Building A Brand, Finding Your Voice The Old-Fashioned Way

In life, you're either wrong -- or you're right until you're wrong.

Unless you're blessed with a distinguished editorial voice from the get-go, finding one's point of view is arguably the toughest challenge for any media company.

In 2006, I was handcuffed by a non-compete agreement forbidding me from operating a men's lifestyle magazine, so when I launched my new company I set out to produce lifestyle and entertainment content for men and women of all ages.  With embeddable videos making videos go viral, I was somewhat vindicated that videos could live on any site, and thus take on the site's demographic.

As such, our content grew increasingly topical, instead of being host-driven. Before long, we were featured on both general portals and vertical publishers. Still, I'd be lying if I said that we had built an audience with actual viewers.  Sure, people were watching our content, but not necessarily in any pull environment. 

We were increasingly successful with media professionals who were looking for professionally produced premium content.  The problem with them was: why the big emphasis on the brand then?  The initial rationale was that when - not if - a site ripped our content off and didn't pay for it, then at least we would get some brand exposure.  But if the objective was to feed other sites' video needs, the massive branding reduced the velocity.

By 2009 I began to make regular pilgrimages to the Mecca of media, New York.  The consensus was clear: we needed more focus, a POV.  I've written about the horizontal versus vertical debate. In short, horizontal's breadth helped pay the bills..

The problem was, we'd never scale our advertising business - so we were told - until we became a leader in a given vertical and developed a clear POV.  I thought that was a losing long-term proposition: due to fragmentation, no matter how unique your POV and strong your brand, there's always another place a media buyer will prefer spending his or her budget.  But I'd be lying if I said that I didn't yearn for an engaged audience to actually make the brand meaningful.

Stick to what you know

They say you can't have your cake and eat it, too.  Well, they're wrong.  Having built a library of largely evergreen content, we had the distinct advantage of relying on our back catalog, while applying resources to create content in a vertical where we had the opportunity to serve an engaged audience while building a more defensive and differentiated kind of content. 

We had to look within and focus on where we were passionate about, where our team held a comparative advantage and we felt we could win.

By doing that, we managed to preserve the revenue stream provided to us by the horizontal focus while building our engaged audience around factual infotainment programming,. Throughout, I learned that sometimes, you can also be wrong until you're suddenly right.

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