Embracing Infinite Media
Debates about which technology will “win” in the future don’t help brands. Focusing on people, mission and speed does.
Ever since digital media
technologies began to emerge nearly 20 years ago, the subject of the “Future of Media” has been near the top of the agenda for business, brands, agencies, governments. The debate has seen
ebbs and flows, but never have the implications of the changing media world been more important than today. We sit at a point of inflection as we move into a truly convergent media environment. The
world is already a very different place now than it was even five years ago, and the effects of convergence, along with globalization, mean that the economy, business, society and culture now grapple
the emerging reality of a world made interconnected, interdependent and transparent by media.
My contention -- and it’s one that gets firmer every day -- is that brands have a major opportunity to become the driving force of positive change in the world, and to add value and purpose to people’s lives. The opportunity is most profound for the brands and organizations with truly global influence. For those companies that get it right, the mistrust of the “No Logo” generation will be replaced by a genuine embrace from a population seeking a different relationship with brands -- one based on trust and mutual benefit. And because of that global reach and influence, they will be among the very few entities that can face head-on some of the greatest global challenges and effect the greatest change. For this, they will win our loyalty, our partnership, even our love.
Yet many brands are approaching the opportunity with apprehension. Established markets and ways of doing business are being swept away by the disruptive power of technology, and a new way of doing things isn’t yet proven. This makes understanding the future trends in media critical, but so often the debate centers on headlines rather than substance. Millions of column-inches have been dedicated to the “Future of Media,” but this conversation has mostly focused on predicting which particular media or which particular device will win, and if, when and how television will collapse as a medium and as an industry. But these conversations have missed the mark in helping brands and businesses design a long-term strategy to create a better, more valuable and sustainable economic model, specifically for a convergent media world. Clearly, some brands are pushing ahead, but too many are struggling to adapt.
Now is the time for action, but not in the form of a series of nearsighted tactics. Rather, we need a systemic approach brand-building innovation. I was fortunate enough to speak at a MediaPost conference in September 2008, the week after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. I spoke of our industry looking down a barrel of a gun and the fact that the immediate future of the media industry would evolve in three consecutive phases: Recession, Discontinuity and Convergence. In reality, these phases have overlapped and collapsed into one highly complex and confusing landscape.
What is necessary, then, is a compass to guide our futures, shape our decisions and enable us to design our businesses for a world shaped by media. Brands and businesses have an opportunity to take the lead and generate the stability and purpose that drive positive change in the world. To do so, several key dynamics in convergence need to be understood.
The supply of media has moved from scarce to almost infinite, creating an explosion of options that is out of kilter with almost every organization’s resources. Content, now digitized, is detached from time, place, and platform, and can often be consumed in multiple formats at any time, in any place, on multiple devices. The atomization of media means that cut through for marketing activity is more difficult to achieve at scale.
However, as a result of convergence, communications are now interconnected, interdependent and transparent. The point of contact, or engagement, between brands and consumers, and the point of transaction, are moving closer together and becoming more measurable, especially driven by search and mobile.
While some new media platforms have achieved real scale — Facebook and YouTube, for example, have 900 million+ and 800 million+ users, respectively, on a global basis — that scale is made up of “small pieces loosely joined” by media, with new channels emerging every day and new marketing options continuing to materialize. Media will move past devices and become all-encompassing. It will be everywhere. All the time.
This is an overwhelming idea, but successful brands of the future will share key characteristics:
They will be relentlessly focused on people. That is, real people and their real needs, not just their behaviors as consumers. People and their relationships with institutions and brands of all types are changing. Consumers are connected with one another and are therefore empowered like never before. We are seeing the emergence of a new form of consumer behavior driven by the connected cultures through which they organize their lives. To be successful in reaching consumers, brands and businesses will have to understand people’s changing needs.
They will be crystal clear about their purposes as organizations. Not just in defining core business, product value and services, but just as importantly, in the higher purpose to which the organization aspires. This will move thinking from delivering short-term gain to building long-term value. These will be the brands and the businesses that people trust. These brands will embrace transparency and people will embrace them. They will be social by design and they will care about everything and everyone their business touches.
They will be the most agile in the way they operate. In the future, being right will be much less important than being fast. Change cycles happen so quickly that the ability to innovate, build small, fail fast, and scale rapidly will be an organizational necessity.
They will consider “media” just as important as the manufacturing plant in which they make products, or the stores in which they sell them. Successful brands will have to be brilliant at media, and to do so, marketing and sales must become one. Brands will recognize that the highest form of consumer engagement is the purchase, but understand that this is just the start of the relationship, not the outcome. And media, and the data it generates, will help to bring supply and demand closer together, cutting waste and delivering what consumers want more efficiently and profitably, creating success for the brand and building a more sustainable economic model for all.
So what does this mean for the advertising, media and communications industry? As an industry we have allowed ourselves to become too focused on the urgent and tactical, rather than the important and strategic. We have the transversal view of what is happening and the capability to understand the shifting mechanics and commercial imperatives of the supply side of the media industry. We hold much responsibility in guiding our clients and their brands to operate in the future media world that will help people unlock the positive potential of globalization and convergence.
We are at a point of media convergence where consumers hold the power to the future success of brands, and brands hold the keys to success for our economy. Media will be central to the success of both, and for the brands that do, they will win people’s loyalty, their partnership, even their love.
Nigel Morris is CEO Aegis Media Americas & EMEA