For years, only television networks possessed what every consumer brand desired to create: a portfolio of sought-after content. Today, however, leading brands like Red Bull, Coca-Cola, and American Express are themselves content networks.
Are they TV networks? No, but they’ve reimagined their brands to be content publishers fully integrated into social media feeds. They’re creating content that’s built around their customers’ passions in order to gain relevance and a unique, authoritative voice in a crowded sea of sameness and ineffective ads.
spent my career uniquely straddled between brand agencies and TV networks, I see TV networks clearly facing the same challenge of keeping their brands relevant. Perhaps it’s their turn to take a
cue from the consumer brands that were once their ad revenue jackpot.
From content destination to content curation
Technology has changed the way people consume media. People no longer seek content out, but receive it in their social media feeds from their friends. They also find it on curated sites and curate it themselves with their DVRs. The democratization of content is real ,and TV networks have long lost their distinction as THE content destinations.
To remain relevant, networks must transform from branded content destinations to branded and curated feeds of niche content experiences -- communicated using a cohesive point of view.
The POV is what brands and motivates curated content. Take American Express, which was able to establish a powerful foothold among small-business owners by launching OPEN Forum, a blog community for small-business owners providing valuable content curated from both community members and top industry analysts. Credibility grew swiftly, and OPEN Forum is now a go-to resource for businesses that has exposed the American Express brand to an enormous audience of engaged consumers.
Likewise, if a TV network is recognized as the authoritative content curator in its niche, people will take notice. HBO has done a great job in establishing its unique POV as a content curator: Only HBO can dish up “The Sopranos,” “True Blood,” “Big Love” and “Boardwalk Empire”… because it's not TV, it's HBO.
From tune-in to buy-in
Networks promote the hell out of their prime-time shows, but today’s audience doesn’t care when, where or how they watch TV. And a bazillion choices make piercing through the noise nearly impossible. Networks must transform their viewer promo strategy from attracting tune-in to buy-in, where audiences actively participate in the brand.
Network participation begets audience participation. People participate with people and things when they share common beliefs and interests. Successful brands have become more intentional, going beyond the "point of purchase" and buying into their customers’ lives.
It’s how Red Bull became synonymous with extreme sports to capture the active youth audience. With blogs, magazines, movies, TV shows, events and athletes, Red Bull is now a media company that happens to sell energy drinks.
Like Red Bull, TV networks can take steps to buy-in to their target audience’s interests, embedding themselves in that world and increasing relevance. Audiences, recognizing the brand’s value, will return the favor with tune-in and participation.
Niche, non-fiction networks have the most obvious buy-in opportunities. A tactical example would be leveraging native advertising and content marketing strategies as an alternative content distribution and promotion tactic. Produce original and repurposed network content to run in social media feeds and native video placements. For example, the History Channel could produce a video series about historic compromises in Congress to run with blog/editorial sites covering today’s political gridlock. It’s all about being part of the conversation.
From seasons to conversations
Once a network is established as a relevant content curator actively participating in its viewers’ lives, this must sustain beyond broadcast seasons. When viewers are truly engaged, they don't have (or want) an off-season. You don’t have a conversation, disappear for months on end and expect the same level of engagement when you return.
Many consumer brands have adopted this strategy, exchanging traditional ad campaigns for a continual conversation with their audience through real-time mini-campaigns, social, content and event marketing efforts. Starbucks created mystarbucksidea.com as a platform where its most caffeinated patrons could share ideas to improve the brand.
Or consider the successful Old Spice campaign that shared hundreds of video responses to the conversations happening around "the man you wish your man smelled like."
A network launching similar platforms could harvest data from social TV viewers and act immediately to create new content and conversations. This is not only a clear way to monitor the buzz, but also an opportunity to join the conversation.
TV networks that do this well leverage their characters, hosts and personalities throughout the “off-season,” pairing them with an enormous platform for exposure. The presence continues through online personas on Twitter and Facebook, posted mini-plotlines and side stories. As brands, networks need to keep serving up content or creating opportunities for audiences to participate beyond the broadcast.
Changing television networks can rule again.
Television networks may have a lot to learn from consumer lifestyle brands — the two have long been connected at the hip — but today’s successful networks and brands are switching roles. As each evolves to be more like the other, they're also evolving to be closer to the changing consumer/viewer. Never has that old saying held more truth: If you're not changing, you're dying.