Brands Want to Become Media Companies. Here’s How They Can Do It.

Everywhere you look, brands are turning into media companies — or at least they’re trying to. As we head towards 2014, the conversation for brands has permanently shifted from “Should we become a media company?” to “How do we do it?”

Michael Brito, Group Director at WCG, has some answers in his new book, “Your Brand, The Next Media Company: How a Social Business Strategy Enables Better Content, Smarter Marketing, and Deeper Customer Relationships.” The Content Strategist sat down with Brito to pick his brain about the brand publishing revolution.


Michael Brito, Author and Group Director at WCG, a W20 Company.

“Your Brand, the Next Media Company” just came out. Why this book, and why now?

There’s been this conversation for many years about brand publications, but my book is focused on questions like: How does a brand internally start thinking and operating like a media company? How do you get the right people, roles, and technology that’ll make it happen? Creating content from a brand perspective isn’t easy. We now know that brands should be media companies – this book is about how to do it. Brands realize they need to make this transition; they just don’t know how to do it. Having agencies do it is not a long-term solution. It has to come from within the organization.

Unlike a lot of people in the space, you don’t really come from a traditional publishing background. How’d you become such an evangelist for content?

Walking on the brand side, I’ve kind of been responsible for quote, unquote, “content marketing.” And content marketing is such an overused term — I don’t think people fully realize and understand what it actually means. In my perspective, it’s more than an infographic; it’s more than a video; it’s more than an SEO terminology. That’s all part of it. But in order to kind of become that content engine, there needs to be a fundamental shift in behaviors within the company.

A brand can’t just come to an agency and say, “We want to be a media company. Help us be a media company.” They actually need to become a media company. They need to start changing their roles internally and hiring the right people, whether it’s a Chief Content Officer or hiring the right agency that could help them get there. But the fundamental shift needs to happen internally.

Media companies are in all sorts of trouble these days. Why should a brand seek to emulate them?

Well, that’s a great question. If you think about the characteristics of media companies, number one is that they’re content machines, right? The AP publishes 5,000 articles per day. Huffington Post probably pushes out two or three hundred articles per day. Mashable, a couple hundred. So they’re pushing out content day in and day out, they’re flooding the ecosystem, and they get their content to be ubiquitous. It’s being shared all through social, and it’s appearing in searches when people are looking for topical information.

They’re also agile. They pump out content easily. There’s not a lot of red tape to get content out there. There’s not a brand approver; there’s not a legal approver. They just have this kind of well-oiled machine. There’s been study after study that shows it can sometimes take three-to-six months internally for brands to create one piece of content. And that’s kind of unheard of in the media world. The clients that I work with, approval processes take one to three to five days, depending upon what it is. But three months is kind of absurd.

So brands want to be like media companies because media companies are agile, but the book doesn’t argue that you have to change your business operations in terms of how you make money. You’re not going to sell ad space on your website. But from a pure content perspective, you need a systematic approach.

How important is it for a brand to give up some control of its messaging in the interest of timeliness? How hard is that to do?

It’s an interesting concept, if you take a look at the whole Oreo Super Bowl example. I’m not a huge proponent of this idea that brands need to wait for the news cycle to create compelling, kick-ass content, but it’s an opportunity. I think it should be one element of a content strategy. But I don’t think a brand can sit idle waiting for something to happen. They need to be creating compelling content, day in and day out.

But in terms of giving up control, I think that brand messaging has evolved a lot over the last several years, and I think part of that is due to this idea that consumers reject pure brand messaging. Red Bull never talks about their energy drink; they just talk about Shaun White.

So from a business perspective, you said that brands aren’t going to start selling ads against their content. So what kind of business outcomes can they expect — should they expect — from becoming media companies?

Well, one of the things that I often talk about with clients is that there’s four fundamental shifts happening. The first is that there’s a content surplus, and it’s not going away. It’s going to get even more busy.

Second, there’s the fact that we, as humans, are suffering from an attention deficit; with our finite brains, we can only consume a finite amount of content in a given time period. So there’s a content surplus, there’s an attention deficit, and you couple that with the fact that, for every consumer, their daily journey through life is dynamic and unpredictable. The way that you consume content every single day is different from the way that I do. And it’s not the same every day.

As consumers, we put up these filters so that we only consume content that’s relevant to us as a specific moment in time. For example, if you’ve ever been in the market for a new car, all of a sudden you see VW ads everywhere. Or Audi ads, or BMW ads. Or if you’re in the process of refinancing your home, all of a sudden you hear conversations in the office about interest rates. You see billboards for Quicken Loans.

But the minute that we refinance our home, or we buy a new car, all of those ads go away. But they don’t really go away. They’re still there, but they’re just not relevant to us, so we don’t notice it anymore. So the fourth characteristic is that everyone is influential — regardless of what their Klout score is.

So there’s a content surplus, attention deficit, consumers’ lives are unpredictable, and they’re all influential. That makes it really, really difficult for any brand, whether you’re B2B or B2C, to actually reach those consumers with a relevant message.

We have this study element called the Trust Barometer, and one of the findings of the Trust Barometer is that in order for consumers to believe your message, they need to interact with it and see it three-to-five times.

So that’s very problematic for brands and marketers, and the whole rationale for thinking like a media company. If you can tell a story that’s consistent across all media, and you’re telling that story repetitively, with a human voice, people will start to believe your message.

But none of these brands even know what the story is, right? Like, they haven’t really thought about their story. Red Bull has their giver of wings story, and that story is communicated consistently across every channel. All these companies, because social media was such a bright and shiny object, they jumped right in without first understanding or developing what their narrative is.

Who do you think are the leading voices of the brand publishing revolution? (Other than yourself of course).

I think Digiday – Brian Morrissey is a really smart guy. They’re a publication that gets it. Ad Age has thought a lot about it. You guys and NewsCred both do a great job. You guys have been a catalyst in talking about this as well. A lot of folks are talking about the need for brands to become publishers – but no one is telling them how.

Favorite book of all time?

Yes – The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. I use his analogies all the time – as brands become publishers, people need to find influencers within the organization.

Who is your least favorite band?

I’m a West Coast guy, so please don’t hate me… but Biggie Smalls.

The Content Strategist is our brand’s story. What’s yours? Let us help you find the answer.

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