In your book, Media: From Chaos to Clarity, you outline five macro forces that marketers can use to help make sense of the current messy media world. For those who are unfamiliar, can you briefly describe those five macro forces?
The first one I call Convergence, the idea that once media become digitized, they look strikingly similar. I call it the screen democracy because any medium imaginable can now come with a screen. Convergence liberates content where content used to be stuck in a particular silo. Content can now wind up anywhere.
The second force is Symbiosis, which is the idea that media exist in symbiotic relationships with each other. This probably has less to do with the structure of the media themselves and more to do with the potential of transmedia storytelling. If we reward people for using multiple devices to get multiple dimensions of a narrative, they’re going to do that.
Circuits is perhaps among the most disruptive of the forces. The digitization of media has created democratization of access because so long as content is online, it can basically go anywhere. This created a major power shift from professional media producers and marketers who historically controlled messaging to recognizing that that power is shared with consumers, who can promote whatever content touches their heads and their hearts. Consumers have become accelerants of great media content. If you engage a consumer, because the circuits are open, crazy stuff can now happen.
This leads to the fourth force of Transmedia Brands. Media companies have to become emotional promises, where the product offering is the production and distribution of great content. It’s that emotional bond with the audience that will sustain media enterprises. They need to practice great brand management. I would argue even one step further that the essence of any media brand must transcend any one platform. The brand promise needs to be so profound that that media company can exist in the consumer’s life regardless of what the media ecosystem looks like.
The last force is Content Economics. This is the idea that the distribution mechanism itself is not what truly drives value, but it is content, and specifically great content, that has the ability to draw the attention and engagement of audiences. Without great content, the pipeline holds no value whatsoever. We are seeing evidence of the ability of great content to command economic value; consumers are having a pretty easy time understanding and accepting that.
I would argue that one of the biggest changes we have seen since your book was originally published is the proliferation of big data in marketing. What impact do you think this has on the five macro forces, and how should we as marketers be thinking about data in relation to our decisions in media?
In Media: From Chaos to Clarity, I talk about a fundamental formula that I call “C to the third power.” The first and perhaps most important “C” is Content. Not good content, but great content that can truly provoke the second “C,” which is Consumers. If consumers become engaged, they then accelerate this content through the third “C,” which is Channels. Channels become helpful tools that consumers use to engage with that content.
You will notice that there is no “D” (for data) in that energy formula. I believe that data gives us a profound view of what’s going on, but data unto itself is not the strategy. Data is the lens through which we can study those three fundamental “Cs.” I’m concerned that data is being misused as a strategy unto itself. It’s a mirror that helps us to better understand something else that’s going on.
Let’s discuss the fourth macro force – brands – a bit more. When the book was originally published, you mentioned that transmedia brands were rare. What’s the status of transmedia brands now? Are we seeing more of them in the media landscape? Why or why not?
I would say that they are still rare jewels. What we are seeing more today than we could have possibly understood back in 2011 is without them, you’re in deep trouble. In 2011, I celebrated ESPN as a phenomenal example of a transmedia brand. ESPN has since fallen on some tough times because their business model was so closely tied to cable as a distribution mechanism. I think the important lesson for us is that a weaker player would have never survived the current strife that cable is going through. While ESPN has certainly gone through its bumps and bruises, it’s still there. I would say that what I think I’ve seen over the past seven years is an example of the resilience of transmedia brands. What I’m seeing is maybe not more or less transmedia brands than I had seen in 2011, as much as the critical importance of, and resilience of, those who have made major strides in becoming a transmedia brand.
Finally, the theme for this year’s journal is Marketing (R)evolutions. How do you think that the five macro forces play into this, and how do these macro forces relate to past disruptions in the marketing field? What can we learn from past disruptions in media and marketing as we move forward?
I think we are truly in the midst of a revolution. We are leaving an era where media effects could be studied and defined. And what I’m seeing more and more is a breakdown in these absolute laws and the much more relative potential of the media. The interesting thing is that relativity scares some people because you have to learn two scary words: “It depends.” Introducing ambiguity into marketing is something that’s very uncomfortable. But relativity also leads to exponential outcomes, which was something we didn’t have before. I think it’s very exciting, but it also takes a willingness to let go of absolutes and really focus on content innovation and recognize that if you put great content out there, the true potential of what could happen is beyond our scope of capability to even understand. To me, that’s a great revolution to be a part of.
Interview by Rachel Weinberg, Medill IMC Class Of 2018