to work with third–party content and licensed goods. This requires accuracy. A brand like YouTube, for example, faces the challenge that all its content is actually created by strangers and the uploads are not always easy to control. It is therefore all the more important that a brand knows what it wants to offer – in order to be able to define guidelines for content purchasing or uploading and curate the offer accordingly. 

At the same time, however, these are all great opportunities for the industry: there are an incredible number of potential moments of use and thus potentially a lot of contact with users. Of course, this diversity also creates a lot of competition for consumers’ attention. Even more than other brands, a media brand has to “perform” every day – and ideally absolutely flawlessly.

When we talk about performance – what is the best way for a media brand to position itself strongly?

The core is the same as for all brands: You have to know what you want as a brand and implement it consistently. Even more than with other brands, however, the offer is decisive for media brands: A product can be bought and then – depending on the type of product – used more or less often. Since media and their contents are so changeable for the reasons mentioned above and are always being created anew, they are in a sense „tried out anew“ with every use. And no one uses a medium if the offer is not (or no longer) right. Therefore, it is all the more important that there is a focused, action–guiding, differentiating positioning that provides the framework for a consistent brand experience – especially with the permanent “new development” of the product.

In addition, more than with any other form of brand, employees must be empowered to understand and live the product. Guidelines and training for presenters, content curators, format developers, editors, licence buyers and so on are therefore indispensable so that everything comes from the same mould, so to speak, and the image of the media brand is lived and communicated equally by all employees.

Media brands have to serve their advertising partners and users at the same time – a constant balancing act?

Of course, bringing together the product, the topic and the advertising is a big challenge, but one that can be mastered with good targeting. Facebook and Co., for example, are regularly criticised because the ads are not (sufficiently) context–sensitive – but both on the part of the media brand and on the part of the advertiser, it is not always in their own hands whether, for example, the radio spot for grilled sausages is played immediately after an editorial article about the production of greenhouse gases by the meat industry. Ideally, however, advertising should be placed so well that it reaches the audience at the same point as the context of the content. Especially in view of the fact that I simply change the channel or cancel the YouTube clip if the advertising annoys me too much, I think it would be important for a media brand to know its target group and audiences very well in order to offer advertisers the possibility to know exactly whom they can address and reach through advertising with the respective media brand.

Would you also say that the topic of brand purpose plays a role for media brands?

Definitely! There is potential for differentiation in a clear purpose. A good example is the Handelsblatt. It has consciously dedicated itself to increasing economic knowledge among the population – a great purpose in my opinion – and has long offered digital services as well as event series in addition to the classic print products. Many independent providers live from a strong purpose and the story behind the media brand. A good current example is certainly Katapult, but many YouTube channels are also based on the fact that people dedicate themselves with great commitment to a topic that moves them – and that they want to bring to the attention of others. Especially away from the “mainstream channels”, you can find contributions of impressive detail for many niches on YouTube, produced elaborately and with a lot of expertise. Here you notice that the producers really care about “their” topic, that they have a “reason” to talk about it. 

In my view, public media brands in particular could see the topic of purpose much more as an opportunity to define themselves through it and to be aware that they have a purpose, which ideally can be very valuable for many people. I would even go so far as to say that many more public service media should work out their purpose even more clearly and then “commit” to it in a way that can be experienced. In my view, there are great opportunities in the area of investigative journalism, for example. In my opinion, courage and commitment are still lacking here.

Would you also call Facebook, Instagram and Co. media brands? Or do they need their own category?

Definitely. One could differentiate again here and call the brands mentioned platform brands. What applies to all media brands applies to them, such as the requirement that the content must be right every day. A few years ago, when Facebook only flushed corporate communication into the feeds, this led to churn. Ultimately, the offer was no longer right, even if this did not come from the Facebook media brand itself, but was only communicated. In addition, there are other important issues, such as the curation of third–party content. 

What do you consider a prime example of a successful media brand?

In the more classic categories, this is certainly Katapult, which, with a clear focus on interesting, humorously prepared social science topics, can even grow in the often “dead” print sector. Among the newer media brands, Netflix still stands out for me, as they were the first to really noticeably go the way of differentiating originals, which the industry has since completely copied. More of a project and not really actively managed as a brand is histography.io, which is, however, a great example of how the combination of an exciting, differentiating idea – in this case, presenting the content from Wikipedia along an interactive timeline – with the technical possibilities can create a whole new approach to topics. In this example, the focus is less on using Wikipedia as a “reference work” and more on “discovering and drifting”. What fascinates me about this is how a completely different experience is made possible with the same content through a different “user interface”. This is the kind of innovation and creative approach to content that I would like to see more often from many big media. 

Which innovations and upheavals will occupy media brands in the future?

The integration of offers will certainly increase in the coming period. In addition, voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa are becoming increasingly important and should definitely be considered when designing media brands. Virtual, mixed and augmented reality are certainly the most exciting fields that we already know about. There is immense potential in this for media of all kinds, from information and entertainment to the provision of live instructions for complex operations by training media providers. However, the widespread distribution of really practicable devices is still missing here. But the path is marked out, as can be seen, for example, in Microsoft Hololens or Lightform Projection Mapping, which are working on a system that projects operable interfaces onto any surface.

Thank you very much Mr Rugevics!

About Elmar Rugevics

Media brand expert Elmar Rugevics
© GMK Markenberatung

Elmar Rugevics is a media brand expert with a passion. He has been with GMK Markenberatung since 2012 and is now a senior manager there. Previously, he worked at Publicis and BBDO. Also since 2012, he has led the overall mandate for strategic brand management at WDR with all brands from 1LIVE to Maus. In addition, he accompanied, among other things, the holistic brand relaunch at phoenix, carried out extensive positioning and implementation projects for Bayerischer Rundfunk and has been advising media companies for many years on all questions of holistic brand management and brand–driven transformation.

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