SMPL Q&A: 4 questions on media brands with Nancy Hansell

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SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview our experts on all things relevant to brand experience and design. Recently, we spoke with Nancy Hansell, strategy director, about how the media landscape is changing and how media brands must now reconfigure themselves to take on these new challenges of changing audiences, morphing category distinctions, and the war on for attention and time.

What are the challenges traditional media companies are facing today?

The media and entertainment ecosystem has cracked open. Media brands are fighting harder than ever before to prove their relevance through brand strategy. Several forces are shaping this new reality:

  • Challenging the measurements status quo: How eyeballs are counted and success is measured is changing. Big players like Netflix have built a business that rejects the status quo, “Collecting ratings on streaming services is an outdated mode of doing business.” Meanwhile established media brands are taking matters into their own hands, creating, their own tools, Viacom’s Velocity or dumping Nielson outright. Overall the sentiment is best captured by Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman calls for the industry (and especially Nielson) to think bigger, figuring out how to demonstrate how consumers are watching TV on newer devices like gaming systems, mobile phones and online.
  • Category distinctions matter less and less: Competitors are no longer the same. You have Disney buying Maker studios and VICE going into TV, New York Times getting into long-form and interactive storytelling with Snowfall. The lines are blurring more every day.
  • Competing for viewers share of “quality time”: The days of competing for pure passive eyeballs are over—the new normal is 24 hours a day.  It’s no longer just a millennial game—fans of all ages have caught up. The sheer number of options available—mobile, tablets, Roku, Netflix, iTunes/AppleTV, YouTube, Twitter—have multiplied, creating a veritable media feast. Consider this: there has been a 75% increase in scripted shows from 2009. Brands are finding that how you consume—linear viewing vs. binge watching—affects consumer interests in the content. Using this data, media brands are developing newer, more integrated ways to keep consumers time occupied and on-brand, whether it be through “2nd screen experiences” or post-show engagement (think “Talking Dead” after “The Walking Dead”).
  • Consumers now share in the ownership and authorship of media brands: Consumers expect to influence and be involved with their favorite brands. Passive viewing is fast becoming a thing of the past. The best shows and media brands actively creating experiences to match this desire—that means tweeting with Kerry Washington from Scandal to interacting with content like NatGEo’s Kinect on Xbox where kids can get up and catch the bugs they’re seeing and learning about onscreen.

How are media brands accommodating these changes through brand strategy? What is a “POV brand?”

In this chaotic world two branded systems have emerged. Media brands like Netflix act as a container to a diverse array of content. Their unique stamp is less instantly apparent because they span so many different types of shows. POV brands are starkly different. IFC or VICE, the idea of “brand” stands for something very definitively—it is instantly recognizable and very real for consumers and brand loyalists. This POV acts as a filter as they roll out new programs and formats.

What do media companies need to do to succeed?

A strong sense of self is critical. Consumers seek immersive stories and experiences. So creating a shared universe where content, characters, stories and experiences where identity is in everything is important. Brands can borrow and emulate the Marvel universe model or at the very least they need to stand for something—The Food Network is a great example, running on the purpose of “For the love of food.”

One messaging trap many media brands fall prey to is “storytelling.” Once an original promise, it’s expected that brands are committed to great stories and characters.

AMC has taken this cue and pivoted beyond their older tagline of “Story Matters Here,” to the “Something More,” network promise. Complex, strange, epic and daring stories will now carry the network forward and help the network move beyond their Mad Men/Breaking Bad-era to create an experience around the shows so that stories are more than two dimensional. Expect more clothing lines; think Mad Men and Banana Republic, Walking Dead video games and action figures in AMC’s future.

How are “celebrity media brand” changing the stakes for traditional media brands, and what can they learn from them to fine-tune their own media branding strategy?

Brands like Taylor Swift, Karlie Kloss and Kelly Slater project a strong understanding of who they are. They reveal themselves through their stories, snapshots of their beliefs, rituals and the things they love. This creates a perception that they are always welcoming and eager for fans to participate and share in the fun with them. Having a consistent voice, a message and visual style that hangs together enhances their organic and authentic storytelling style. Traditional media brands can learn from this more organic and fluid way of interacting with fans. Where the fan’s and the celebrity brand’s message become inextricable linked.

Nancy Hansell is strategy director with Siegel+Gale.

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